This post was written by K-5th special projects teacher Jennifer Burgin.
In March, our worlds felt topsy-turvy. Schools closed, children went home, families encountered one another all day. In a blog post, I shared how it impacted my teacher’s heart, and how I was spurred to action through encouragement from my National Geographic Education peers. This perpetuated across the summer and into the Fall, and the more I listened, the more I heard that how I felt was echoing in other hearts across the globe. I was not alone, and neither are you.
Through it all, educators and families are turning to places they trust, including one another and National Geographic, for resources to enhance learning, encourage exploration, and spark curiosity. Here are amazing examples of resilience and growth from some of my beloved peers, inspired by National Geographic Education’s new Family Guide, which helps families explore resources and use them at home.
Coleman Charles Eaton III
Middle-School Science Teacher, David T. Howard Middle School, Atlanta, GA
2012 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow (a partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society)
“I have two daughters and it’s been an interesting challenge to figure out how to supplement virtual learning at home. I’ve been using National Geographic Education resources to take my kids on adventures to other countries. We missed out on a trip to Africa this summer, so we did some scavenger hunts, and talked about the animals and the cultures of those places. Teaching my girls from National Geographic Education allows them to see things from a 360-degree view and figure out where they fit in that role.
In my classroom, I try to integrate the resources and make things personal for my students. They get into the activities and think, “How can I make a difference and make a change?” They are more involved and engaged when we do models and programs: the carbon footprint exercise, the marine science program, scavenger hunts, virtual field trips, etc. They are able to start a dialogue about what’s going on around the world, and the resources help them be global citizens and try to figure out how they fit in.”
Middle-School Science Teacher, Orlando, FL
National Geographic Teacher Advisory Committee Member, National Geographic Certified Educator, and 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow (a partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society)
“National Geographic Education resources really resonate with my students when they see the actual application. Take, for example, surface tension. When I’m talking about hydrogen bonds and molecules, you can see their blank eyes as they don’t really understand what I’m saying. But then I go to the National Geographic archives and pull photos of sharks about to come out of the water or a video of lizards running on water and they see it, that’s surface tension. They are like, “Oh, I can see that. Now that makes sense.” When you have a resource from National Geographic and you can provide the foundation and make it more relevant and applicable, that’s wonderful.
Don’t be afraid of exploring. Yes, you do have a curriculum you have to follow, but go with an explorer mindset. If you can engage them and give them the skills, the knowledge will follow. If they’re curious, this is not the time to question whether or not it is meeting expectations and curriculum guidelines. This is the time to learn something new with your kids and learn what your kids really like — that is surprising sometimes! Don’t be afraid of exploring, don’t be afraid of failing. Be kind to yourself.”
Wildlife Biologist and Mom to 3 Kids, Arlington, VA
Jennifer taught her eldest, who participated in the Educator Explorer Challenge and has been greatly inspired by Dr. Ryan Carney. She’s also tuned in to Explorer Classroom for Littles.
“I love that National Geographic Education gives my kids access to additional resources they wouldn’t get in the classroom. They’re exposed to new ideas, topics, people through Explorer Classroom in particular. National Geographic Education also does a great job of showcasing the work of women and people of color, who often are not well-represented in science. I’m hoping my daughters will see the Explorers and think, “That’s an avenue that is open to me if I’m interested in it.” It’s an opportunity to expose them to fields and people they wouldn’t get to see in their classroom.
For my kids, the photographs and videos of animals are a big draw. They have been really well done — they present colorful and dynamic illustrations that draw the kids in. My eldest, 11, is an old soul and she is very drawn to the people who are doing the work. She wants to know more about the scientists themselves! She’s a suburban kid who loves sharks, and so when she sees other people who are interested in sharks, she is curious about them, their research, and why they wanted to pursue it. It’s a double benefit for my kids.”
Education Specialist, Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center, Topeka, KS
Facilitator for the National Geographic Educator Certification Program and a 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow (a partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society)
“As an informal educator, I often need hour-long activities that are adaptable. I appreciate that National Geographic Education resources include a lesson plan — there is a lot to know as a teacher or parent, and you may not be as well-versed as you’d like to be in the subject matter. The background information helps with that. Use the filter to figure out a topic you might be interested in and scroll through the resources because there is something for everyone. Whether you’re an educator, parent, or student, there are so many lesson plans that you can adapt to your classroom and home very easily.
One of my favorite resources is around climate change. My class started by talking about the three stages of modeling: What our environment looked like before climate change, what it currently looks like, and what the future looks like. Based on the modeling, we talked about the effects of climate change and the students chose a situation to draw. It helped them think about how science is incorporated and the visible and invisible components of climate change and allowed them to be artistic.”
To me, this is #TeacherStrong: classroom teachers, informal educators, and parents teaching their children. I wrote it once, and I’ll write it again –
“To my fellow educators, as you move forward, I humbly share this advice that I received from my peers and which has helped me in my day-to-day: Take time to encourage one another, be kind, give grace to yourself and to parents and students. Put yourself out there in your virtual community and take a moment (or two!) to embrace the power of connection. Go on social media to seek out positivity and be a cheerleader. Find a colleague or a parent or a friend, read one of their posts, and comment. Add words of encouragement. Tag someone who might want to know that you’re thinking about them, amplify someone’s great idea, applaud another educator, share a video to uplift someone, respond to a tweet. Dive into your virtual community and replenish your heart.”
Jennifer teaches K-5th special projects at Hoffman-Boston Elementary in Arlington, VA. She’s a 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow (a partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society), a National Geographic Certified Educator & Trainer, and a 2020 Explorer. She’s also the host of Explorer Classroom.
Feature image by Michael Nichols