#NatGeoEdSummit 2019 | Kentucky School Talk Goes To Washington

“Why can’t school be like this?”That’s the question I’ve overheard more times than I care to admit this past weekend.

It may be fall break across most school districts in Kentucky, but I’ve had the incredible opportunity to spend part of my week here in DC for the 2019 National Geographic Education Summit. You’re familiar with National Geographic, of course — you’ve seen the shows, read the magazines, and watched Explorers traverse around the world in the spirit of discovery. But in case you didn’t know, National Geographic is also heavily invested in education, and its latest initiatives are really going the distance to bring our world closer to students.

In fact, that’s really what the spirit of this year’s Education Summit was about. For years, programs like the GeoBee and GeoChallenge have been cornerstones in NatGeo’s approach to education, but recently, NatGeo has really ramped up its resources and opportunities for educators. In the past couple of years alone, NatGeo has rolled out a new resource bank, expanded its Explorer Classroom program, and launched an incredible series of online courses for teachers. Together, these moves will help teachers across all disciplines reimagine education and promote a better sense of global awareness within their classrooms.

As a teacher in a rural, high-poverty area of our state, that’s a big deal to me. I’ve written time and time again about how opportunity gaps are endemic among communities like mine, and how kids rarely have the opportunity to travel abroad or talk with fascinating explorers when their families are more worried about finding work and paying the bills. (And now that some of our largest industries are packing their bags and moving out, it’s only going to get worse…. but I digress.) Inevitably, that puts some students behind from the very get-go.

Look no further than the latest Nation’s Report Card results to see that for yourself. Growing evidence shows that “reading comprehension” tests are really just a gauge of students’ content knowledge, and as you may have predicted, there’s a staunch contrast in knowledge exposure between low-income, rural Kentucky students and their more affluent, suburban peers. I’m optimistic that these new resources from NatGeo will be able to help close that gap, allowing students from all backgrounds to interact with Explorers and engage with cutting-edge ideas in science and innovation. 

But furthermore, I’m even more excited about how teachers can use these resources and connections to inspire their students to take action on the pressing issues of our day. For my classroom, for example, I’ll be taking back the powerful stories and messages I heard from the Summit, using them to guide my students through their own Geo-Inquiry projects. As referenced in the video below, students will pursue their own questions of choice, then work collaboratively to research and act upon their learning.

So, really… Why can’t school be like this?

It’s a fair question. Opportunity gaps may hinder our students from getting ahead, but innovative resources like these are exactly what we need to bring the world closer to our kids, get them excited about school, and push them further along the road to becoming lifelong learners. Those aren’t easy tasks, to be sure, but unless something changes, it looks like NatGeo is leading the way.

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