Educator Spotlight: Connecting Across Biomes

Ace Schwarz connected their seventh-grade students with people living in a different biome by organizing a video call with a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines. Students learned about food, culture, and plant species in the Philippines.

Ace Schwarz is a seventh-grade science teacher at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, Maryland. Photo courtesy Ace Schwarz

What inspired you to contact a Peace Corps volunteer as part of your unit on biomes?

My school is located in an urban fringe area in Maryland. Most students don’t have much perspective on areas outside of Maryland or the United States. My goal was to take a topic I teach every year and add an element of global connection.

After teaching about biomes, I posted a message to Peace Corps Global Connections asking if anyone would be interested in talking to my students. Nick Spalt, a marine conservationist serving in the Philippines, agreed to share with my students about his job as well as his experience living abroad. My students also exchanged letters with the kids in the youth group Nick leads. Students asked questions about the plants and animals living in the Philippines. Finally, we had a video call with Nick.

Students worked in small groups on their biome projects. Photo by Ace Schwarz

How did exchanging letters with children in the Philippines and having a video call with a Peace Corps volunteer impact students?

Students were surprised by the similarities between their lives and the lives of the students in the Philippines. For example, they found it interesting that they liked some of the same music. They also loved learning about Filipino culture and food, even little things like how the students eat a different variety of pears. Regarding plant life, my students were amazed to learn about trees with rainbow bark (rainbow eucalyptus—ed.)

What advice would you give other educators looking to refresh content they teach year after year?

The important thing to know is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; there are a lot of useful resources online that you can adapt to meet your needs. I like to find resources using National Geographic, Teachers Pay Teachers, and Pinterest. Teacher collaboration is important as well. I have been teaching for four years and my teaching partner has been teaching for 15 years. I often go to her for ideas and resources.

Also, don’t be afraid to try something new. Even if it doesn’t turn out the way you expected it to, it doesn’t mean that it failed. It just means that you learned something for the next time.

Students illustrated the connections between species in a biome. Photo by Ace Schwarz

How has this project influenced your teaching?

It has made me more considerate about global connections. Before beginning my National Geographic Educator Certification capstone project, it had never occurred to me to bring someone who lives in a different biome into my classroom virtually. Doing so made learning more authentic, and my students responded well to that. Since completing this project, I’ve been giving students more authentic experiences by presenting real-world examples and problems. Science can sometimes be very isolated, but real-world connections help students retain and apply scientific information.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here

If you could take your students on a field trip anywhere in the world where would you go and why?

I would take them to Cherry Springs State Park near Coudersport, Pennsylvania. It’s a dark park; all light at night has to be filtered. The park offers the most amazing view of the night sky, the Milky Way, and the constellations. I think it would be an epic experience to camp there with students.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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

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