Pencils, Books and Coffee – How Students Are Inspired to Take Global Action!

I suppose this will not come as much of a surprise, especially for those teaching middle and high school, but the typical 9th grader isn’t often too concerned about global issues. While inspiring action (in anything) can be quite challenging except for maybe free food, Xbox or a quick text response. Developmentally students are just getting to where they need to be to take on larger, more complex social and global issues and moreover, they are attempting to figure out where they fit into the global mix. The fact that their actions can have a positive or negative influence on someone else across the world is a big concept, and not just for students.

I got to experience this first-hand as a first year Social Studies teacher taking on a World Cultures class where my ninth graders at the end of the year had to conduct a Mock United Nations, adopting and representing “their” country, bringing many skills together at the end of the year. I certainly wished I would have come across Kim Leegan’s approach to teaching World Studies. Ms. Leegan is one of the finalists in the 2011 Partners in Learning U.S. Innovative Education Forum. She teaches at Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, NJ and received a nice shout out here by her local paper. Her yearlong project for her 9th graders called “Adopt a Country” not only provides the necessary scaffolding for students, but leads students to delve deeper into their adopted country and the end results are inspiring her students to take action on a global scale.Kim Leegan picture

Students work on developing their online research skills as they research different political and cultural aspects of their country maintaining an digital journal along the way. As new components of the project are introduced throughout the year students create different artifacts and share them in the classroom including exploring the food and music of their chosen country. At points throughout the year students demonstrate their learning to their teacher and peers including the “Passport Project” where students create a passport in Microsoft Publisher and “visit” different countries to get their passports stamped.

The goal Ms. Leegan strives for with her students is to create global citizens. In her own words she believes this project, “…helps the students make a real connection between what they are learning in the classroom and what they can do in the world.” Students not only become aware of the cultural and political differences of other countries, but more attuned to the social and environmental challenges countries face and how what we do here in our little worlds can impact what is happening to a person or group of people in another country. This type of global awareness is fundamental to enabling a 21st century student to be a successful, productive and responsible citizen.

Though like with most good stories, there is a bit more. As the students become more expert on their adopted country they become more attached to it as the year progresses. Later in the year Ms. Leegan asks them to explore a particular social issue their country faces. The challenge is to not only determine the social issue, but also what approaches or solutions might be in place to help address this challenge whether it be a relief agency, aid organization or a business model such as the Fair Trade organization that helps ensure local farmers get fair compensation for products sold around the world.

The point of all this is to build awareness and “global responsibility” in students so they recognize they can and should take action to make an impact. Some of the results she has seen is that students developed the “Pencil Project” collecting school supplies for elementary schools in Costa Rica and one group started the “Refugee’s Read” project leading fundraising activities to help teachers in Ethiopia get books for students in refugee camps. A project to support Haitian coffee farmers evolved into a full-blown school club called Project Haiti with the goal being to help raise awareness that in supporting organizations like Fair Trade we can all help Haiti become economically independent. Not surprisingly this project is already receiving an award, the 2011 Governor Jefferson Award for Outstanding Youth Service in the field of Peace and Justice. Wow!

As you’ve probably gathered, to get there is multi-staged effort that helps students develop many core skills while going above and beyond not only the standards in her home state, but a number of 21st century skills along the way, however, in the end it is Ms. Leegan finding creative ways to engage students throughout the year which leads to deeper student buy-in and ultimately student-driven action that goes beyond the classroom.

I look forward to learning more about this project later this month in Redmond at the IEF event. I will continue to blog on some of the many amazing projects that will be exhibited at IEF. To stay in touch, follow me @TeachTec and “Like” us at Partners in Learning on Facebook and we will be posting more details about the educators and the event, including our plans to UStream the keynote speakers.

How have you inspired your students to take global action?  Please share your thoughts.



(aka putting the “Teach” in TeachTec)

Comments (1)

  1. J F says:

    for more info on Ms. Leegan and her project, you can also see this profile from the Scotch Plains Fanwood Patch…/microsoft-honors-uc-teacher-for-use-of-pcs

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