Not every student has the chance to travel across the world. But a nonprofit organization is bringing the world to them through multimedia lessons designed for schools.
Over the last 10 years, ProjectExplorer.org has produced 422 short videos and sent adventurers to 14 countries, with 10 more coming this year. Explorers record videos, take pictures and write articles for students from upper elementary to high school and beyond.
Through these first-hand accounts, students explore the culture, history and cuisine of places like Thailand from their classroom at no charge. And they virtually learn about places that many people haven't even heard of, including the island of Mauritius off the eastern coast of Africa and the country of Azerbaijan at the intersection of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.
This global education prepares students to interact in an increasingly international workforce. Once they understand a culture, they understand how to communicate and collaborate more effectively with people from that culture.
"If we're not preparing students to enter a global workforce, then we're not preparing the whole student," said Jenny M. Buccos, director, producer and series creator of ProjectExplorer.org.
And this global awareness also clears up misconceptions about other groups of people. For example, the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, caused many people to fear foreigners and the unknown.
But that didn’t fit into what Buccos had experienced in her travels. So she launched ProjectExplorer.org in 2003 to teach students about what the world is really like and make learning come alive for them as it did for her when she saw the Parthenon in Greece first-hand. As a result of her work, Buccos has been recognized by the White House Champions of Change program and the National School Boards Association 20 to Watch list.
By virtually exploring other places, sophomore Alexandra Theall has broadened her understanding of countries and cities aside from mainstream metropolises. Because of her interest in languages, she enjoys learning how to say words like "hello" or ask "how are you?" in multiple languages.
"if a student's interested in food, music, dance or something like that, looking for parallels in another culture that you're interested in can make that experience more personal, so I think that's also very important," Alexandra said.
Alexandra is the student ambassador for ProjectExplorer.org, which distributes its content through separate student, parent and teacher review boards. And along with other students on Twitter, she shares her ideas for upcoming trips.
For example, students came up with an idea to compare some of Canada's Aboriginal people called the First Nations to Native Americans. This kind of crowdsourcing brings fresh ideas and different perspectives to the lessons.
And these lessons make it easier for teachers to incorporate global education into their core curriculum. That’s what 9th grade government teacher Aaron Shelby does in Brooklyn, N.Y. at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice.
When his government class studies apartheid in South Africa, he includes multimedia lessons from ProjectExplorer.org.
"Providing students with a variety of resources or access to resources when you're talking about different areas or topics helps students really connect with it better because they're able to visualize it," Shelby said.
If teachers wanted to teach their students about South Africa before this site existed, they would have spent hours finding resources, most of which were in writing. But now, they don't have to do that hard work, said Jayme Linton, also a 20 to Watch honoree and director of teacher education at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C.
Most teachers don't have enough cultural experience to talk about issues that happen in Egypt, North Korea and other places in the same way that the explorer crew can because they've been there. So Linton recommends that her pre-service teachers use resources including ProjectExplorer.org and Google Earth to take students on virtual trips.
Every day, she suggests that teachers at each grade and content level spend five to eight minutes taking their students on a global journey.
"We are graduating these generations of students who have no sense of where they are in the world and how they're connected," Linton said. "We just have this hyper-connected world where you're just connecting with people all around the world, and it's more important than ever to understand other cultures."