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Global Education

How One Small Idea Inspired a Schoolwide Global Initiative

About one-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honeybees, including apples, pumpkins, squash, almonds, and broccoli, to name just a few. So how do bees help pollinate, anyway? And do all bees sting? With the right framework, simple questions like these from a curious student can unlock a world of learning. Read on to find out how one teacher’s global lesson blossomed into a schoolwide global initiative to teach students about honeybees, pollinators, and their connection to the ecosystem.

Meet Marcie Burke, a seasoned K–5 music teacher who recently transitioned to teaching English as a Second Language. During her time at Elmhurst Elementary (a Participate Learning partner school in Greenville, North Carolina), Marcie played an important role in the implementation of the Global Leaders framework.

The commitment she demonstrated to global teaching and learning made her an ideal candidate for the Global Leaders Fellowship—an optional experience offered to all of Participate Learning’s Global Leaders partners. During the summer of 2021, Marcie and her fellow participants were challenged to plan global action projects that would engage students with topics like the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the global competencies.

Developing a global action project

Marcie noticed that many younger children at Elmhurst had a fear of bees. With her love of gardening, she knows how important bees and other pollinators are to the food we eat. But how might she make that connection for students?

Using the project road map from the Global Leaders Fellowship, she planned a honeybee lesson and invited a local beekeeper to speak to her students. She hoped that teaching them about the benefits of honeybees, their role in the ecosystem, and why it’s important to protect them would help ease their fears. She began with a single global lesson that ultimately inspired students to take action through standards-based, hands-on learning that also connected back to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15, Life on Land: Protect, restore, and promote terrestrial ecosystems.

Below, hear directly from Marcie about what inspired her honeybee project.

After the initial honeybee lesson, Marcie’s principal approached her to ask if she could turn this into a bigger, schoolwide initiative. “My principal came to me and said, ‘I know you planned this for kindergarten, but do you think you could create some lessons so that students in upper grades could participate?’” Marcie said. The project quickly expanded from a targeted lesson on honeybees for one small class to a schoolwide global action project and an opportunity for every student at Elmhurst to learn about pollinators, plants, and how they all work together to create a healthy ecosystem.

Integrating standards across all grade levels

To ensure that the project met state and district learning standards, Marcie worked alongside several grade-level teachers to integrate reading, writing, math, and science curriculum throughout the global action project. Thanks to this collaboration, students from kindergarten through fifth grade began to learn about honeybees and the pollination process, in alignment with their grade-level standards.

Lower grade levels like kindergarten, first, and second grade were able to meet their standard of identifying and describing objects while learning the parts of plants and flowers. Meanwhile, older students in third through fifth grade continued their STEM-specific requirements by learning about the plant life cycle and the pollination process.

Watch the clip below to learn more about how Marcie embedded grade-level connections within the project.

Taking learning outside the classroom

After Marcie’s global action project expanded into a larger schoolwide effort, she began to apply for various grants in hopes of providing more opportunities for her students to put their learning into action and make a positive impact on their environment.

Marcie received two $500 grants: one from the Pitt County Educational Foundation Mini-Grant and one from Wild Ones. With these grants, Marcie was able to purchase supplies needed to bring life back to Elmhurst’s existing school community garden.

Students were encouraged to take action by planting milkweed, a native plant to the local environment, to support the monarch butterfly population. Through these grants, every student at Elmhurst had the opportunity to plant a seed in the school community garden—and could watch their impact grow right before their eyes.

Reflecting on this aspect of her global action project, Marcie enthused, “Small hands can change the world.” Looking back, she said that the greatest impact comes when “we can do a little bit here in our school community and hopefully influence the larger Greenville community. Then that would influence the world as a whole.”

Listen in as Marcie shares more about the impact this project has had on her school community.

Bring the buzz to your classroom

Marcie named her global action project Bee the Change, and drew inspiration from helping students see their own impact both in their local community and on the environment as a whole. Here are a few takeaways from Marcie’s story that may inspire you to create your own global action project:

  • Teach your students about things you’re passionate about! Your hobbies and interests are a great, authentic way to start making global connections with your students. Like Marcie, if you’re interested in something such as hiking, painting, or bird-watching—find a global connection to your interests and use it as a foundation to deeper learning. You can take the same approach with student interests. What hobbies and passions are common in your class? How can you use those topics to spark lesson and project ideas?
  • Watch Marcie’s full presentation of the project and consider adapting it to the needs of your students or school. Use this lesson plan template as a starting point to connect your passion to the curriculum, global competencies, and Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Ask for support from your school and community, or through scholarships and grants. Showing how your students will learn and take action through the project can make fundraising easier, especially if you can make a connection to a local business or initiative.
  • Take inspiration from Marcie’s project model. Marcie altered her global action project to increase its impact by creating relevance across multiple grade levels and content standards.

About the Global Leaders Fellowship

Participate Learning’s Global Leaders Fellowship invites globally minded educators from partner Global Leaders schools to participate in a six-week-long professional development experience in which they develop skills in global education curriculum design. Fellows discuss how global competencies connect to standards-based learning objectives, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and students’ underlying interests and passions. The fellowship culminates in creating a plan for a global action project for the following school year.

When students engage in global learning, they develop important skills to make the world a better place and are better prepared for their future in a globally competitive world. Learn more about our framework, Global Leaders, and let us support your school in developing action-driven learning opportunities that engage students and change the world.

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