Snow Day Fun – Experiential Education?!

We had a snow day today, and as much as I love being at school with my students, I LOVE a good snow day. This one was particularly good. We got about 10″ of snow which is a record for Richmond in the past 5 years I believe. And, the snow was great. Soft and fluffy and just asking to be played in 🙂 My husband built some huge snow fort structures that we all carved out on the inside to make a snow fort/igloo structure. We did this with Cyrus when we lived in Colorado but that was a long time ago and he was quite young so this was his first snow fort experience. As he and I were digging out the structure, I just started talking about the indigenous people of Alaska and how they often times would build igloo structures for security and warmth in the winter months. He asked lots of great questions (he is 5) and I answered as best I could. Then, when he was having a snack break with his dad in the fort, I heard them talking about trench warfare and what that was like. Brad, of course, left out the violent component of it but explained why the countries used trench warfare and what that looked like. Cy was very interested and had some great questions to ask about that.

After lunch, we went for a hike to look for a good sledding spot. There was a hill that Cy tried to climb up and it was covered in downed trees and plant debris. I saw that he was struggling so I mentioned to him that a lot of times, when you are out in the woods and hiking, you can take cues from animals in terms of finding the most direct and safest route to the top of a hill/mountain or if you are looking for water, you can often times follow animal tracks and they will lead you straight there. After our discussion, Cy came back down the hill and started looking for tracks and immediate found a set of deer tracks about 15 yards to our right (which is why I brought the conversation up in the first place). He excitedly headed over there and seamlessly followed the tracks right up the hill to the top.

As I sit here and reflect on our day, I realized that this is exactly how I want my classroom to run. Full of applicable, authentic, experiential educational moments that the students can grasp on to and find a connection with; moments that get them thinking and questioning and that they will remember as useful later in their lives. The “how” is the bigger, more complicated, piece of this puzzle!! Stay tuned for that one….

Is it possible to have a “global education” without ever crossing a border?


I have been thinking about this a lot lately, is it possible to have a comprehensive “global education” or perspective, without ever leaving the comforts of home? This is a tough question. My gut instinct says, “no way”. You can’t understand it until you’ve been there and experienced it. But I don’t know that that is necessarily true. Ideally, each school district would have the funds to send their students abroad for a chunk of time (6 weeks to 1 semester) during their high school years to help broaden their awareness and enlarge their scope of understanding of the world. My experience with students in the high school age range is that they often times find it difficult to see past the ends of their own noses, to actually recognize that there is a whole world out there that in fact doesn’t not revolve solely around them. I do not say this with any malice in tone, I am simply stating a fact. Most children, ages 13 – 18, have a very narrow view of their world because it does not directly affect them personally. I believe that it is during this period of time that it would be wholly beneficial for them to experience other cultures and learn about other peoples.

However, the question is not about the validity of travel, the question is can you truly become invested in global education and develop a global perspective without ever going? With the world becoming smaller and technology so readily available, we can learn and understand what is happening in other countries around the world on a moment’s notice. It is easy to be self and family centered, to worry about our own children/friends/family and forget that the world is made up of a spirit of people that are and have children/family/friends. To recognize that my children are no more important to and loved by me than a mother in India or Africa. To understand that just because I have access to different resources that my love is no more important or better. A purposeful and positive connection with the world outside the borders of our country broadens horizons, keeps our problems in perspective, and gives us ideas of how we can help around the world when needed.

To begin to gain this perspective, I would hope that a child be exposed to other cultures when they are young. You can expose children to new cultures through food, music, literature, learning a new language, discussing issues when they come up, documentaries and movies. I have never censored my son from real-world understand (keeping in mind that he is 5). We listen to NPR on the way to school each day and he listens to the news stories from around the world, asks tough questions, and I answer them as best I can. He was as up-to-date on the Ebola outbreak as I was when it was burning full fledge and we talked about that and what that means for these countries in Africa. My husband and I adopted Halidou Souley through Plan International about 8 years ago and Cyrus knows all about him and where he is from and why we support him financially. I don’t want my son to think of the rest of the world as “less than” or struggling but so much of my focus is on these countries that it is hard not to.

From a school’s perspective, I think elementry classes have a much easier time incorporating global experiences into their classrooms because the curriculum has more wiggle room at that level (I hope that does not come across as offensive to Elementary teachers). As the child moves up through his/her grades, the content becomes heavier and the curriculum becomes more focused. I think if every teacher bought in to the important of enhancing the collective global perspective and found a way to tie it into their curriculum to enhance what is currently taught and allows for some external thinking and some true reflection, it would become more ingrained in student’s minds. I try to incorporate global education whenever I can, but it’s really easy in science, especially what I teach. There are endless examples of Biology, Forensics, and Infectious Diseases on a global scale and I incorporate them whenever I can. But, as with travel abroad, the important piece, and one that I struggle with, is the debriefing with the students after the fact. Really getting down to it and finding out what they think, what they learned, what they liked, what they found shocking, etc….the reflection piece is always the hardest.

