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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

New Jersey's Use of World Wise Schools Resources

Panelist: Global Issues in the Classroom


Thank you. Good morning, everyone. I know it's probably strange to see a science person up here, but at the Department of Education I'm kind of known as one of the biggest proponents of International Education at the department, and the fact that that's kind of a strange juxtaposition comes a little bit from my background. Before coming to the Department I was a conservation biologist and I did most of my work in developing nations. I spent time in Tanzania and Sri Lanka, and in that time I met quite a few Peace Corps Volunteers, who certainly helped shaped my understanding of global cultures and issues and how that needs to come into the classroom.

At the Department of Education—you know we talk about trying to shove a giant elephant. At the Department of Education in New Jersey, we're always sort of the last to catch up to what's happening in the field. As educators, you are really on the leading edge, and you do these wonderful things in your classroom. And you know as a state government agency it's always kind of hard for us to catch up or keep tabs with where you are, and this is one thing that I'm actually very proud to say that we feel as if we're right there with you and we're hoping to move forward with you.

There are three things that I'd like to talk about today that the department is working on. First, Dr. Leu had mentioned the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. New Jersey is one of eleven states that joined on that initiative. We just recently revised our standards, our state standards, in 2009; actually they were adopted in June so we had a giant celebration, two years of work toward that. And then the last is we are supporting project-based learning scenarios. We're really moving toward project experiences in classrooms.

Okay, so if you haven't heard of P21, I won't spend too much time on it, but basically it's a group of education, business, and community leaders that have gotten together to say, "Listen, you're producing students in the P-12, P-16 system that aren't ready for the challenges of a workforce." So they've gotten together as a group and said, "Alright, well, we have some plans and we're going to develop some ideas for skills and themes that you need to talk about, and you need to incorporate into your standards and your curricula." New Jersey, as I said, is one in eleven states that decided to join on and said, "You know, we really value this and we think this is incredibly important."

The one thing I'm going to talk about is one of the skills and themes they've mentioned, P21 group has mentioned, is the idea of global awareness: that students need to start using critical thinking and problem-solving skills to apply them to global issues. We want students to start to work collaboratively with each other, and with students from other regions of the world, and earn kind of a mutual respect for each other and have an open dialogue in different contexts, authentic context. And we also ultimately want them to understand and appreciate different nations and cultures.

The second thing was the 2009 standards: as they were revised, the director leading this project is absolutely phenomenal. She was a former world language and international education coordinator so that really shaped quite a bit of the work we were doing in New Jersey and all nine content areas. So even if you are a mathematician or a scientist you were touched by the work that Janice was putting forward.

And you know there were kind of some big ideas; we wanted to obviously integrate our 21st century knowledge and skills. The infusion of global perspectives was very, very important, so the idea of integrating technology and also connecting to other disciplines which is hugely important, but that last piece, the global perspectives piece, was probably going to be the heaviest lift for New Jersey.

The one thing we thought about this heavy lift was that we absolutely needed to link teachers to resources that they could use in order to teach these ideas in their classroom. And when you're thinking about resources and how to teach globally-minded students, the first place you think of is naturally the Peace Corps. So we were fortunate enough to work with Marjorie and her team on developing some ideas and also linking these ideas to our state standards.

So in this attempt, along with our standards, for the first time ever, New Jersey is actually providing teachers with resources as the standards come out. What usually happens is the state releases—or in New Jersey 's case—we release our standards and then we say, "Good luck!" And then a few years later we realize, "Well, things aren't really working out the way we had intended, maybe we should create some documents and give you some resources and kind of let you know what it should or might look like." But this is the first time we are linking the standards with the resources together and that's actually going to be launched November 5 th, so we're really, really excited about that.

We've created these pieces called "Classroom Application Documents" and so they basically say this is the standard, this is the CPI, our indicator of what it should look like when a student understands a concept. We talk about the boundaries. What they should or should not get into (recommended, of course) and also linking them with some resources that really help deeply connect the student to content; not just a kind of drive-by, "I mentioned photosynthesis," so clearly this link is good.

As I mentioned the first place we went was the Coverdell World Wise Schools. This is just a screen shot of the website, so you see there is this great resource for educators, and we certainly made quite a bit of use from this.

I'll just share with a couple different CPIs and the interesting thing is that when we first started the project, when we first met with Marjorie and her team our intention was that we were going to get these great resources and link them to the standards. What we didn't realize, and I don't know if we shared yet with the group, is that the resources actually helped shape our standards in return. So modifications were made based on our standards as a result of what we saw in the resources. I think that's really a hugely important lesson to learn, that a state department was influenced by the work of Volunteers and teachers and practitioners that shared with us their experience and I don't think that happens often.

