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Global Education Unit -Becoming Global Citizens:  Our Virtual Trip to Colombia

In July 2020, I was supposed to travel to Colombia with my cohort of fellows from Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms.  We were assigned our countries for the International Field Experience well after I started implementing this unit.  It was very serendipitous to be assigned to Colombia for many reasons. I have collaborated once before with a Fulbright ETA in Colombia through Reach The World, I had acquaintances at the US Embassy in Colombia, I knew someone completing research in Colombia on classroom culture and a close friend with family in Colombia.  I imagine that IREX saw the topic for my unit plan and figured I would find a home in the Colombia cohort.  Of course, the COVID-19 Pandemic has resulted in my field experience being postponed to 2022 but I look forward to the possibility of going to Colombia in the future.


I chose to write this unit on Colombia because of my partnership with Reach the World.  I often asked to be partnered with a traveler in a Latin American country so that I can align with the New York State 5th Grade Social Studies Standards.  In 2019 I was partnered with Rachel Shriver, a Fulbright ETA in Bucaramanga, Colombia.  Writing this unit for my class was difficult and it underwent several revisions throughout this school year.  I don't think that this is the best unit I have ever written but I do think I tried to be as responsive as possible to my students, current events and our traveler.   Although I have partnered with Reach the World many times before, I have never written down our work within a formal unit plan.  I've always had lesson plans but not a formal unit plan.  The main reason it was difficult to write out this unit is because the written content from our traveler is live and responsive to the needs of our class.  Reach the World does ask their travelers to cover specific topics aligned with the 4 Domains of Global Competency.  However, the details of the field notes are responsive to the experience the traveler is having in their host country and the questions the students pose during video calls.  Initially, I wanted to focus on climate change because my previous class had so much interest in that topic. However, that wasn't something that interested my students or something Rachel was writing about.  Instead, both my students and Rachel were interested in recognizing perspectives, building relationships and experiencing new traditions, food and cultures.   I was going to build off of that shared interest by having another student who had migrated from Colombia in third grade and another teacher who had done some teaching in Colombia, speak to my class about their experiences in Colombia.  We were going to analyze the differences in perspectives but that didn't happen due to the abrupt transition to remote learning.  Instead, we used the pandemic to make connections to the Sustainable Development goals and considered the impact the pandemic was having on our own lives as well as Rachel's.

This was a very slow unit for us and might have taken less time with a different group of students.  My students have a variety of disabilities and they have a very slow rate of progress as compared to their age appropriate peers.  Most of them are also Multi-Language Learners.  I was lucky to be able to co-teach most of this unit with my ENL co-teacher, Amy Ziegner.  She created many of the amazing language supports for the reading, writing and speaking components.  She also did not hesitate when I very daringly suggested that we create topographical maps of Colombia out of salt dough.  The benefit to writing all of this down was that I was able to reflect on the quality of the work we did and to see that it was truly an interdisciplinary unit.  Going forwards, I think I need to see this content from Reach The World as living in more than just my Social Studies block. This content naturally flowed into our writing block during our informational and persuasive writing units and my fourth graders made connections betweens Rachel's content and their anchor texts in reading.  When Reach the World is able to connect travelers to classrooms again, I would like to choose 1 day a week to bring the field notes and journals into my reading block.  This would free up some of the time during Social Studies for students to take action with their new learning.  When I look at student work from across the year, I see the important impact this interdisciplinary, thematic approach had on their language development and their content knowledge.  Going forwards, I would like to make a greater effort to connect our entire curriculum through a global lens.  It's also important to remember that a globalized lesson plan or unit plan does not need to only live in Social Studies.  Any lesson or unit plan in any subject area can be globalized!

You might not be able to exactly replicate this unit because the strength of it lies in the unique relationship my students had with Rachel.  I will be forever grateful for the caring and passion she had for our students.  I don't think my words accurately captured how important Rachel was to our students in the unit plan below.  Most of the video calls we had evolved into very natural team teaching.  She also reached out to check on us when she saw on our school Facebook page that we had to be evacuated due to a nearby fire.  Great teaching is rooted in great relationships and Rachel exemplified this. However, the practices, strategies and resources could be replicated and used in other classrooms and could benefit many other students.  There is a lot more I could say about each of the activities in this unit.  Please refer to my blog to learn more about the impact these activities had on my students.  I would be happy to answer questions about this unit.  You can send your questions to me by filling out the contact form.   

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