Makin’ The World a Better Place

I shared the news recently on our facebook page….I am now a National Geographic Certified Educator, but I’m sure a lot of you are wondering, what exactly does that mean? So, I thought I would take the time to explain what my experience has been, how grateful I am for the growth it has spurred, & how fellow teachers can access the course as well to strength & expand the learning in our communities.

I started this course in April & right away I was over the moon excited because (I’m sure I’ll be the first one to ever say this) traveling & changing the world by sharing stories with my photography for National Geographic, was a dream of mine for a long time. It seems like a lifetime ago when I pursued it, now that I am settled in Plymouth, Indiana with four little ones rolling around together in a big bundle of giggles everywhere I go, but turns out it was a flame that never went out. So it was exciting & so unexpected to find myself seeking out the community at National Geographic, now as an unconventional educator, still with that dream of changing the world, just through kids right here at our little ol’ farm.

To complete the course, you go through three phases. During the first, you learn about their mission, which is to ‘teach kids about the world and how it works, empowering them to succeed and to make it a better place.’ Did you see that part about making our world a better place? That was so refreshing right off the bat. Kinda like how I felt when I watched an interview with my favorite presidential candidate last time around & they were asked what one word they would want to be known for if they became president-that word was compassion. It’s not often you see folks or organizations putting things like ‘making the world better’ or ‘having compassion’ front stage & center….those are my kind of people! Thinking about the big picture, about what we all really want to accomplish through our existence & the ways in which we want to share with others, that’s the kind of mindset I’m into.

And the program didn’t disappoint as I went further. Right away, they began by focusing on helping your students become aware of & understand how the human & natural worlds interact & exist with one another. Then, they give you tools to push yourself to think of ways to incorporate local, regional, & even global scales into your work with children.

Later in phase one, you learn about their learning framework, which focuses on the desired attitudes, skills, & knowledge that the program strives for in explores-a word they used some in the program to describe students. Isn’t that a lovely way to frame our mindsets towards children?! (I think a lot of parents could benefit from that mindset!) The learning framework has been created to explain National Geographic’s core beliefs & values, but also as a resource to then take those agreed upon desired outcomes, and ask yourself, ‘How can I design a learning experience that will lead to one or many of these outcomes?‘ Honestly, at first I sort of glossed over the chart & moved on, feeling like it was not a great fit for my style of teaching, but it wasn’t until later, in reflection, that I fully began to see how this tool could be used further.

For phase two of the program, you complete two activities with your students, applying what you have learned. For the first project you complete your lesson while using a resource of  your choice from National Geographic. I wrote about this extensively in my last blog here, when the fields next to our farm were crop dusted, eventually killing many of our beloved honeybees. But on the positive side, we were able to turn it into an opportunity to learn! For the second project, you could choose from a list of their themes provided & run with it from there-I chose ‘Get Outside’. Of course after the projects were completed, you do a lot of self-reflection & peer reviews, so that all along the course you are ‘hearing’ feedback from your cohorts. Then, you create a video that explains a bit about yourself, your projects, how the learning framework was utilized, & how you know your explorers benefited from it. (See my video at the very beginning of this post) I also had a mentor from National Geographic that I worked with & can’t say enough positives about how that affected me! When I completed my capstone video & submitted it to her, she pushed me to think further & it really was in that reflection period that the learning framework sort of became more of a mindset for me, rather than a chart. When I turned my video in, I turned around & told my husband, ‘My goal is to somehow be recognized within my group of fellow educators.’ A few days later I received an email from a manager of the program, asking if they could possibly use an abridged quote of mine… heart was so very happy to feel recognized! What you think about, you bring about, I suppose! 🙂

Certification has strengthened my voice as an educator by showing me that I am not alone! It is so refreshing to be among others who have similar goals—showing students the enormity and diversity of our world. 

-Amanda Jo Boener

Something that I really gained during this course was the realization that although I think globally, I can do a much better job helping the kids understand the diversity & scope of distance there is around our world. One of my strongest memories of actually learning something in High School from a teacher, was my freshman year in Mr. Shockney’s Physcology class. We read an article about female genital mutilation from elsewhere in the world. I can’t remember exactly where, but I remember feeling like it must have been the furthest spot on the globe from where I uncomfortably sat in my school chair. That lesson lingered with me for a long time. Girls-my age-being sent to separate living quarters, usually closed off, dirty huts, where they were left alone with their changing bodies. When imagining what those girls must have felt in those quiet, lonely places, I felt their pain & shame as my own. Now, it wasn’t until years later that I would recognized the ways in which my own womanhood was closed off, ignored, & deemed to be too dirty for acknowledgement by our society, but in that high school classroom, my teacher took me to a hut somewhere far, far away & changed my understanding of the world in which I was a part of. I think most of us remember those teachers who somehow took us far away from those stale classroom walls, the greats like Anna Bach(Liechty), Slice, & many others in my hometown…..those teachers that, I’m assuming here, thought of how to send a kid out their door & into the big, big world, with tools to somehow make it a better place.

The other day I was searching through a bookstore in Goshen for just the right book to kick off the Sturgeon moon with the kids in the Luna Hill Wild School & this book, with the National Geographic Society logo, jumped out & just hugged me. It was so perfect. We are focusing on water this cycle & so with the learning framework in mindset & the goal to push myself to expand the learning, to think beyond what comes & take the kids to further reaches of the planet, I came up with this lesson plan. I don’t know how formal teachers make lesson plans, but inspiration from nature & great books seems to be a lot of how it starts around here.

The book went through different vessels & different ways that folks all around the world get their water. It was so simple, yet generated so many questions & revelations from the kids.

With each page, I would read the excerpt from the back that explained what was happening in the picture in a few sentences & every time the kids had something to add. Surprise, that not everyone in the world knows the feeling of ice crunching in their teeth. That some children travel a mile every morning to reach their water, or that some families consider moments of passing water to one another as sacred because of it’s scarcity.

We came up with a plan to search the yard for different vessels to contain & try to carry the water, without loosing a precious drop! The kids came up with lots of clever ways to carry it from here to there & then we turned it into a game where they could only hold it on their heads, couldn’t use their hands, & had to travel across the ‘dessert’ to bring water to their loved ones.

They soon found out that only the most focused & patient ones succeeded!

I know it seems like a simple lesson, but those pictures & stories even brought up questions later on from the kids throughout our other activities that day. And when the kids left, I remembered to tell some of the moms to show the kids how long a mile drive was on the way home, so that they might understand how far the child from the story would walk, just for a cool drink of water.

When I got the email stating I had passed the course & was now a National Geographic Certified Educator, the amount of joy I felt was immeasurable. I just felt so proud. I have been working so hard out here & have felt so alone at times with my passions to Cultivate Community, Celebrate Curiosity, & Nurture Wonder, with Nature. In that moment, I went right back to the first time I shared with anyone that I had decided to homeschool our children. Lilly was about two & without any research or questioning of my gut feelings, I just knew, without a doubt that I was meant to learn with them. Their response to me was, ‘Why would you think you could do that?! You didn’t go to school to be a teacher!’ I am here to tell you, six years later, with a lot more focus on what I know is possible & confidence in my step… degree in teaching or not, I am making this world a better place.

And I hope that you all know, no one can keep you from doing the same.

If you would like to know more about the learning framework, they have a great webpage that explains in great detail (with engaging videos) here. And if you are an educator of any kind & would like to learn more about their educator certification(which, if you can’t tell-I would highly recommend that you do!) find out more here.

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