Stern's guilty pleasure is travel and it adds to the classroom

Stern's guilty pleasure is travel and it adds to the classroom
Protect her Earth!

As many of you are aware, every month ChicagoNow holds its Bloga-Palooz Hour. Bloggers are given one hour to write about a prompt. This prompt—at least I thought at first—would be a challenge to connect to teaching: write a post defending your guilty pleasure.

And then, like a lightning bolt, it came to me: Travel. There’s an old African proverb that “travel makes one see.” Yes, I’ve spent a fortune traveling, but I have learned so much.

I’ll start with Africa. It’s my favorite place to visit; it’s a continent that, in least in my mind, is totally raw. Who knows what will happen there next. There’s so much instability, but there’s also so much wisdom and beauty. I’ve had the joy of visiting twice and what I learned added to my curriculum. When studying themes of freedom and oppression in an integrated unit, we looked beyond the situation in the United States to Mandela and Apartheid. One of my students did a report on Mandela that was discussed on the MacNeil-Lehrer news hour. I brought in pictures in of Robben Island and Mandela’s cell. Another student studied Louis Leakey. During one science unit, my students and I researched whether a termite mound was a habitat. As part of a primary Language Arts classroom, we created reader’s theater out of African folktales.

I went to Antarctica on my own and without any financial support. I participated in an international climate change mission. While I was in a zodiac cruising through ice floes and spotting leopard seals and tabular icebergs, my students were researching the impact of climate change worldwide and the Antarctic Treaty. When I came back, we created a mock UN, with my students representing various countries around the world, articulating that country’s position on climate change, and debating whether the UN should encourage leaders to extend the 2041 treaty that prohibits mining in Antarctica.

The following year, my students participated in a pen pal program with students at a South African school. The headmistress at the school was my roommate on the Antarctica mission and her students still correspond—after five years—with some of mine. In terms of my learning, I was invited to go to Copenhagen to be an observer at the climate change summit in 2009 (“COP 15”).

Travel experiences can lighten the atmosphere at school. Children love to learn new words and expressions, like “where’s the loo” or “mind the gap.” Different is intriguing. One of my students was obsessed with medieval architecture and artillery. He was thrilled when I visited Provence.

Students love sharing their travel experiences. When my son was in second grade, his teacher would give a student who was going on vacation a “bear.” The student would have to chronicle the bear’s journey and report back to the class. Fun! The Spanish teacher at my old school would have children make dioramas that reflected their travels. Of course, they’d have to add correct vocabulary.

I even used travel vocabulary as a classroom management tool. I learned to say sit down, please in French. So, whenever students were a tad rowdy, I’d start speaking French, they’d look at me like I was crazy, and quiet down.

Travel got me out of my comfort zone. I think that there’s a lot to be said for that. I also think that there’s a lot to be said for seeing the world as an outsider while at the same time navigating a new culture. It helps us understand differences better.

My final point: I’m a firm believer in vacations. I wish everyone could be able to take a break, chill, and share an experience with someone who is completely different.

Spring Break is coming up. Opt for  change and travel.

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