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.
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.
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 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.
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.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Interested in joining Mariano as a National Geographic Certified Educator? Learn more at NatGeoEd.org/Certification.