by Matt Weyers
6th Grade Teacher, Byron (MN) Public Schools
In the spring of 2011, I traveled with my father to Durissy, Haiti. My dad, along with another group of construction-minded individuals, was tasked with constructing a hurricane-proof house. The house would be used as an overnight “way station” during the rainy season for the local educators, who traveled three hours up and down a mountain to the school every day. I, on the other hand, was responsible for leading three days’ worth of professional development for these same teachers who had never received any formal teacher training. I knew it would be a life-changing experience.
My dad, who also had traveled to Haiti the year prior (one month after the 2010 earthquake) proved eerily prescient when he told me two things before our trip: 1. The experience would radically alter my worldview, and 2. The impact of our work in Haiti would pale in comparison to the power of sharing our experiences upon our return home. Before I left, my principal asked that I make a presentation to share with our students upon my return home. I gave this presentation to our group of 400 students the next week.
One of my immediate “aha’s” after the presentation was that none of our students had been exposed to this type of content before. The interest, empathy, and raw emotion in the room was palpable. The students wanted to help! The school quickly launched a series of lessons on Haiti as well as a school supply drive with the goal of shipping the donations to the school I visited in Haiti. My dad was right; the power of sharing our story was truly magnificent. I have come to understand that this experience was my initiation into the strength of PBL.
Since then, I have actively worked to design learning experiences for my students that builds within them a global mindset, as I believe the “problems of tomorrow” are only going to be solved if we think in terms of the “butterfly effect.” In other words, the decisions we make in one part of the world can send shockwaves through another. The following two projects are globally oriented, require minimal supplies, and I have completed them in the past two years with fifth and sixth graders.
Project One: “The Kiva Project”
Project Overview: Kiva.org is an international non-profit organization that specializes in microloans (in increments of $25) to applicants in Third World Countries. During this project (similar to the Lending a Helping Hand project found on the BIE website), we asked students to choose a country found on the Kiva website and do two things: 1. Write an expository paper on the history of the country they chose and 2. Create a persuasive presentation on why we should raise money to lend to applicants from that country. The presentations would be shared in “science fair format” during a community fundraising event, held one night after school.
Driving Question: “How might we lend our money so it has the most impact?”
Duration: 4 Weeks
Key Knowledge & Understanding: English/Language Arts: expository writing, oral presentation, persuasive techniques. Math: calculating interest, multiplying decimals
Resources Needed: Internet connected devices
English/Language Arts: country report, oral presentations
Math: assessments and tests administered via MasteryConnect
The Results: The students really ran with this project. They asked our technology teacher to show them how to write business letters so they could ask area businesses for monetary donations or items they could use for the silent auction they wanted to run. In addition, during the presentation they raised $1200 that we divided among the students to donate on Kiva.org to an applicant of their choice. My favorite part of this project was when a group of students decided to band together and fulfill a $400 loan to a gentleman in the Philippines who desired a fishing boat to start his own fishing business.
Project Two: “Rainforest Alliance”
Project Overview: The Rainforest Alliance is an international nonprofit that works with farmers, foresters, and tourist organizations to create sustainably grown products and events that both safeguards local biodiversity and increases productivity. If an organization is certified, it receives a “green frog” stamp of approval that can be found on the approved product. Students were asked to create two products: 1. A sustainable living shopping guide for area shoppers using the website builder Weebly.com. The shopping guide included a history of the Rainforest Alliance, reasons to buy sustainably, and a categorical list of area stores that sold Rainforest Alliance Products. 2. Working in collaboration with the art teacher, create a rainforest-themed framed drawing that would be placed in area businesses, along with links to the student-created websites. In addition, student websites would be peer reviewed, with the top-rated website being submitted to the area newspaper for wide-publication.
Driving Question: “How might we persuade area shoppers to buy sustainable products?”
Duration: 4 Weeks
Key Content & Understanding: English/Language Arts: summary writing, persuasive writing, website design
Assessment: English/Language Arts: summary and persuasive writing rubrics
Resources Needed: Internet connected devices
The Results: Mixed. The students were particularly taken with the concept of sustainability and the deforestation videos and articles I asked them to read. However, I found when I rolled out this project toward the end of the school year, the students had already created websites in several other classes, and therefore, the novelty was lost. The hanging of the artwork, on the other hand, was a huge hit with both the students and the community. Several students were asked if they would sell their artwork to the area business for permanent display.
The feedback that I received from these projects was quite positive. Parents reported that their students were interested in donating to charities after the Kiva Project, as well as wanting to shop at Rainforest Alliance-supporting stores. As a teacher, I could not have been more proud. I can only hope that these experiences helped my students begin a journey life-long of selflessness, gratitude, and an internal belief that they too, can make a world of difference. Looking back, it is hard to grasp how clairvoyant my father was prior to our trip. An experience like that can truly be life changing.
Do you have questions or comments about global projects? Please enter them below.