Shocked By Charlottesville

Dear World Leadership School Friends,

We, at World Leadership School, were shocked and saddened by the news that came out of Charlottesville, VA on Aug. 12th. It is hard to wrap our minds around this display of oppression and hate. We stand in solidarity with those who are working to fight against bigotry, racism, and all forms of hate. We know that our strength comes from our diversity. The acts on Aug. 12th remind us clearly that we have not come as far as we had hoped as a country with regards to race and religion. We find ourselves asking, how do we collectively move forward from here? The only foreseeable answer is education.

The community of educators in this country is strong and when trying times arise, we are ready to rely on and assist one another. We have learned time and again that when teachable moments arise, we act. Less than 24 hours after the violence in Charlottesville occurred, there was already a place created for teachers everywhere to share content on how to address these issues and use the classroom as a place for safe discovery and discussion. The twitter hashtag, #Charlottesvillecurriculum, was created and is full of important and pertinent resources that teachers can immediately bring into their classroom in the coming days to help shed light on the questions that students are going to inevitably have. NPR and EdWeek’s Teaching Now blog also compiled their own collections of resources to address racism and bigotry in school and in the community. Education experts from the American Federation of Teachers, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project, the Anti-Defamation League and Facing History and Ourselves have come together to create a webinar, When Hate Is In The Headlines, focused on Charlottesville. This webinar includes important information about related issues such as the “alt-right”, the history of hate and white supremacy in the United States, and strategies for talking about race and religion with our students.

I have often found that the most meaningful pieces of education happen in the unplanned moments, during open and honest discussions with students. Talking about race and race relations is difficult for anyone, but more so for white teachers in predominately white institutions; it is hard to know what to say and how to say it well. Angela Watson’s podcast, Truth For Teachers, provides some insight on how to effectively have these conversations in Ten Things Every White Teacher Should Know When Talking About Race. Finally, if students or teachers are looking for action steps to take in response to the Charlottesville riot, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a guide entitled Ten Ways To Fight Hate: A Community Response, which will empower anyone to take action against racism and hate within their own communities.

Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples”, which I believe is a clear representation of the power of teachers and the extent to which our influence can travel. This blog post is my action step, my small stone that will hopefully create ripples far and wide by providing useful tools for all the great teachers out there faced with the awesome responsibility of shedding light into the darkness in our country right now. The White Nationalists will never win in a country full of educators who have committed their lives to the betterment our country through the greatest tool of all, education. Thank you for your commitment and dedication to the young people in this country, they need you more than ever right now. We all do.

Teach well, my friends

#everybodypoops: Exploring Affordable Sanitation in Developing Countries


The most effective use of Project Based Learning that I have ever been a part of occurred in my Biology II, The Great Diseases course where the students were studying inadequate access to sanitation around the world. The students were asked to acknowledge World Toilet Day put forth by the World Health Organization in February of last year. The purpose of this day is to bring awareness to the 2.6 billion people around the world who do not have access to adequate sanitation methods. The students were asked to observe this day by only using one toilet facility on campus, and this facility happened to be a 5 – 7 minute walk from the majority of their classrooms. The other stipulation was that the timing of the use of this facility could not be disruptive to any of their classes or their teachers. They needed to plan out when they would be able to go to the bathroom so that it was convenient for them without being obtrusive. The students commented that they originally thought that the day was going to be amusing or even fun, until it became a nuisance. This simple activity allowed the students to develop empathy for the many people in the developing world that also have to plan out the proper time to find and use the bathroom facilities so that it is convenient and more importantly, safe, for them.

In reflection of the toilet awareness activity in the following class, a discussion ensued about the injustice of the inadequate sanitation issues around the world and the students indicated at that time that they wanted to learn more about this issue. It was at this point that I could see the beginnings of a project that I had not planned. I asked the students to do some preliminary and independent research on areas around the world that suffered most significantly from inadequate access to sanitation and to be prepared to report out on that research in the following class period. The students discussed their findings and decided that they were most interested in learning more about inadequate access to sanitation of the squatting communities in urban India. The students were moved by a recent reporting of two young girls in Uttar Pradesh, India who had gone into a field at night to relieve themselves and were followed by two men who proceeded to rape and murder these young girls. It was a devastating and tragic story and the students were outraged and decided that they wanted to help.

