I’ve been to the African continent three times, each time for about a month. The first time I was working as a private teacher for an American family traveling around the world, and one of my classrooms was the city of Capetown, South Africa.
The second time I volunteered at an education non-profit in Kati, Mali, where I helped train new teachers in how to teach in a project-based manner that appealed to multiple learning styles.
The third time I was learning and traveling with GEEO (Global Explorations for Educators Organization). Even though this trip was the most like a big safari vacation, I still got to visit schools in Mozambique, and engage in lots of conversations with other American teachers as we explored Southern African landscapes.
I used to think that trips like these made me really qualified to teach a unit on African geography and culture. Sure, they might increase my “cool” factor, but now I understand that global education is more than just traveling somewhere and then teaching about it. In our most recent unit on Africa, I tried to increase the opportunities for students to make real global connections. I want them to get beyond the stereotypes and see some of the diversity and vibrancy of the continent. Here are some ways that I did this most recently:
1. Inviting guest speakers to teach students about topics we were studying in class. For example, a guest speaker from Morocco taught students about the resources and needs of her country. She was friendly and engaging, such that they were able to forget about the veil covering most of her face.
2. Helping students imagine they were abroad by participating in “virtual travel.” For example, students got 1.5 million kwacha, the local currency in Zambia, and they needed to decide whether they would pay 700,000 kwacha to ride in a helicopter over the Falls or 150,000 kwacha to visit the park and see it from the shore. I was able to share my experiences to help them make their decisions.
3. Creating art which we will sell to raise money to donate abroad. Each student’s art piece represented a different resource from a country in Africa. The students really invested their full energy into making it the best that they could make it. When they know there is a real audience, they care much more about the final product.
4. Focusing on a particular issue — in this case, health. Students researched data regarding topics such as Malaria, AIDS, clean drinking water, life expectancy, and basic vaccinations. Each student made a thematic map and bar graph analyzing discrepancies between different countries in Africa, as well as the United States.
5. Connecting with real people who were involved in real organizations that could address these problems. We had a guest speaker who had volunteered at a non-profit in Tanzania, and another who did the Peace Corps in Zaire (the former name for the Democratic Republic of the Congo). We also participated in our first Skype call with students in Botswana who are organizing a campaign to buy mosquito nets for people in need in order to prevent the spread of Malaria. Below is an excerpt from that call, which was very powerful. It’s worth watching to the end when some of the tough issues came up, like corporal punishment and guns in schools.
6. Giving students the power to help! Students got to choose where they’d like to donate the money we raise. They could advocate for one of the organizations we learned about, or research another one online. After each student gave a powerful speech, they voted on the organization they want to support financially. This quarter, both of my classes chose the Amani Children’s Home, which serves one of the most needy populations in Tanzania – street children. It was a tough decision!
We’ve had a great unit studying Africa, and now we’re gearing up for travel to South America. We’re planning to focus on the environment in Peru and we’ll be getting involved with some advocacy work. I’d love ideas from anyone out there about how we could keep getting connected — to real people doing real work. I don’t just want to share my experiences; I want to give experiences to my students. But first, it’s time to celebrate our African unit!