In short, or should I say verbosely, I do think it’s possible to provide a global perspective to students without them actually traveling but it is much more difficult. It has to be a very purposeful curriculum intertwined k – 12 and have major buy-in by all faculty. That is a tough sell when people get very territorial about their curriculum that they have developed from the ground up. I do think it is only a matter of time before this kind of education is required though (thankfully).

It was George Bush that said, “America’s leadership and national security rest on our commitment to educate and prepare our youth for active engagement in the international community.” back in 2000 in response to the proposed International Education Week, which President Clinton also supported. This definitely shows that International Education is a bi-partisan ideal (we knew there had to be something, right?). You can read more from the Strategic Task Force of Education Abroad here. Very important ideas recognized by Washington.

What are your thoughts on gaining a global perspective from the comforts of your own home?

People Advocating for Women in Society – PAWS

I have been asked to sponsor a new club at school, PAWS. PAWS is an acronym for People Advocating for Women in Society. When the president of the club came and asked me to be the faculty sponsor, I jumped at it. I made a deal with myself that this year I would scale back on my extra responsibilities at school because of my new baby and my own time/research dedicated to molding my current curriculum(s) into a PBL focus. However, I could not say no to this one.

Feminism is most definitely a buzz word right now, in the media, in the entertainment industry, in education, in business…I feel like everywhere I go I am confronted with topics pertaining to it, from men and women. I am very passionate about the ideals of feminism for women all over the world. I think 20 years ago, women who considered themselves to be feminists were more aptly “men haters” and angry. I think this ideal has morphed throughout the last 2 decades to be inclusive of not only women but their male counterparts and the focus is more on equality of social, political, economic, intellectual equality between the sexes.

When I think about my journey through feminism I can look back on the various stages of my life and see how my own ideals have morphed over time. When I was in high school, to me, feminism meant equal in terms of strength and my focus was on my immediate self. I prided myself in being just as strong, if not stronger, than the men I surrounded myself with. I never asked for help from a man for anything. If I couldn’t do it myself, it wouldn’t get done, period.

Then, I went to college and through travel and relationships, my life took a more global focus and I began to see how the world treats women. This major transition helped to redefine my understanding of feminism to include equality for all women. For women and girls to be able to choose who they want to marry and when. For them to be able to use their body as they choose, have sex when they want, have as many children as they want. For these women to be able to go to school and get an education equal to that of their brothers. To be able to start their own businesses and work outside of the home. In short, my view of the world enforced my belief that the experience for men and women around the world is unjust and unequal. I have focused on this version of feminism for the past 15 years….and then I had my own baby girl.

I can tell you that the moment I held my daughter in my arms, I knew at that moment I would focus my definition on feminism in terms of what it means for my daughter to grow up in a patriarchal world. I started questioning things I had never thought of before. Things that people said in passing, things that I would have never give thought to before and now really offended me. I am coming at this now from the perspective of a mother who wants nothing but equality for her daughter in a world where she just might be able to get it. She is set up in a world that is more progressive in terms of this than it has ever been. The sluggish nature of progress can most certainly be frustrating sometimes but there are definitely seeds of hope planted along the way.

Here is something I wrote about Sage when she was 4 months old…

Whispers Of Change

I have been a mother for 4.5 years now. These have been, quite honestly, the most exciting and wonderful 4.5 years of my life. People say that they can’t imagine life without their children, and I have to concur whole-heartedly. Being the mother to my son, Cyrus, has been amazing. I have learned so much about myself in the process of becoming this “wonder” woman to him. It has been amazing, watching him grow into this boy, this child, filled with the wonder of life every day. He amazes me with his kindness and his empathy for all things. Maybe that comes from me, those are human characteristics that I value the most, but maybe he’s just a spirit that emanates love for everything that he sees. Either way, it’s a beautiful thing.

