Essential Questions for Travel

Goal setting is important for many walks of life, but it is especially important for travel. Why spend lots of time and money going to a new place without any clear mission? Setting essential questions for exploration while traveling is a great way to get the most out of an experience.  Here’s my thoughts on setting and tracking essential questions for my trip to Ukraine in April of 2012.

What can teachers do to build strong global citizenship values in students?

Pre-Travel Inquiry

Innovation Academy on Google Earth (zoomed out)

When I found out that I needed to create a blog as part of my fellowship, I knew that I needed a good name. I chose “Innovation on Earth” because building global citizenship is fundamental to my values as a teacher. I’m fascinated by how connected students feel to their larger world community. Do Innovation Academy students feel like citizens of the whole planet, or do they just think of themselves as Americans, or members of their town and state? How often do they picture their school community and its place in the larger global community of young people preparing to be responsible adults?

My notes from the first symposium back in February 2012.

Students certainly already know how to be good citizens of their local community — they know about voting in town elections, cheering for local sports teams, and waving our nation’s flag. But, then what? How do they care for the land, plants, animals, and humans that are beyond their borders?  What do these borders separate us from, anyway? I also liked that the name “Innovation on Earth” reminds everyone that building global citizenship takes true creativity from people all over the world.

Despite the fact that they were issues that were close to my heart, I wasn’t sure how to go deeper into this issue through my journey to Ukraine.  As you can see in my notes, I brainstormed supporting questions and people to ask for information, but I set off on the trip with an open mind about how to find answers.

Discoveries and Reflection

While I was in Ukraine, I visited 5 different schools. They were diverse, educating students in kindergarten through 11th grade. They were all varying degrees of public, but not all free, and some schools had specializations, such as languages, special needs, and music. At each school, I tried to ask as many questions as I could to understand the local perspective.  I did notice some trends in the way the students and teachers talked about their place in the world. Of course, I was only in Ukraine for 2 weeks, but these are my observations:

  • Ukrainians are uninterested in getting involved in politics. Most young people are aware of the corruption in government and don’t see that path as an honorable one.
  • Ukrainians feel that learning languages is imperative to being successful as an adult. They know that most of the world doesn’t speak Ukrainian or Russian, and they think of English as a ticket out.
  • Ukrainians have a great feeling of duty to their local community. For example, schools ask families to pay money towards running the school, and often the money is paid out of duty rather than requirement. Kids also have great responsibility towards caring for their parents.

A popular blog entry: I filmed video responses to IACS student questions

As I got more into blogging from Ukraine, I also learned a great deal about global citizenship through student involvement back home. Kids at Innovation Academy were very interested in learning about the students in Ukraine. Many commented frequently and they responded often to photos and videos. It made me reflect on the curiosity about others that is natural to being human.  Students also responded strongly when they learned about similarities in their music, film, and book interests.

After my Ukraine trip, I continued blogging in Turkey and China, as well as back home. I found that it only took one or two students to comment to drive me to keep writing. I have a real passion for learning about other cultures, and it means a lot to share that with even a few students. I am still exploring ways to engage other students, but some of the strategies that I’ve found most successful in building global citizenship include:

  • Requiring homework that gets kids to look at the blog, just to get them started.
  • Creating high-interest content that appeals to things they are interested in. One of my top blogs from China was about toilets, and one of my most watched videos was about Chinese acrobats.
  • Offering incentives for involvement, such as public recognition (getting published on the site), gifts from travel, and extra credit.
  • Asking questions to require students to engage and think about the experiences I’m writing about
  • Getting them involved in researching information about my trip, voting for favorites, or whatever other means requires active engagement in the experience.

A carnival in Ukraine — evidence that kids work for prizes, despite my interest in Alfie Kohn’s research on the negatives of external incentives

Lingering Questions

Now, I am home from a total of 10 weeks abroad (2 in Ukraine, 1 in Turkey, and 7 in China in the past 4 months) and I am trying to figure out my next steps in building global citizenship at Innovation. Some of the areas I want to continue to explore include:

  • How can I get students to take a leadership role in building global citizenship in our school? I am starting a club this year and am going to explore how to involve those students in leading school-wide initiatives.
  • How can I get teachers to use the Global Education Resource Guide? How can I get students to continue following the blog?
  • What topics can I write about from Massachusetts? I’d like to keep the blog going, but it means being more creative about finding global connections in my life at home.

Do you have experience teaching global citizenship? Please consider emailing me at and telling me your ideas.

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