Peter Cameron, this week’s Educator of the Week, uses video chat software and other connective technology to teach his students real-world geography and to empower them as global citizens. Peter teaches fifth and sixth grades at St. Elizabeth School in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit. Get involved in Peter’s global educational projects and Nat Geo’s Explorer Classroom sessions!
Your classroom often participates in video conferences with explorers around the world. What are those like, and how have you seen your students be impacted?
Last year, I was able to take my students on about 15 different virtual educational trips to interact live with people and places throughout the world.
My students have been really inspired by the exposure to many different life paths and passions they could choose. For example, after we video chatted with a photographer, many of my kids started talking about becoming adventure photographers themselves.
And you can tell these experiences are also developing in them a little bit of wanderlust. Many of my students have had very little opportunity to travel and see different places, but now they want to become more adventurous, explore, and learn about what our world has to offer.
This year, I’m excited to connect my class with even more explorers, scientists, photographers, and other incredible individuals through Nat Geo’s Explorer Classroom series—a partnership with my friend Joe Grabowski’s nonprofit organization, Exploring By the Seat of Your Pants.
How do you tie the video conferences into your curriculum?
So many people rely on the textbook to cover their curriculum, but the textbook has content that’s not in the curriculum and vise-versa. I know the curriculum well and look beyond the text to cover it. Opportunities for learning are all around us. We can work within the confines of the curriculum while tapping into our students’ passions.
For instance, in the grade 5/6 curriculum, we work with large numbers. As we prepared to go on a virtual adventure with Pen Hadow, a renowned Arctic explorer, I challenged my students to figure out how many steps Pen took on his journey to the Arctic. That meant we had students using a nonstandard unit of measure, converting it to standard units, and practicing their math skills in a real-world context.
We also read a lot of background information and watched some videos on Pen, which helped strengthen their media literacy skills. For writing, students recorded their learning in an “Adventure Log,” and they worked with their parents to come up with good questions to prepare for the event.
And then, of course, when we talked to Pen, he got into science at the students’ level. He spoke about the three states of matter that he was exposed to on his journey—from ice to water to gas, and a whole science lesson evolved out of that.
The great thing is that you can still cover all the material, but it’s no longer compartmentalized into strands or confined to the pages of a textbook.
I’d imagine Pen had some great life lessons to share as well, beyond the content. What were those like?
Pen shared a lot about growth mindset, which is so important to kids. He told them how he had attempted his expedition three times and only made it on the third time. That showed that failure is really one of the best ways to learn.
Pen also made the students realize that their ideas matter. They shared how many steps they thought Pen had taken on his expedition, and he was amazed. I love watching that video over and over again because you can just see how excited he is.
Are there any moments that stand out when students had particularly impressive or surprising reactions to a video chat experience?
What strikes me more than anything is how the kids carry themselves. We often imagine that technology reduces kids’ ability to speak or write. I’d argue that it challenges them to be even more aware.
We practice our body language, and the students take their time so they are articulate and well prepared. I’m always impressed with the maturity they show. It speaks a lot to kids’ ability to use the technology productively if we model it well. When you’re modeling risk-taking yourself to try something new, kids really step up.
What does it mean to you to have a connected classroom? What other ways do you create that kind of space?
I’ve tried to be very thoughtful about what a connected classroom feels like for us. The connectivity of technology can sometimes be perceived as a negative thing—especially when it takes us away from our local connections.
So when the school year starts, we focus on being connected with ourselves, with our classmates, and then with our local community. While we are working toward global connections, we spend those first three or four months laying the groundwork—realizing that the most important connections are those closest to us.
Gradually, we start reaching out more. In December, for example, we do a service project in our local community called the Give 4 Christmas Challenge. And last Christmas, we created a website that challenged others to give back in their own area.
We saw more than 100 countries visit the site within the first six weeks, and it was exciting to hear stories of how our class inspired them. Following the site’s analytics helped my students to learn geography in a very real sense while showing them that their voice matters and can make a difference.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Nat Geo: Explorer Classroom
Exploring By The Seat of Your Pants (Nonprofit Virtual Field Trip Organization)
Peter Cameron: Make a Difference Project
Peter Cameron: Give 4 Christmas Challenge
Do you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!
The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.