4 months ago, I had my daughter, Sage. And in the past 4 months I have become a different mother. I have noticed a shift in my focus. I have noticed a change within myself. Here is what was unclear to me the moment Sage came into the world, but has become abundantly clear to me since that wonderful day. She is part of the movement, the revolution, the fight. This beautiful, bright eyed child of mine has joined the ranks with me, her mother, against the injustice and the fear that all women, everywhere must endure. I don’t want that for her, I want her life to be as carefree as that of her brother’s, but that will never be the case. I don’t worry about her brother. Cyrus is a beautiful spirit. But, he is also a white male in an upper-middle class family. Part of his path is already laid down before him because of that fact alone. Sage however, does not have that luxury. At best, she will have to prove herself time and again simply because she is female. That she is smart, that she is driven, that she can perform as well, if not better, than her male classmates. At the worst, she will have to survive sexism from people of influence in her life, misogyny in one form or another, she will always have to be aware of her surroundings and the people that she is with, for fear that someone somewhere will feel it’s their right to take advantage of her. She will have to be careful to be pretty, but not too pretty, to be opinionated but not too outspoken, too be popular but not too popular. And, if all those pressures are not enough, she will have to learn to endure and maneuver the intricacies of the teenage female psyche. The jealousy and the loathing. The way that these women, at an age when they believe that in order to shine, to be noticed, they must stand on the heads of each other and attack one another to appear strong. What they don’t know yet is that if they hold each other up and stand together, and celebrate one another for their own individual successes, nothing and no one can tear them down. They are not part of the movement yet. They still believe it’s a “me against them” mentality when what they need to learn is that we are in this together. I don’t want Sage to ever hear me say negative things about another woman, about her appearance, her choices, her demeanor. She will hear me talk about the beauty of other women, their intelligence, their successes because she has to learn to lift her sisters up and I will model that for her. Life is different for girls, even the white upper middle class ones. Sage will learn to worry about things that Cyrus will never have to think about. Will she be able to walk to the store on the corner to grab some food at night as she gets older without getting raped? I hope to God that she will, but she’ll have to think about it every step of the way. Will she have to endure a sexist boss who thinks it’s ok to spew sexual innuendos at her because he thinks she won’t say a thing. Will she think that she needs to bare her cleavage to secure a position rather than rely on her intelligence and her wit? Will she be pressured into having sex with her partner because she feels bad for telling him “no” or because he paid for dinner? 1:5 women in college is sexually assaulted, will she be one of them?
Whether she, or I, like it or not, she is now part of the revolution. Things are different for girls today, in the US for sure, but also if you listen closely, you can hear the whispers of change all over the world. India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda – the distances we need to go in these places are vast but it is happening. Women are rising up all over the world and screaming, Enough! These ladies today have confidence and strength that we only hoped for. That gives me hope for change, for equality in life, in careers, in pay, in partnerships. I will hold her up, I will raise her to know that she is part of this movement and it is her responsibility to keep pushing it forward.  But I will also raise her to be smart, to be aware, and yes, to be scared of the what-ifs because with this strength and this courage, she also has to live the reality and unfortunately fear will be part of her reality. “Here’s to Strong Women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them” – Unknown

Photosynthesis PBL

Here is the latest PBL that I assigned to my students. We have yet to start Photosynthesis in class so I handed this out to let them start brainstorming over the weekend. They will be able to work with one other person on this project. When I assign PBL activities, that is the only homework that they give. Truthfully, I don’t give much homework in Bio anyway…I don’t think it’s a useful tool for this class unless they are studying for an assessment. They have such little time as it is, I don’t want to take any more unless they are going to get a lot out of it. Let me know what you think and how it turns out if you adapt this for your classes.

Photosynthesis PBL – Alternative Energy Resource For Residential Establishments

There are many people in this country who live “off the grid”. “Off the grid” living is becoming a popular choice for people looking to reduce their carbon footprint, assert their independence, and avoid reliance on and abuse of fossil fuel usage. “The Grid” refers to the power grid, which is a system that delivers electricity directly to your house from the source. Power is supplied to homes in the form of electricity, natural gas, water, and telephone lines.

One-way to off-set power needs is to use solar power and convert that into energy. Solar panels are becoming a popular means to capture light and turning it into usable energy through photovoltaics. The problem with photovoltaics is that you cannot store the energy for long periods of time and the batteries used to temporarily store the excess energy are expensive and inefficient. Not to mention that if there are long periods of time without exposure to sunlight, your energy stores will become depleted.

Your company has come up with a solution to Photovoltaics. You are tasked with designing a structure that will recycle the excess CO2 in homes and turn that CO2 usable energy for the home. This structure will function much like a chloroplast in that it will take CO2 and H20 and repurpose those materials into usable energy that can be continuously supplied to the home for power.

Your proposal (< 2 pages, including figures) must include a description of the following:

(1) The structures used and how they correlate with structures within a chloroplast

(2) Diagrams and figures that will show relationship between energy recourses used before implementation of this device and after implementation

(3) A descriptive paper explaining the process, in detail, of how the structure works

(4) A physical model of said structure

Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program

I stumbled across this AMAZING opportunity in December. National Geographic has the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow program which allows teachers to board research vessels for 1 week to 1 month throughout the year. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellow (GTF) program is a professional development opportunity made possible by a partnership between National Geographic Education and Lindblad Expeditions. The program is named in honor of Gilbert M. Grosvenor (pronounced GROHV-nur), Chairman Emeritus National Geographic Society and Education Foundation Board. This opportunity is designed to give current K-12 classroom teachers and informal educators from the 50 U.S. states, Canada, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico the opportunity to extend Grosvenor’s legacy of excellence in geographic education. Through the program, exemplary educators are recognized for their commitment to geographic education and are given the opportunity to be actively engaged in finding new ways to bring geographic awareness to their classrooms or informal learning environments through a field-based experience.