This is one health CPI . [Indicates projection screen] This is an indicator talking about how students should be able to analyze local, state, national and international public health efforts. Which I think is huge, the idea of public health. When I was a graduate student I think that was probably the first time I'd had experience understanding what public health actually was, and I think that is incredibly unfortunate that you don't get that experience as a young person to realize that there are efforts, international efforts, towards this type of phenomenon. So these are two of the lessons that shaped actually the CPI, the creation of the CPI .

Science, I could probably spend all day talking to you about how science was impacted by the resources. This is one simple one, and it was about windmills and thinking about how windmills are used in other nations. America is way behind on how we use our energies, I don't have to tell anybody that, but this was a great lesson. And also the other one, "The True Costs of Coffee;" the idea that the products that we use have origins elsewhere and there are stakeholders involved that students don't necessarily think about when they stop at Starbucks…well, not Starbucks, that's a bad example, but you know, keep in mind that there are other factors involved.

Another one, this is actually our social studies standard and this one was heavily influenced by the Water in Africa unit. The idea that natural resources are a source of conflict, and that where you live often destines how you will live and what's available to you.

Another one, this is a technology piece where we're asking students to engage in online discussions from learners in other countries. I mean it couldn't be anymore relevant to what we're talking about here. This is a state standard. Students cannot leave fourth grade until they have this experience in their classroom.

This is a 21st century life skills: "Design a Communications System to alert other countries in the event of a natural disaster." We linked this to the tsunami experience because in order for students to understand why it's important to have an early warning system, they have to actually understand the science and the politics and kind of the geography and the landscape of why that's important.

It's kind of an obvious link this is one of our world language CPIs, and you know, obviously using different culturally authentic materials in these language classrooms, that's kind of a given. Our world language coordinator was absolutely thrilled to find the language lessons piece. She wasn't aware of it prior to working with the World Wise Schools, and the opportunity to listen to language lessons from around the world …in New Jersey, I'm not sure if this is elsewhere, we're having a serious problem with critical need languages. We don't have educators who necessarily are trained in different world languages so the fact that students can take Thai and Mandarin and Arabic courses online, that's incredible. It offers incredible opportunities for schools and for students.

The last thing I'm going to talk about is—actually this is I think how Marjorie got connected with us initially—our director had reached out to the Coverdell Schools to say, "Well we're thinking about creating these project-based learning scenarios. We want our teachers in New Jersey to have access to resources and experiences to have them thinking internationally." So we got a team of educators who were well-versed on our draft standards because at this point they were just ideas, they weren't passed by state code or anything along those lines, and so the Coverdell team came and worked for one very rigorous day. They introduced us to their mission, their vision for international education, and they shared with us the resources, and they spent so much time with us kind of poring through how to use the site and how to use the resources effectively. And from that the group was inspired to create these interdisciplinary learning scenarios that have a global focus.

I'm just going to share one with you. The idea is obviously that the online content areas are going to create a module that students can use, and they're all connected, so every content area has a contribution toward this project-based experience. And I'm just going to share one with you really quickly, and it's based entirely on the Water in Africa unit. I don't know if you've seen this but this is just a phenomenal, phenomenal tool.

So the group of teachers that I was working with was so moved by these resources that they really wanted to focus on this. And so what they've decided—and this is just a Cliff Notes version of it—but ultimately what they wanted middle-schoolers to do in this financial literacy task—again, this is financial literacy; it is not supposed to be global awareness, it's just financial literacy—is that they're designing and developing a prototype of a recreational device that harnesses fresh ground water. So if you're familiar with the play-pump device, the idea that you can use a seesaw or a merry-go-round to extract fresh ground water, that's actually what is happening in quite a few developing nations.

Now students with their knowledge and understanding of physical science, of their geography and kind of landscape knowledge from social studies, and also understanding politics and culture of a region from world language and international education, they are developing a business plan and a grant proposal to come up with a non-profit organization. These are middle-schoolers, and they're manufacturing this, writing a suggestion to manufacture their product, and to pitch it to stakeholders, and they can't do that without understanding the culture and the context of another world and region.

This is so exciting for me to think about the science as a scientist. I know it doesn't occur in a vacuum. The work that I did in Sri Lanka and Tanzania could not have been done if I didn't think about the people living in the culture that I was working; it can't happen. I think it's horrible, in New Jersey, if we teach students to think that science is just happening in a lab and you're wearing a lab coat and it affects no one but yourself, that's a terrible, terrible lesson.

So I'm very excited about this type of work and I'm so proud to say New Jersey is behind it. So thank you for your time. 

About the Author

Lisa Solmose

As the Science Coordinator at the New Jersey Department of Education, Ms. Solmose has been instrumental with the infusion of Coverdell World Wise Schools resources and materials into all nine of New Jersey’s curriculum frameworks.