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High School Teacher Will Sail to the Arctic With Fellow Program for Geographic Education

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Thirty-five educators from the United States and Canada will explore some of the world's marvels as fellows of the Lindbald Expeditions National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program, a national fellowship program for teachers committed to geographic education. 

The finalists were announced last month, after more than 500 teachers applied with responses on how they will further their students' understanding about the planet and challenge them to think critically about generating solutions for a healthier, more sustainable future.

The program is designed to give teachers opportunities to learn alongside environmental and geographic specialists on expeditions to the Canadian High Artic, Antarctica, Southeast Alaska, Svalbard, Iceland, Greenland, or the Galapagos Islands, so that they may incorporate their field-based experiences into their own instruction and professional communities.

Wendi Pillars, a frequent contributing writer for Education Week Teacher from the Center of Teaching Quality Collaboratory and an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher at Jordan-Matthews High School in Siler City, N.C., is one of the selected teachers. 

pillars-headshot-200px.jpgPillars will take part in an 11-day expedition to Norway's Arctic Svalbard, which she described as the "land of the ice bears" and "home to the midnight sun, arctic flora, fauna, and all sorts of Nordic magic of yore." (Fun fact: There are actually more polar bears than people in Svalbard!) 

Pillars has taught in Czech Republic, Norway, England, Nepal, and the Philippines. She said her experience abroad has taught her how to understand cultural differences and  "to stop and observe from a place of curiosity," which she encourages her students to practice. 

"There's definitely an interdisciplinary aspect with global education. Global perspectives offer students different viewpoints to learn about different cultures," Pillars said. 

She will be traveling in June with three other teachers, naturalists, and Lindbalt-National Geographic photographers aboard the National Geographic Explorer, the partnership's ice-class vessel and expedition ship. The entire cohort gathered at National Geographic headquarters in Washington for a three-day conference in March to meet and learn from naturalists, scientists, researchers, and past fellows in pre-expedition workshops and training. 

"It was wonderful to be around a diverse group of educators. Some were formal educators and others were informal, like zookeepers and tour guides—all of these different perspectives," Pillars said. "Just being around teachers who are also looking for new ways to think about and incorporate global education into classrooms was wonderful." 

Teachers on each expedition are provided with a box of tech tools, like 360° cameras and GoPros, to use with guidance from a certified photo instructor from the program. That way, teachers can show their students landscapes, wildlife, and footage of their travels.

Fellows make a two-year commitment to National Geographic's education program and are also expected to engage with the community in some outreach of their choosing. 

For her community outreach, Pillars will be offering professional development for teachers in her district to teach them how to better integrate global education into their classrooms.

"I always think there's a danger of separating certain skills in different classes because then it's easy to pawn off the responsibility and say that global education will happen in that class," Pillars added. "In actuality it would be far more impactful for students to see and understand the interdisciplinary connections within different content areas. I think it will help teachers to reframe their content at a time when it's vital to rethink what we are teaching, to reconsider what will hold the greatest value for our students in their futures."

Through her adventures, Pillars hopes her students catch "the bug of curiosity."

"Our school has a high percentage of English-language learners, and their ability to travel freely is limited," she said. "For many of them, this type of travel is an idea they would have never even entertained. My goal is to open any window I can for them into what our world holds, and ideally, plant seeds of wonder for further exploration."

She also hopes that this opportunity will help all of her students learn how to think more deeply about the world around them. 

"The idea of an authentic audience pervades my instruction—students understand that the work they do is not just for my eyes, but to teach others in some way," Pillars said. "We speak to experts via Skype to clarify information, we have written books to teach elementary students and produced videos for the community on different topics, as examples. Doing this helps foster the idea that learning is meant to be applied, to take action in some way."

Image by Flickr user Christopher Michel, licensed under Creative Commons; headshot provided by Pillars 

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