Three Deaf Attendees Reflect on Their Experiences at National Geographic’s Education Summit

This article was written by Heidi Givens, an educator and member of National Geographic’s Teacher Advisory Council.

“Where education meets exploration”—this mantra rang true recently as over 180 educators and explorers gathered at the National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., for an invitation-only event: the National Geographic Education Summit. This unique professional learning experience included plenaries and lightning talks from various National Geographic scientists, explorers, and geographers. Learning sessions were led by teacher leaders and explorers alike. One could feel the potential for world-changing ideas and collaboration in the room.

Committed to bringing together a diverse group of leading educators representing students of all backgrounds, National Geographic Teacher Advisory Council member Heidi Givens, a teacher of the Deaf from Kentucky, invited three Deaf educators to the summit and asked them to share their unique experiences. This interview features the following attendees: 

  • Debbie Fetzer, a middle school science teacher at the Indiana School for the Deaf 
  • Trevor Anderson, a high school history teacher at the Texas School for the Deaf
  • Mingchen Yang, a high school science teacher at South Hills High School in West Covina, California
Trevor Anderson, Mingchen Yang, Heidi Givens, and Debbie Fetzer pose for the National Geographic Education Summit 2019, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy Heidi Givens.

Q. When you received the invitation to attend the National Geographic Education Summit, what were your initial thoughts?

Debbie Fetzer (DF): When I received the invitation to attend the National Geographic Education Summit, I was beyond excited. I was in need of meeting new people and having a dialogue with them, exploring new ideas, and trying new things. I was hoping to find something that would give me a big shot of new energy. 

Trevor Anderson (TA): I initially envisioned the Education Summit as more science-related based on my experiences with National Geographic magazines, but I was wrong.

Mingchen Yang (MY): I thought the Education Summit was for only social studies. I never thought that Nat Geo could also apply to science.  

Q. What did you expect to get out of the summit?

DF: The Education Summit was very new to me. I decided to go with an open mind and see what it had to offer and what I can do to contribute. It was an exciting time feeling like a new kid in the candy store.

TA: I was excited to expand my professional learning network and was hoping to bring back new resources and ideas to my classroom.

MY: Before I arrived, I had been expecting to listen to all geography-based presentations. I had also expected to hear about new educational strategies that I can use in my classroom and share with my colleagues.

Q. What did you find most exciting at the summit?

DF: The lightning talks were the best part of the conference. Many explorers inspired me with their passion and desire to help preserve our planet. Many shared ideas on how we all can empower younger generations and help them become more accountable in preserving our planet. Meeting and getting to know two Deaf educators was wonderful. I felt so honored to be selected to attend this conference. I also enjoyed meeting and interacting with explorers and educators from different schools.  

TA: The wealth of information from explorers and educators of diverse backgrounds and expertises was exciting.

MY: What I found most exciting at the summit was listening to the young explorers’ experiences of how they created solutions to ecosystem challenges. I was also excited to see various resources that I could use in my lessons.

Attendees experience VR headsets at the National Geographic Education Summit 2019, Washington, D.C. Photo by Leigh Vogel

Q. What left you more curious?

DF: I am curious to learn more about Nat Geo’s programs, see if Nat Geo offers programs that I can participate in, and learn how I can use its resources.

TA: I am more curious on how to transform my U.S. history curriculum to include the Geo-Inquiry Process. This is something I will be working on throughout the year, and I am excited to implement changes one by one.

Q. How do you think the Education Summit impacted you as an educator?

DF: This opportunity was an eye-opener for me. I realize now that the sky is unlimited. There is so much out there that has not been explored. This experience got me thinking…what do I want to explore…

TA: It inspired me to be a game changer and empower my students with the knowledge and tools to be game changers as well.

MY: The Education Summit inspired me to show my deaf and hard-of-hearing students how to be young explorers. I want them to gain knowledge of science, be able to contribute their knowledge in the science field, and learn how to face environmental challenges.

An attendee views a collaborative piece about geography at the National Geographic Education Summit 2019, Washington, D.C. Photo by Sam Kittner

Q. Given everything you have learned, what do you plan to implement first?

DF: I plan to explore Nat Geo’s website, learn more about the types of resources the organization has to offer, and share those resources with my students and fellow teachers at my school.

TA: I plan to create a proposal that will enable me to empower my students to think about how we can prevent future geological and environmental disasters like the Dust Bowl in the 1920s

Q. How will you share what you have learned with your colleagues?

DF: Upon returning to my school, I plan to set up a meeting with the principal and professional development coordinator and see if I can present this topic during a PD session and share my experience with all the teachers at my school.  

TA: I plan to share resources and ideas in our monthly social studies professional learning community meetings and hopefully involve other teachers across content areas and grades to expand our collaboration.

MY: I plan to tell my colleagues about young explorers. I also plan to share that we could invite these explorers to give mini workshops on topics like biodiversity and ecosystems.

Q. How do you think National Geographic could impact Deaf education?

DF: There is a lot of information on Deaf education, Deaf culture, Deaf language, etc., that is not explored and shared by Nat Geo. By collaborating with Deaf educators, Nat Geo could have a great impact on Deaf education. 

TA: With tools from National Geographic, our deaf students can be empowered to tackle issues facing their communities and Deaf education by considering different perspectives of how humans are connected to nature and utilizing their new skills to be game changers.

MY: I believe that National Geographic would impact Deaf education because Nat Geo has resources. Its website has a lot of visual materials that deaf and hard-of-hearing students need to see. Students can see and realize how important it is to care about our Earth, animals, ecosystems, and many more. No matter how many times teachers have explained the consequences, impacts, or issues we have on the Earth, it’s important that students see them with their own eyes.

Q. What will you do to empower other educators with the knowledge of National Geographic?

DA: I hope to attend the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD) along with other Deaf educators who attended the Education Summit. I believe by sharing this information with CEASD participants, it will open many doors for Deaf educators.

TA: I would strongly encourage them to check out National Geographic’s amazing online resources. I will be sure to share my new lessons and ideas with my professional learning networks and communities, so they can be empowered as well. 

MY: I would show them the Nat Geo website. It has resources. I also would show them the young explorers that students could look up to. 


National Geographic’s Education Summit is a time to bring together educators from a variety of backgrounds to connect, create impact, and engage across the industry. This year, we’re proud to learn how our shared and varied experiences can merge to make a difference going forward. Connect with inspiring educators like Debbie, Trevor, and Mingchen by joining the National Geographic Educator Network. Once in the community, share your reflections on this article with other teachers by posting one key takeaway. 

Feature image by Sam Kittner

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