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BANNER, Spring 2014: Sarah Dawe and Global Education

map silk roadInspired by Brookwood’s most recent Strategic Plan, which lays out our community’s commitment to global education, teachers across divisions are weaving global projects, partnerships, and experiences into their students’ lessons (read more: Global Education). Grade 1 teacher Sarah Dawe is one such educator, and her efforts recently earned her recognition by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), which selected Sarah to be a presenter at the NAIS National Conference held in Orlando this past February. Representing Lower School educators, Sarah spoke at a workshop entitled Building Future-Friendly Schools: Educators Who Are Taking IT Global.

“Two of my greatest life passions are international travel and designing innovative curricular programming for young children,” says Sarah.  “Thankfully, global education has progressed beyond holiday celebrations and the construction of isolated cultural artifacts - efforts that are 'global exposure' and not true 'global education.' Global education is not a trend and it is no longer optional. It is essential that our future leaders can collaborate and communicate with, understand, and appreciate cultures and people from all over the globe.”

At the NAIS conference, Sarah spoke about what she focuses on when developing global education curriculum for young students:

  • It’s important to mention that we don't launch the school year in September by studying other cultures. Children need to learn how to cooperate, collaborate and exchange ideas with their own classmates before they are ready to form partnerships and problem solve with the wider world.
  • Global Education, just like social competency skills, needs to be taught on a continuum;
  • To use a Brookwood phrase, provide opportunities to ‘lean into discomfort’;
  • Use authentic materials whenever you can;
  • Challenge cultural stereotypes;
  • Transform the physical environment to accurately reflect different cultures.  I love creating authentic learning opportunities inspired by the people who I meet and the cultural activities that I experience;
  • Cultural experiences should be integrated into the classroom on a daily basis and not just as a culminating project. For example after returning from Morocco, I placed an Arabic copy of Pinocchio alongside its English counterpart. We also added hallway hooks that featured metal khamsa hands the children painted and embossed. Underneath was each child's name written in both English and Arabic. Subtle touches such as these invite natural conversation about differences in writing systems across cultures.

Just how does global education and cultural competency play out day to day in a Lower School classroom?  This year, inspired by Sarah’s trip last summer to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, Sarah and fellow Grade 1 teacher Jeff Wilfahrt collaborated on a curriculum on the Silk Road and its trade routes.

Surrounded by a stunning wall mural painted by Brookwood music teacher Alex Edwards, the children read We're Riding on a Caravan and learned about the challenges that passengers endured such as extreme temperatures, rough terrain, wild animals, illness and sandstorms. They later moved into interest groups and researched the various goods that were traded along the Silk Road –- Sarah’s class studied gemstones and musical instruments and Jeff Wilfahrt's class studied animals and the famous explorer, Marco Polo. 

Both classes also learned about the life cycle of silkworms, hatched silkworm eggs and documented the process, and enjoyed a hands-on lesson on Indigo and dyeing textiles thanks to parents Frank and Helen Brown.

Additionally, Sarah’s volunteer experience at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai inspired a recent study on elephants. The students have been researching elephants, building clay models and are now constructing a life size paper mache replica of a baby elephant in the classroom.  “We are also working on arranging a Skype session with Hope Elephants, an elephant rehabilitation center, located in Maine,” Sarah says.

Travel the trade route with Grade 1 students: The Silk Road.

Previously, in 2012-’13, Sarah brought to her classroom experiences from her summer visit to Morocco where she travelled across the desert on a camel, slept in the Sahara sand dunes, cooked using a tagine and tried her hand at weaving rows of Berber carpets. That year Sarah and her grade level partners created interdisciplinary experiences for students that wove together art, science, history, literature and literacy skills.  Hands-on learning opportunities like trying on tunics, tourags, sandals and other traditional clothing items, dyeing tapestries, creating tile mosaics and cooking with Moroccan spices all helped bring the sights, sounds, smells and taste of Morocco into the classroom. 

“One of my favorite projects was when we simulated the leather tanneries in Fez. I believe strongly in using authentic materials when creating cultural experiences and so we purchased a 20 foot natural cowhide,” she explains. “After talking about how Moroccan workers use natural plant dyes to provide coloring, the children boiled down beets, onions, purple cabbage and berries. The students created social studies journal covers by painting on the leather with their homemade dyes and branding their names using metal stamps and a hammer. They then sewed up the pages and used their books to document their new learning.”

The First Grade made a video documenting the project that brings many of the learning projects to life: Morocco.   

With five out of seven continent stamps in her passport, Sarah is excited to see where her next international adventure will take her. Some day she hopes to photograph penguins in Antarctica. She also has a desire to create a way for educators involved in global education projects to interact and share experiences. Tweeting and blogging and other online communication help Sarah connect with other teachers. “As new doors within Global Education open up to me, I want to keep casting a wider net and enter dialogue with others who share my interest. I would love to set up an interactive forum that would allow teachers to share their travel adventures outside of their school communities,” she says.   

The importance of such a dialogue is clear to Sarah. “In order for children to become critical problem solvers and effective collaborators, social competency skills need to be taught on a continuum, just like math and literacy. After children learn how to exchange ideas and respect the contributions of others within their classrooms and local communities, they will then be better equipped to form partnerships across a wider world.”