In my own preliminary research about toilets in developing nations, I came across a TedTalk, Innovation to Sanitation Through Empathic Design, by Jasmine Burton. Burton, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia, majored in Empathic Design. I felt that Jasmine would be an interesting connection for my students because of her geographic location and her age. So, I found her email address on her web page and reached out to Ms. Burton to see if she would be willing to respond with some information about her toilet design and the implementation of her design in Africa. Ms. Burton replied that she would be very excited to speak to my students and asked to Skype with them if possible.


The Skype session took place the following week with Ms. Burton, who, unbeknownst to us, was currently living in Zambia and working on the implementation of her own empathically designed toilet into rural villages there. Prior to the Skype session, the students read about Ms. Burton, her business Wish For Wash, and her toilet design. The session lasted approximately 50 minutes with the students leading the discussion through their questions.

After the Skype session with Ms. Burton, the students told me that they were very interested in moving forward with their research and wanted to design a toilet for the squatting communities in India. The students used the next few weeks to research existing designs, created their own toilet designs, and then made prototypes of their design in the Maker Space of their school out of cardboard and plastic materials. Ms. Burton had asked to Skype with the students again after they created their prototypes so that she could offer suggestions for modifications that would help make the design of their toilets more functional.

During the second Skype session, Ms. Burton told the students that she thought that their designs were creative but that they would not know if they were feasible until they created them out of corrugated cardboard (which many life-size prototypes are made from, apparently) and made the toilets true to size. At this point, I just looked up Corrugated Cardboard in Richmond, VA and reached out to a local corrugated cardboard company, Richmond Corrugated Box, that agreed to allow my students and me to come to the factory for a tour. While there, the students were able to work with Richmond Corrugated Box’s Graphic Designer to import their prototype designs onto the software and print them on corrugated cardboard.

The experience was beneficial to students as they were able to see their designs in real time, make modifications in the moment, and then have them printed so that they designs were an adequate representation of what they wanted for their field toilets.

The final aspect of this project was a Skype session with Ms. Burton to show her the student designs and discuss the pros and cons of each design. Ms. Burton suggested reaching out to various NGOs to discuss the possibility of adopting the toilet design to have them mass-produced and shipped to India. The students were not ready for this step however because there were many unanswered questions that needed to be addressed before the designs felt sufficient and useful enough for the students to move forward with production.

This project was extremely in-depth and the students were exposed to multiple facets of learning that they would not have if they did not take on this project. They were tasked with designing a toilet that would be light enough to move, sturdy enough to withstand multiple uses, to weigh the pros and cons of a sitting vs. squatting toilet, the financial burden of mass-producing a product such as this, the logistics of finding a way to deliver the design to India, the environmental impacts of the dumping of these toilets which would inevitably happen on the streets and in the drainage run-off areas. The list is endless and though this project took longer than expected, the depth and breadth of learning was also more comprehensive than expected which lead to a feeling of successful learning of the students and myself. A number of the students went on to write their college entrance essays about this project, entitled #everybodypoops (which you can follow on Twitter).

Project-based learning is a tool used to develop 21st-century skills and to put content knowledge into practice in an authentic way. PBL is not a new tool but it is the only tool that this career educator has found that can accomplish these goals of skill development, content knowledge enhancement, and problem-solving prowess.

Feed My Starving Children PBL

Last year, I implemented this project-based learning activity, Feed My Starving Children, to accompany my macromolecules unit in 10th-grade biology. Macromolecules can be tedious as they are a bit abstract in nature and the students struggle to find the authentic purpose for studying these, to begin with. As educators, especially science educators, we understand that fundamentally if the students don’t understand what macromolecules are, how they bond, and what functional groups are associated with each, you can’t really comprehensively move forward with cells or cell organelles. So, to make this unit more relevant and applicable to something the students care about, I have created this project-based learning activity to enhance their learning.

Feed My Starving Children is my brain child that pulls in those 21st Century skills that we desperately want for our students to develop. This project requires creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. This project also enhances the idea of empathic design and responsible global citizenship that I need for my students to walk away with after spending the year in my classroom.

Below I am including a description of the project as well as links to all my materials in the form of Google Docs. If you have any questions about this project or want to try it, please reach out to me as I am happy to help! Good luck!

