Educator Spotlight: Learning Alongside an Explorer

Juanita Romard‘s fourth graders investigated the work of National Geographic Explorer Carolina Chong Montenegro. Students learned about the ecologist’s research on the Pacific goliath grouper and developed potential solutions to overfishing.

Juanita Romard is a teaching vice principal at Coxheath Elementary School in Coxheath, Nova Scotia, Canada. Photo courtesy Juanita Romard

How did students engage in problem solving throughout this project?

As part of a National Geographic Explorer Challenge, my class was matched with National Geographic Explorer Carolina Chong Montenegro. To set the stage for problem solving, students first became familiar with Carolina’s research topic, the Pacific goliath grouper. Groupers are large fish that are threatened by overfishing.

After gaining an understanding of the problem, my students worked in small groups to brainstorm solutions. For example, since Carolina found that talking to fishers provided useful ideas, students noted this as one avenue for further research. Students also looked into one of our local industries, fish farming, as a possible solution.

Students created artwork to share their research. Photo by Juanita Romard

How did learning about a National Geographic Explorer affect student engagement and motivation during the project?

When we signed up for this challenge, students expressed interest in being matched with an explorer who worked in a marine setting. Although they had hoped to study turtles, students quickly warmed to grouper conservation when they learned about the important role the fish plays in marine ecosystems.

My students worked earnestly and truly felt like explorers and scientists as they generated important conservation ideas. They formed a real team with a genuine task that could make a difference.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here

How did this project impact your students?

Before we began the project, I used the National Geographic Learning Framework to identify the characteristics of an explorer. I had students reflect on the characteristics they felt they embodied and select one or two they wanted to improve upon.

Not having previously thought of themselves in this way, students felt pleased that they already expressed some of the characteristics of an explorer. Throughout the project, students periodically journaled and reflected on their experiences as explorers. At the end of the project, students wrote a final reflection on their growth as explorers.  

Students worked to develop an explorer’s mindset throughout the project. Photo by Juanita Romard

We noticed that you use the term “fishers” and your students’ work refers to “fishpeople.” Do you have a personal or school-wide goal to use gender-neutral terms?

The students and staff in our school and in our province of Nova Scotia are making concerted efforts to be respectful of all individuals. This is influencing word choice. We are on a learning curve regarding gender-neutral terms. We are open to learning and endeavor to be inclusive in words and in deeds.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Interested in joining Juanita as a National Geographic Certified Educator and getting involved with opportunities like the Explorer Challenge? Learn more at NatGeoEd.org/Certification.

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