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Global Education: Bringing the World to Your Classroom

By Noah Zeichner — July 03, 2012 5 min read

I love to travel. In my eight years of teaching, I have seized several (free) opportunities to see the world. Travel has enriched my teaching, allowing me to bring international experiences directly back to my students.

This year I participated in the Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship, a program of the U.S. State Department.

I joined 64 teachers from around the country in completing an online course on best practices in global education. In February, we attended a global education symposium in Washington, D.C., accompanied by administrators from our schools.

And I just returned from an eye-opening trip to Brazil with 10 other TGC teachers. We spent two weeks observing and co-teaching in schools (both public and private). Other teachers in the program traveled to India, Ghana, Indonesia, Morocco, and Ukraine.

One takeaway from my fellowship experience is a clearer understanding of what teaching global competencies might look like in practice. The Asia Society and the Council of Chief State School Officers have produced a series of global competence matrices (PDF). I started using these matrices this year as a way to evaluate my own curriculum. Recently, I’ve been embedding competencies into my student assessment rubrics.

The four main elements of the global competence matrix are:

• Investigate the world.

• Recognize perspectives.

• Communicate ideas.

• Take action.

We should be teaching our students these skills, and of course, mastering the competencies ourselves. They probably sound familiar: Some call them 21st-century skills, and others refer to them as the new basics. Students need to go beyond their comfort zones and actively learn from (not just about) people who have different worldviews.

This is not a call to throw out the curricula that we are currently using. On the contrary, it’s an opportunity to enhance our practice and create a more rigorous and meaningful learning environment for our students.

In teaching U.S. history this past school year, I have worked with colleagues to revise our Progressive Era and Great Depression units, incorporating more opportunities for students to develop global competencies.

Investigate the World and Recognize Perspectives

Progressive Era unit: After a look at Teddy Roosevelt and the creation of the national parks system, students learned about differing views on the management of public lands a hundred years ago (focusing on John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Richard Ballinger). Students analyzed and debated the decision to dam the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite. We tried to push students to recognize their own perspectives within the spectrum of preservationist, conservationist, and laissez-faire attitudes.

Great Depression unit: We redesigned our Great Depression unit to follow an arc that led to a study of the Great Recession of 2007-09. We began by looking at the causes of the 1929 stock market crash and the widespread bank failures that followed. Then we moved on to study the “alphabet soup” of New Deal programs and the impact of the depression on people’s everyday lives. Next, we compared different economic perspectives on the causes of and responses to the Depression, including a theoretical comparison of capitalism and communism.

Communicate Ideas/Taking Action

Progressive Era unit: We finished the unit by turning to the present. Students studied the current debate over the Keystone Pipeline project. After role-playing a town hall meeting on the pipeline issue, students wrote letters to President Obama that showed an understanding of multiple perspectives and incorporated the history of American conservationism and environmentalism. We hope that the President will be impressed by the level of global competence in the 100 letters, especially the act of sending them.

Great Depression unit: Similarly, we ended the Great Depression unit in the present. We looked at the recent economic recession, focusing on the collapse of the housing bubble, and the growing income inequality gap. Students debated three perspectives on economic policy:

• The call for a “New New Deal” and increased taxation of the wealthiest Americans.

• A focus on deficit reduction and tax cuts.

• A call for a new, more just system altogether.

Background materials included rhetoric from the Obama campaign, the Republican Party’s economic platform, and the Occupy Movement. We hope that students take action by personally engaging with these important issues, and that those who are eligible voters will feel informed enough to participate in this November’s presidential election.

But you don’t have to be a social studies teacher to incorporate the global competencies—the matrices address numerous content areas.

And you don’t have to take students across international borders. You can help your students practice the skills of recognizing different perspectives and communicating ideas effectively in your own classroom, engaging the diverse perspectives found in your own community and school.

There are also easy ways to connect with classrooms around the world. You can start by simple class-to-class communication and then advance to collaborating with classes in other countries on specific projects. (I’ve listed some of my favorite resources below.)

The time to take global education seriously is now. Whether you believe we need to prepare students to compete economically with students from other nations or that graduates need to have the skills to collaborate with others to solve complex problems, the global competencies are critical. Some resources follow:

Collaboration with Global Classrooms

ePals—The recently revised ePals website matches you with classroom partners around the world who share your interests. You can join pre-existing projects as well.

iEARN—Students and teachers in more than 130 countries are engaged in collaborative projects through iEARN.

• See this list from the World Affairs Council in Seattle for more resources.

Professional Development and Curriculum

Global Education Conference is a free international online conference for educators. The third annual event will take place November 12-16, 2012.

Primary Source offers global education curriculum resources and professional development for K-12 teachers, including fantastic resource guides for a variety of countries and topics.

Facing the Future touts this motto: “Critical thinking. Global perspective. Informed action.” You can download materials on their website for hands-on lessons about global issues across the curriculum.

International Travel

Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC)—Applications for the 2012-13 TGC fellowship are past due, but I encourage any teachers who are interested in the topic of global education to apply next year. The fellowship is a program of U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is administered by IREX.

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