Educator Spotlight: Connecting Across Cultures While Caring for the Planet

Mariano Zuk created an interdisciplinary unit for his kindergarten students with two main focuses: caring about the planet and collaborating with schools around the world. Among other hands-on projects, students created artwork, had a video call with an ocean expert, and co-created a story about Earth with classrooms around the world.

Mariano Zuk is a kindergarten teacher at Singapore International School of Bangkok in Thailand. Mariano is originally from Argentina. Photo courtesy Mariano Zuk

What inspired your project, and how did you incorporate authentic activities?

Our class was learning about the environment and climate change, so I thought that would be a great time to promote more collaborative, hands-on learning activities. I decided to focus on two main issues: pollution and the impact of plastic on our ocean. Around the time I started to develop my project, the death of a plastic-clogged pilot whale put Thailand in the global spotlight regarding the country’s excessive use of plastic bags.

During our learning process, my students had a video call with a professional diver in South Korea. We also collaborated with four schools around the world to create a story about Earth. We displayed our stories and crafts on World Environment Day (June 5) and World Oceans Day (June 8) at our school’s events.

Students made art to accompany the collaborative story. Photo by Mariano Zuk

Could you tell me more about the story your class co-created and what your students gained from working with students around the world?

We worked with Travelling Tales, a global project that encourages children to collaborate, communicate, and create a tale within four weeks. Each class creates part of the story based on the “story mountain” model (beginning, build up, problem, resolution, and ending) and uses Adobe Spark Video as the collaborative tool. Our class collaborated with students in Switzerland, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore.

Learning about other countries and cultures sparked my students’ curiosity and was a great experience for them. We had the opportunity to have a video call with the German European School Singapore. All the children were so excited to write their own questions, and even “shy” students grabbed the microphone and asked questions like, “How do you take care of the ocean in your country?”

I believe students take the first steps toward tolerance and empathy by discovering what people have in common and by learning and respecting differences, starting in the early years.  

Students used technology to help write captions for their artwork. Photo by Mariano Zuk

I admire that you tackled such a complex topic with your kindergarten students. What advice do you have for other educators looking to introduce early learners to sustainability and climate change?

Start simple, make it fun, and enjoy your lesson. Kids will come up with many questions about climate change, pollution, and sustainability. I always try to relate all these concepts and vocabulary to the way they understand the world. Superheroes, superpowers, and mission of the week are words and phrases that I use a lot for this age group.

Is there special significance to studying sustainability, pollution, and the ocean in Thailand?

Over the past year, there has been a push to reduce the amount of plastic in Bangkok.

I believe that the death of the pilot whale triggered a wave of general awareness about the amount of plastic that is used daily in Thailand. After completing our unit on the environment, some parents contacted me and said their kids were telling them to stop using plastic bags while they were shopping because plastic bags were not good for the environment, and were killing the sea animals.

What is your teaching philosophy?

My teaching philosophy embraces curiosity, play, and imagination by providing the space, freedom, and flexibility to explore. I aim to use a dynamic, growth-mindset, child-centered approach to teaching. I am committed to inquiry and cultural competency, and I provide a personalized, collaborative, and digitally-rich learning classroom environment.

My students are always super excited to try new things and embrace new challenges or “missions,” as we call them in our class.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Interested in joining Mariano as a National Geographic Certified Educator? Learn more at NatGeoEd.org/Certification.

 

2 thoughts on “Educator Spotlight: Connecting Across Cultures While Caring for the Planet

  1. What an amazing project and a powerful way for kids to learn! I would love to be a kindergartner in your classroom, and hope that one day your philosophy will be embraced by schools around the globe! Thanks for sharing your story!

    Like

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