Bringing the world into the classroom
Mention the Galapagos Islands and many think of tortoises or Charles Darwin. Layne Zimmers discovered there is so much more to this area of the world when she was selected as a Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Grosvenor Fellow and had the chance to spend eight days with photographers, naturalists and storytellers on the Islands in September 2017.
Zimmers, the 2016 Horace Mann Educator of the Year and a history teacher at Lincoln Magnet School, was one of 35 Fellows chosen out of 500 applicants from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. The program, open to preK-12 teachers, is in its 12th year.
The application process included submitting a videotape, letters of reference and answers to essay questions. After being selected, she joined the others at the National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, D.C. For four days they were immersed in professional development. “We met National Geographic photographers and were trained by Google experts in using cameras. We worked with the best of the best.”
Fellows are told whether they will be traveling to the Arctic Circle, Antarctica or the Galapagos. Layne was paired with another Fellow, a zoo educator from Kansas, for the expedition to the Galapagos and says, “We immediately became great friends.”
They traveled on the Endeavor II ship, along with tourists on a Lindblad expedition. “We had little downtime,” Zimmers says. Every day there was an opportunity to snorkel in an area where a 300- to 500-foot drop provided amazing views of marine life.
They visited the different islands. “Each island is unique,” Zimmers explains, “with different animals found exclusively on different islands.” A videographer followed them everywhere, capturing them taking notes and photos. “The animals were often five feet from us and were no threat,” Zimmers says. “They let us be and we let them be.
“The expedition taught me about flora and fauna, but also the culture of the islands. Only natives can live on the islands, and we learned so much by getting to talk with the naturalists who had grown up there.” To protect the wildlife and the natural areas, the explorers had to always return to the ship for meals.
Zimmers, with her constant smile and enthusiasm, points out that her goal is to bring new experiences to her students. Fellows develop curriculum and lesson plans, and share through online communities. The work impacts other teachers. “It is not just at Lincoln Magnet but across the district and even across the globe that we are helping students learn about many aspects of their world.”
Zimmers loves to travel and pursue unique experiences. “When students see that I travel, they realize they could do so, too.” In 2011 Zimmers volunteered in Tanzania with Cross Cultural Solutions and taught middle-school students. Later, at Lincoln Magnet, when the teachers were deciding their culminating project as a National Blue Ribbon School, Zimmers mentioned how she had noticed the lack of access to water while she was in Tanzania. The teachers applied with Smithsonian and became part of their Global Water Project. This led to student projects and webinars including participants from around the world. Zimmers says, “The entire school was involved and included all disciplines, not just the core areas but also music and p.e.”
Zimmers interrupts her own explanation and says, “I had amazing teachers in District 186. Southeast High School prepared me so much.” Then, she quickly gets back to talking about her love of opening her students’ eyes to so much. “Writing curriculum, developing Google maps and online resources have helped my students explore the world. I have seen them become engaged and excited.”