Kim Young was one of the educators who joined us at the 2018 Explorers Festival. Kim teaches ninth-grade world history in Weston, Massachusetts. Last year, she completed an expedition to Arctic Svalbard as part of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program. Kim brought the study of migration to her course through the Out of Eden Learn platform. This year during Explorers Festival, Kim spoke with us about her role as an educator explorer.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Tell us a little bit about your background in education and what makes you passionate about your work.
I’ve been teaching for about 15 years in Weston Public Schools, right outside of Boston.
Throughout my whole career, I’ve always been passionate about balancing representation in my teaching of world history. When I first started my career, a lot of world history courses were actually Western Civilization courses that were branded as world history. That’s something that we’ve successfully shifted and changed, but I think we always need to be aware of.
Currently, I am really passionate about using the topic of migration, both historical and contemporary. It’s a way for students to explore the larger world, as well as deeper questions about their own personal values, in a way that makes the history they’re learning really relevant.
We used to do a lot more traditional research in history investigation projects. We made a big shift a couple years ago when we started having students do large, long-term projects that we call “glocal” research projects. With this, they are gaining the same research skills, but on a topic that they need to know a lot about now. Our focus is forest migration, and as students are listening to the news, talking to adults, or engaging with social media, they’re developing a great breadth and depth on a topic that means something right now.
It is great to learn about past historical events because to understand the present students need to know those things, but to become an expert in something that’s happening now is a really empowering thing for a ninth-grader.
How do you encourage your students to engage with the world around them by implementing what they’re learning?
I think a big piece of stepping out of the classroom is empathy. Students are trying to figure out what they can know and understand about an experience that is not their own. At the same time, they are recognizing what they will never be able to understand, and realizing that’s not a problem.
It’s so important for them to gain empathy while understanding that you can never own someone else’s experience.
The problem is that I only have them for a year, so what we’re working on—what we haven’t fully perfected—is how to best translate that empathy into action.
Currently, students take action in many small, individual ways. We start to see this in where they’re getting their news and how they’re thinking about global events. They’re getting more informed and involved, eventually shifting some of their perceptions on what it means to be a migrant or refugee.
They’ve also started to take small pieces of action: they’ve done some fundraising for local refugee health centers and clinics, they’ve engaged in conversations with refugees, they’re starting to see some community groups in our area welcoming in refugee families. Students are becoming more interested in that by becoming tutors.
The cool thing is, students are also taking action in peer learning. Students that have graduated will come back and serve in leadership roles throughout the course while the ninth-graders will also do peer learning with the sixth-graders when they’re learning about migration. I feel that we often overlook how students can take action in simpler ways. It doesn’t always have to be a massive campaign. Them continuing to be involved in the education of other students is a great way for them to take action.
What advice would you give to educators that may not be in your field but want to contribute to shaping a globally aware next generation?
Having an interdisciplinary lens is very important. Even though I’m a world history teacher, my students are thinking about climate science. It’s not something where I say “science is not a part of my curriculum.”
Regardless of your subject matter or your supposed course or curriculum, do not be afraid of engaging with content outside that traditional entry point. That engagement will challenge you as an educator to identify an interdisciplinary aspect of your subject matter.
All of the solutions to the world’s big problems will require all of our lenses and all of our expertise. Historians aren’t going to solve it, scientists aren’t going to solve it, politicians aren’t going to solve it. It’s only going to happen with a coalition of people working together.
How has the way students learn about the world changed with the accessibility of technology and the Internet?
It’s really exciting! The accessibility, the ways in which the world can enter my classroom, that’s all changing.
We’re starting to experiment with virtual reality technology through virtual field trips. Not only can students be transported to other areas of the world, but we’re starting to experiment with students creating their own content and telling their own stories. Learning can get really interesting when you’re telling your story in 360° versus a linear storyboard.
I think the cool part about technology in the classroom is that it’s always changing, so you have to evolve with it and your lesson plans can’t stay the same. The objective of the lessons can stay the same but the product that the students are using will shift.
You’ve done your fair share of exploring the world. What topic or place are you most excited to explore in the future?
I have two things currently planned this summer that I am very excited about and they are continuations of projects that I’ve been involved with in the past.
One is that I will be in Germany for part of the summer, investigating how Germany is integrating refugees in local communities. I’ll be using that as a case to study in comparison with Bulgaria. Bulgaria is often used as a transit country, while Germany is a final destination. So we will be able to compare and contrast the two different situations in these different EU countries.
Secondly, as a result of my Grosvenor Teacher Fellow experience, I got really interested in the Arctic and the larger geopolitical significance of the Arctic. So I will be in Alaska this summer with a team of scientists out of Woods Hole Research Center investigating winter respiration. We’ll be looking at permafrost thaw and the carbon and methane release from the permafrost. They’re trying to get better reads on the measurements of what’s going on up there to be included in future climate modeling. There’s something called a “permafrost time bomb”, which means none of the permafrost is included in many climate models There are tremendous amounts of carbon and methane in permafrost that is billions of years old. I am going to be helping them collect some of that data so I’m really excited about that!