Educator Journey Series: Shayna Cooke

unnamed-1Welcome to our new Educator Journey Series! Each month, just like the Student Journeys Series, we will feature a guest blog post written by one of our colleagues. They write about how they got into their work, lessons they’ve learned, and their innovative approaches to shaping the future of education. This week’s Educator Journey post is written by Shayna Cooke. Shayna currently lives in Richmond, VA, where she teaches Upper School Science at Collegiate School. 

 

The first time that I ever set foot outside of the US was in 1995, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. I was asked by one of my professors to be a research assistant for the summer on Lake Baikal in Siberia/Russin. I was excited and nervous. I had never been anywhere of note without my parents at that point in my life and though I was ready for the independence, I was apprehensive about it as well. I would say that this was the trip that started the course of my life. I was bitten by the travel bug that summer in Siberia and never looked back. I traveled somewhere new, somewhere international, every year after that trip to Russia until I had touched down on every continent, except for Antartica. At first, I traveled alone. Coming home to make enough money to be able to head off again, and then I began teaching in Independent Schools that had a solid focus on global travel and found the beauty that is experiencing the world with a group of teenagers. Since I started teaching, I have had the pleasure of traveling to Costa Rica a few times, Australia twice, France, Namibia, India, Belize, and South Africa to name a few of my experiences with students. There is something magical about seeing the world through the eyes of a student, especially ones that, like me, have never ventured far from their parents or the borders of their own country. The awakening that happens within these young people is obvious and miraculous. These experiences help our students to really understand the plight of the world, to get a feel, first hand, of how the world looks, feels, and smells. These experiences give our students exposure and empathy, two pieces of the puzzle that will help to make them global stewards and responsible citizens. It is the pleasure of my life to be able to show my students the world and to help make a difference for them.
 
unnamedTeaching global competencies is an essential part of being an educator in the 21st century. The benefits of teaching these skills to students and, in turn, future generations, are immeasurable. Global education develops the skill of being able to view the world from different lenses; to develop a sense of empathy that is essential as part of the human spirit. The question is, how do we do that? Where do we start? This presentation will give tips on how to incorporate global issues into curricula with specific examples that have worked in a science classroom. From weekly “hot topics” to in-depth Project-Based Learning initiatives, globalizing your curriculum is a way to expose your students to life outside the walls of their schools and helps to foster curiosity of other cultures and countries. We live in a world that grows smaller every day, as advances in technology have shortened the distance between “us and them”. It’s important for our students to develop the perception that there is unity within diversity and give them a sense of belonging to a larger world community.
 
 As educators, we need to make a commitment to real world learning for our students. We need to provide opportunities for our students that encompass authentic and meaningful learning experiences that will encourage our students to become the solution-seekers and problem-solvers of the 21st century. The development of students as global citizens is a monumental task turned over to the teachers that guide them through the learning process. There is no specific place within our curriculum that speaks specifically to “global education” because it is a fluid and all-encompassing focus that should be interwoven throughout. The question is then: “how do I bring the world into my classroom in an authentic and meaningful way?”
 
unnamed-1The secret to globalizing the curriculum is that it can be done in small pieces, one at a time, that add up to a comprehensive world-view by the end of the year. In my curriculum, I set aside time each week for my students to present their “hot topics”. Hot Topics involve any topic pertaining to biology that is new and exciting around the world. The student researches and plans their mini-presentation (as a homework assignment) and is prepared to take questions after they present. Each presentation takes 2 – 3 minutes and inevitably leads to in-depth discussion about a region or the research that was presented.
 
I also use Project-Based Learning (PBL) activities to incorporate intensive global study. PBL is the tool that allows me to cultivate these essential skills with my students: collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and empathy. These skills are what will be useful to our students as they enter the global workforce. It is clear that they will be called upon in the near future to solve immense global challenges, and in preparation for these challenges, I ask them to solve real world problems in a very authentic manner. From designing a cell-based sensor for early detection of an Ebola infection, to creating recipes for the World Food Bank to aide the global food crisis, to using cellular respiration/photosynthesis as a platform to research and propose solutions to our energy problems, my students are thinking, designing, researching, and intelligently proposing solutions to very real world issues.
 
unnamed-3Because I teach biology and infectious diseases, the entire world has a place in my classroom. When we are talking about Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration, I can ask my students why deforestation in Brazil is negatively affecting Greenland; which allows for discussion of these regions and their ecosystems, the different environmental concerns for each region, global climate change and how much humans are contributing to it, and I can then ask my students to propose a solution to this problem. The Ebola outbreak has been a fantastic case study for my Infectious Diseases class in terms of immunology, epidemiology, socio-economic status and the relationship that has with access to appropriate medical care, medicine, ethics, the geography of Africa and specifically the “malaria belt” and why this area is so prevalent with disease. I ask my students to propose a solution to the late identification of an Ebola sickness or a solution that address the reintroduction of survivors back into their communities. The possibilities are endless when using strategies of project-based learning with students and these projects require a level of critical thinking, empathy, and collaboration from our students that other learning tools simply do not.
 
It is difficult to find actual usable information on the web about how to incorporate global education into our curriculum. I think these websites below do a good job of starting you on that journey, however, in most instances they fall flat on the “how to” aspect. I am working on another blog post that will give very specific ideas, examples, and strategies as to how to globalize your classroom. Stay tuned here!

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