As I set off with my trusty backpack…

binoculars-995779_1280

I am an explorer. People who know me wouldn’t disagree with the statement and would probably point to my love of travel as evidence. But I would argue that I travel because I am an explorer, not that I am an explorer because I travel. This is a distinction that I wouldn’t have made before today

But I became an educator because I am an explorer; I am curious and wanted to learn more about the world and people around me. Being an educator gives you license to learn anything and everything, but it’s also an opportunity to uncover how the world works and to bring that world to my students. I am also an explorer in the classroom, both an ethnographer and an archeologist, uncovering truths and information about my students.

Labeling educators as explorers can be an important shift in how teachers and the outside world think of teachers. On one hand, some people see teachers as experts in a subject matter who then impart that knowledge to students. Another view of teachers is as regurgitators of information that someone else has deemed important. A third view is that of a teacher as a facilitator of learning experiences. Which view is most popular seems to ebb and flow with time and which education trend is currently in fashion. Educators as explorers is obviously most complementary with the third view of teachers –- a view where teachers are continuing to learn and gather knowledge and can use that knowledge to craft engaging and empowering learning experiences for their students.

Explorers venture off into unknown (to them) territory to learn new information; information that they then translate into a medium that others can understand. Traditionally, they also play a role in exposing you to new people and new experiences you didn’t even know existed. And since many organizations understand the value of having teachers value what organization values (geography, a tech tool, India), teachers are given opportunities to explore in ways that other professions aren’t afforded. Often these are geared toward specific content areas and/or age groups but it’s amazing what I am allowed to spend time learning (often for free and sometimes even paid to learn.)

The teachers who are explorers learn for learning’s sake, those who know that no knowledge is wasted, seek out these opportunities. Russian history workshops taught by experts (i.e. university professors) passionate about the topic –sign me up. Studying butterflies in Costa Rica — I am there. What role plankton plays in the ocean and on our planet? — I can’t wait (especially if it has an in the field aspect).

As a teacher, I tromp off to these conferences, experiences, or online opportunities to gain knowledge and skills that I can bring back to my students. I translate my learning experiences into a medium where the students are exposed to this new information and ideas — my role is open their eyes and to provide experiences that might be contradictory to their world view so that their understanding of the world and how it works is widened.

As an educator who wants my students to have a voice and choice in their learning and who crafts inquiry-based learning experiences, I need to have a diverse knowledge base. My gain in knowledge is their gain.

Having an explorer’s mindset allows me to craft learning experiences where my students’ curiosity drives the conversation and learning. I am okay with the unknown and have a skill set where I am confident (perhaps unreasonably) that I can figure out enough information to help students with what they need help with. My role becomes one of a connector — I connect students to information, to experts, and to locations where they can learn the information that is needed. I translate the unknown into explorable bits so that students themselves are explorers of new information, new skills, and new learning experiences.

Today, I participated in a meet-up sponsored by National Geographic. I was lucky enough to hear the stories of explorers (both educators and explorers in the more traditional sense) and as with other learning experiences, my brain went into overdrive on how to share this information with others — how might I translate my experience and learnings into a format my colleagues and students could understand?

Archeology? I love archeology and learning about the past. This love carried me through nine years of Latin, three years of classical Greek, and one fabulous dig in Ecuador but today’s insight and learning was tied to STEM. I had never thought about how much STEM is involved in archeology. Listening Christine Lee, a bio archeologist, talk about her work in Mongolia all I could think about was how this could be a path to bring more students who traditionally are not involved in STEM in college and as a career into the STEM world. How might we use archeology to inspire K-12 students to be curious problem-solvers? How might this lead to more diverse and varied understanding of what it means to be a scientist?

Shah Selbe Talking About His Lab

Examples of how technology can solve problems that are facing the world today? Yes, please! Shah Selbe provided a wow factor of what can happen when you bring technology and engineering into conservation projects as well as a eureka moment. I helped run a hack-a-thon last year for our middle school students where they utilized the Internet of Things (IoT) to solve local problems. His examples of how he and his collaborators are utilizing IoT to solve global problems helped push my thinking what the students might focus on and might actually prototype (check out http://conservify.org/). It also was an example of the value that technology can add to conservation work, and that by compartmentalizing disciplines and subject areas, we limit out-of-the-box and innovative thinking. He doesn’t know this but I have already started to brainstorm ways to use what he is working on to inspire and to push my students’ thinking.

Broadening my understanding of US history? Learning information that expands my understanding of US history is always a bonus. Tom Herman presented on resources about the Anza Expedition, a journey by Juan Bautista de Anza (and 240 men, women, and children) in 1776 from New Spain to establish a settlement at the San Francisco Bay. This could be a perfect new project-based learning unit for either the 4th or 5th grade classes — 4th grade studies California history (and visits the Bautista mission) and 5th grade studies the formation of the United States. Thoughts are swirling about head about where to take this next.

So as I set off to work this morning with my trusty backpack, I think about the new possibilities out there. What might I explore next?

All I know is that having opportunities to interact with other explorers and experts in the field allows me to continue to learn and provide better learning experiences for my students, and I thank National Geographic for allowing me to spend two days uncovering new insights and discovering that I too am an explorer.

Originally Published on Medium at https://medium.com/@jessica.lura/as-i-set-off-with-my-trusty-backpack-9a9bfdefcedd#.slir3acn3

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About Jessica Lura

I am the director of strategic initiatives and partnerships at public K-8 charter school in Northern California. I work to integrate technology and hands-on learning into the classroom. I develop and lead professional development for my school, helping teachers develop project-based learning and design thinking units, integrate technology and digital citizenship in the classroom, and create opportunities for real world interactions and projects. For my efforts, I was named Santa Clara County's Office of Education Charter School Teacher of Year for 2013 and a 2014 Comcast All-Star Teacher. I am also a 2014 Google Certified Teacher.
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