Jennifer Burgin is an educator at Oakridge Elementary in Arlington, Virginia, a part of Arlington Public Schools. She was named Arlington Teacher of the Year in 2016 and has co-authored a nonfiction children’s book, A is for Arlington. As a 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, Jennifer shares her #EducatorExplorer experiences after completing an expedition to the Galápagos Islands, and her plans for future exploration. For more from Jennifer, follow her on Twitter @MrsJBurgin or on her blog, Educator Explorer.
I just got busted by my kindergarten class. “Are you hiding our new magazines, Mrs. Burgin?” one of them asks while reading a book at his desk. “I don’t know what you’re talking about…” I say elusively. He presses on more loudly and gets others involved. “You know, that big stack of magazines with the yellow rectangle you just stuck under your books. Can we have them yet? I want to see my new magazine!”
They all do! This is the magic of subscribing to a class set of Young Explorer magazine. I remember getting a magazine subscription at my house as a kid. It was a gift for my birthday, and I lovingly read each copy from cover to cover. There is something special about a printed magazine coming through the U.S. Postal Service that gets young and young-at-heart ready for an adventure.
Last year at the National Geographic Explorers Festival, I heard a speaker say that the yellow rectangle that signifies National Geographic is not a border, it’s a portal. It clues us in that something magnificent is about to occur, and we are going on an expedition. Since my learners recognize this yellow portal, they equate Young Explorer magazine with adventure. This year, we have visited Adjany Costa as she collects fish samples in the Okavango Delta. We have watched puffin parents feed their young and have met Paul Salopek on his slow journalism journey walking across the globe. Parents are hearing about world-class expeditions from their 5- and 6-year-old explorers as each child takes home their previous month’s copy. Kindergarten has places to go, and we boldly travel with National Geographic.
Beyond being whimsical and exciting, Young Explorer magazine is meaningful. In Arlington Public Schools, where I teach, we use the Units of Study Reading and Writing curriculum. Many times, I have integrated a reading or writing mini-lesson with using our current magazine. In the fall when I began building high-frequency word power with my learners, we went on a word hunt and used crayons on our magazines to identify the words we know. When exploring how pictures help us clue in to what our words are saying, we used world-class photography to determine our text. When crafting our own true stories into a book, we looked to the stories told firsthand by explorers.
Oh, did I mention that you get a digital subscription, too? During my afternoon English language arts stations, learners have the option to visit one of their previous magazines as a listening station. The images often come to life as video or include a game that helps build comprehension. The learners love going back to an old favorite article, such as “Let It Glow” about bioluminescence! They also love it when I load on the new magazine, quickly touching the screen and squealing as they put their headphones on!
I’m a teacher on a budget. I get free books donated when I can and keep conference swag for my treasure box. The thought of needing around $5 per child for a year’s subscription made me uncomfortable at first. Then I spent the past year using Young Explorer magazine thoughtfully with my learners. It’s been an incredible investment, and others are taking notice. My colleagues are asking to borrow my teacher’s copy, and the posters that come with each month’s magazine make my mini-lessons more engaging.
When I first introduced Scout, the kindergarten-leveled Young Explorer magazine, my learners had just begun kindergarten. The text seemed hard and frustrating, but the photography and topics drew them in. Now, many learners are reading the magazine independently or with a partner. I recently pointed out how differently they navigate the magazine, and they beamed.
I’ve found that Young Explorer magazine emphasizes to my learners that they are explorers. They see themselves in this identity, and the magazine allows them to tap into that mindset cross-curricularly. It also shows them diverse models of exploration as well as topics they may have not considered before.
The ultimate vision of National Geographic is a “planet in balance.” I wholeheartedly believe that young learners can be a part of this goal. By inviting our K-12 learners into the conversation, the totality of voices can collaborate to take care of our world, its people, creatures and resources. A magazine may itself seem simple, but it is truly a portal to adventures and an invitation to explore, inspiring the future we have the privilege to teach.
Before winter break, one of my learners gave me and my co-teacher a quote-a-day calendar for teachers. On Feb. 1, I read a quote by Thomas Groome: “One mark of a great educator is the ability to lead students out to new places where even the educator has never been.” Young Explorer magazine empowers me to be that great educator as I take my young learners to incredible places.
Top photo by Ralph Alswang.