The outline of the PBL is as follows: (and can be found here)

Project-Based Learning Title: Feed My Starving Children

Grade: 10th

Project idea: The World Food Program is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. On average, WFP aims to bring food assistance to more than 80 million people in 75 countries. Malnutrition affects millions of people around the world. A third of all deaths in children under the age of 5 in developing countries are linked to undernutrition. WFP’s role in fighting malnutrition is not only to treat it but also to prevent it becoming severe in the first place.

The World Food Program is employing you to design a new nutrient-rich recipe that will be used to feed millions of people worldwide. The price of food and fuel has increased exponentially and the World Heath Organization has had to cut your budget by 18%, which means that you have a total of $1.25 per meal per child. Ideally, you will be able to feed each child 3 times per day. A typical serving portion is 1 cup of prepared food.

 How can we feed a child all the recommended macro and micronutrients on $3.75 per day?

macromolecules (biology), micronutrient recommendations (biology), food insecurity (global perspective), developing nations (geography),
Major Products:

  1. Detailed recipe of ingredients and preparation of foods
  2. The food item you prepared from your recipe
  3. Your written proposal should include: receipts, recipe, and nutritional information about your product, why your product should be selected by the WFP
  4. Nutrition lesson meant for the first-grade level to explain what carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids are, where they can be found, and a learning activity for the first graders
  5. Reflection on the project: what did you learn? What did you like/not like? What could I (Mrs. Cooke) do differently next time with this project?

Public Audience: Andy – master chef, Feed More organization, Stop Hunger Now representative, admin/faculty, Collegiate first grade classes, etc…

What I give to the students looks like this (and can be found here):


The World Food Program is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. On average, WFP aims to bring food assistance to more than 80 million people in 75 countries. Malnutrition affects millions of people around the world. A third of all deaths in children under the age of 5 in developing countries are linked to undernutrition. WFP’s role in fighting malnutrition is not only to treat it but also to prevent it becoming severe in the first place.

The World Food Program is employing you to design a new nutrient-rich recipe that will be used to feed millions of people worldwide. The price of food and fuel has increased exponentially and the World Heath Organization has had to cut your budget by 18%, which means that you have a total of $1.25 per meal per child. Ideally, you will be able to feed each child 3 times per day. A typical serving portion is 1 cup of prepared food.

DQ: Is it possible to feed a child all the recommended macro and micronutrients on $3.75 per day?

Here is what you need to focus on:

  1. The recipe must include all daily nutritional dietary needs (both macro and micro nutrients)
  2. The product needs to be as dry as possible to limit microbial growth. Workers/recipients in the field can add milk or water to make a paste.
  3. Food base should be easily grown with limited amounts of processing.
  4. This food needs to taste good, period.


You will need to make this food for the class and we will have a taste test at the end of the project. Please submit your receipts so that we know what the actual cost of your product encompasses.

End Products of this Project:

  1. Detailed recipe of ingredients and preparation of foods
  2. The food item you prepared from your recipe
  3. Your written proposal should include: receipts, recipe, and nutritional information about your product, why your product should be selected by the WFP
  4. Nutrition lesson meant for the first-grade level to explain what carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids are, where they can be found, and a learning activity for the first graders
  5. Reflection on the project: what did you learn? What did you like/not like? What could I (Mrs. Cooke) do differently next time with this project?

Assessing Student Work

Assessing student work with project-based learning is difficult. If they are invested, interested, and working hard, shouldn’t they all get an ‘A’? Not necessarily. I am still developing my understanding of appropriate assessments for project-based learning and a tie-in with core content. For this unit, the students have a traditional content-based assessment AND they are comprehensively graded on all aspects of the design and presentation of this project. I am including the rubrics and grading tools that I use with this project. If you modify or can think of a different and more effective means of assessment, please let me know.

Feed My Starving Children Rubric

Taste Tester Opinion Ranking Chart

Team Grading Form

Other Supplementals

Here are some additional documents that I use to enhance the understanding as the students work through this process.

Detailed Budget on Excel

Background Nutritional Research

World Food Program Product Guide

World Food Program Specialized Nutrition Sheet

Article on Food Security in Malawi

Here are some pictures of my students and their work

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