The application consisted of 4 simple, yet pertinent questions. With so much of my focus of education being on global perspectives and awareness, I thought these questions were great for personal and professional reflection.

I should find out this month whether I am selected as a finalist for this professional development opportunity. I have had the pleasure of setting foot on 6 of the 7 continents, all but Antarctica, and this opportunity could help me tick that off my bucket list 🙂

Fingers crossed for me!

Q1: Please describe the best tangible example of a lesson, project, or program you have implemented into your classroom or teaching environment that helps support geo literacy.

Upon reading this prompt, the first lesson that came to my mind was my extensive unit on Ebola and the current outbreak in Western Africa. The unit started with an introduction to the virus and the history of the smaller, periodic outbreaks throughout the region of western (an occasionally central) Africa. The unit closed with a project-based learning (PBL) tool that asked the students to either: design a cell-based sensor that will aid the medical professionals with a tool for early detection of infection, that can be used in the field, or, they needed to design a tool to address the misconceptions of the citizens of western Africa in regards to Ebola. Both of these projects required the students to dive into the specifics of western Africa including the countries most affected and the cultures and traditions of the peoples that make up those countries. For instance, one of the ways the virus was rapidly spread was through the preparation of the body for the burial process, specifically the act of washing the bodies down. My students were empathetic to the process and suggested a modification of using bleach water for the cleansing to allow the family members to grieve and prepare as they see fit but to stop the spread in the process. Both of these projects were valuable tools for the exposure of different people and cultures for my students.

Q2: What role do you plan in preparing students to be better global citizens and environmental stewards of the planet?

In my classroom, I make a point of connecting the content being studied to real world applicability so that the students can see why the content is important. When we are studying cellular respiration and photosynthesis we talk about deforestation in S. America; when we discuss anthropogenic greenhouse gases and ozone depletion we use Australia as a case study, when we discuss pathogens like Malaria we can talk about the “Malaria Belt” that sweeps through regions of Africa and the Middle East; when we discuss the evolution of the lactase non-persistence gene in humans, we talk about the domestication of animals in Africa and Europe 10,000 years ago. I also have my students present a “Hot Topic” each week that covers a pertinent topic in science affecting an area on our globe. Collegiate also has a strong global citizenship component and we offer numerous global experiences for our students as well as hosts a dynamic international conference, the Emerging Leaders Conference, each year which involves students from over 12 different countries. That experience is very valuable to our students and supports our goal to instill a global perspective in our students to help them become thoughtful and engaged world citizens. It is my pleasure to be intimately involved in these aspects of global education at Collegiate.

Q3: Please describe how, if selected, you would share this experience with your students, peers, and local community.

This experience will directly affect my teaching and my content. This voyage will help me to improve my geographic content knowledge of different regions of the world via this firsthand experience and that will greatly influence my teaching and my ability to provide “real world” experiences for my students, first hand. I will host a discussion/presentation at an all school assembly to share my experiences with my student body, faculty colleagues, and administrative team. I would also like to host a presentation for the parents in our school community, K-12, to share these experiences with them. I would like to present this experience at the National Science Teachers Association as well as hold a community Q & A session at the University of Richmond. I think it would also be beneficial to write an editorial piece for our local school paper but also for the community at large through the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Q4: What motivated you to apply to the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program? What do you hope to gain from this experience?

Throughout my life, I have been a traveler. My first experience took me on a research expedition to Lake Baikal in Siberia when I was 18 and I have been traveling ever since. These moments, immersed in other cultures and learning other peoples’ traditions, have without a doubt helped formulate who I am today. I believe that experience ignites passion and passion ignites purpose. I know that my purpose in life is to work with young people and to help them find their own purpose. I believe that global experiences help to break the barrier between “us and them” and help us all to recognize that we are part of one human spirit. As the world becomes smaller through travel and technology, I believe that it is imperative that we prepare our students for the world with clear eyes, focused on a true global perspective. This journey will give me the space that I need to focus on my personal growth and reflection, as a human and as an educator. I will come back from this experience with the tools not only needed to enhance my curriculum within my classroom but to also continue to push my students to challenge their comfort levels and to seek experiences that help them to grow personally and professionally. This would be the absolute trip of a lifetime, as a science educator and as a member of the human spirit on this gorgeous planet that we call home. To be able to see and experience these places that are at the far reaches of this planet would be an absolute honor and a privilege. Thank you so much for considering me.