This blog post was written as part of my National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions Teacher Fellowship. It is a “Strategy Share” in hopes of giving teachers a few ideas as to how they can develop an Explorer Mindset in their students. The ideas, strategies and resources can be used with students regardless of teaching modality (Face to Face, Hybrid or Remote). Thank you to Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic for helping me to continue to develop my explorer mindset!
Thunder Bay is pretty much smack dab in the middle of nowhere but opportunities to explore are everywhere. Growing up, my world was small, usually limited to a 10 kilometer radius of my house, but the area I was limited to provided ample opportunities for adventure. I grew up fishing, hiking and playing along the small rivers that flow through our town. On occasion my dad and I would venture a bit beyond our city limits and travel to Cedar Creek, The Pearl and Black Sturgeon Rivers and occasionally, the famous Nipigon. Coming from a family of fly fishermen, the rivers connected me to father, the land, and the outdoors. I loved exploring and didn’t have to go far to do it.
I fondly remember watching the film “Paddle to the Sea” in grade school. It was the first medium that transported me to a world beyond my city limits. The story took me back to the 1940’s and allowed me to travel in a small birch bark canoe with a young Anishinaabe boy for an incredible adventure through the five Great Lakes and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean. My “Explorer Mindset” was sparked and a desire to see the world that lay beyond Thunder Bay slowly began to grow.
However, I was still very much limited to travel, as my primary modes of transportation were my feet and a set of wheels…my bike. Books, my atlas and the occasional tv show would become the conduits to the world I desired to explore. At sixteen, a car allowed me to venture further beyond Thunder Bay but it wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I boarded a plane.
Fast forward to today, where I’m now reflecting on all of the places in the world I’ve had the great privilege of exploring, including a two week expedition through the Inside Passage aboard the National Geographic Quest as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. My biggest fear is that my students would see my accomplishments as an explorer as unattainable. It was because of this fear that I always remind them that opportunities to explore are literally all around them and that my explorations began very close to home. I work to bring a sense of adventure and exploration to my classroom every single day; to get them outside often and explore places within our school and city boundaries. I also work to have my students understand that the process of learning is, in fact, exploring, thus helping to develop an “Explorer Mindset” in each of my students.
The video above was created upon returning from my expedition as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. It highlights my expedition through the Inside Passage aboard “The National Geographic Quest” but importantly shares how my adventures began, at a very young age, close to home. The video also features other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows sharing how their adventurous spirits and “Explorer Mindsets” were sparked at very young ages, close to home.
My “GO Explore” initiative encourages kids to get outside and explore a natural setting close to home, to capture it using a variety of mediums and share their explorations with the rest of the world using the power of technology!
When all Face to Face learning ceased in March of 2020 due to the global pandemic, I was determined to continue to develop an “Explorer Mindset” within my students. Even though they were limited in their ability to physically explore, I leveraged the power of technology to spark their curiosity and help them to continue to explore virtually, both close to home and far away. Since they were learning and exploring from home they could also invite their parents and siblings to join them! The video below explains the idea and highlights some of the adventures I sent my students on during the lockdown. All resources referenced in the video can be found here.
The film Paddle to the Sea was the conduit that opened my eyes and heart to exploration beyond my city back in 1980. Today, we can literally put the world in our students’ hands when we leverage the power of technology in our classrooms.
Below you’ll find some of my favourite ways to develop an Explorer Mindset in students. All ideas can be used in any classroom setting (face to face, hybrid or remote). I’ll share each idea in the form of a short “blurb”, however if you wish to dig deeper, click on the links provided for student exemplars and resources.
Start an “Adventure Log” with your Students
Have your students keep an “Adventure Log” to record all of their learning adventures throughout the school year. My students have kept a combination of paper and pencil and digital Adventure Logs. They have become incredible documentations of my students’ learning and a great keepsake for my young explorers. Many students have told me they continue to add to them long after they have left my class.
Take the Learning Outside!
Opportunities to learn outside of the classroom are endless. Consider the many places within your city that your students can explore. This type of experiential learning is difficult to replicate within the confines of a classroom or a textbook. The opportunities for cross curricular learning are vast. Many of my best math lessons come from our adventures!
Don’t Forget Your Camera!
Since I recognize that opportunities to learn are literally all around us, I often wish my students were with me when I’m out on my own adventures. But, I don’t despair! I often have a camera in my pocket to capture the moment, allowing me to bring the learning to my students. Check out how I use photos to create math challenges for my students while helping them understand that math certainly is required in the “real world”. Sometimes I get really ambitious and put together videos to take my students on full on math and other learning adventures!
Novels Are Gateways to Adventure!
Everyone loves a good novel, but kids often read them passively. Try a read aloud reading from a first person perspective. I read “Paddle to the Sea” to my students as if each of them are the main characters paddling through the Great Lakes, experiencing all the awe and wonder of an incredible canoe adventure. To add to the excitement of the adventure we invited classes from across North America to join us! Check out one of my student’s Adventure Logs! Not only can we travel to incredible places through novels, we can also meet some pretty cool people! When I read “Wonder” to my class, my students literally believed that August, the main character, was a real person who would be joining our class! You can read all about the incredible adventure in my blog post, “Introducing Wonder”. “The Secret Path” allowed me to invite Chanie Wenjack to my class and walk with him on a very difficult, but important, journey. While reading “Fatty Legs”, we connected with the author and wrote letters to the main character, Margret.
Virtual Field Trips to Anywhere in the World
Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants and National Geographic’s Explorer Classroom have allowed me to virtually transport my students to meet and interact with amazing people located in some of the most incredible places in the world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9u5-zsh6pY&t=28s&ab_channel=Mr.PeterCameron
In my part of the world it snows often. Snow creates ample opportunity for exploration, learning and adventure. I have my students plan and build snow forts which then become the setting for adventure stories. They have snow tower building challenges and then measure, compare and graph their tower heights. Students craft rectangular prisms from snow and work to figure out the surface area and volume while also drawing the nets of each prism. One year a single snowflake launched my students on an eight day learning journey!
Google Earth: Bring the World to Your Classroom
I cannot begin to tell you how much Google Earth has played an important role in helping to establish an “Explorer’s Mindset” in my students. Google Earth literally puts the world in my students’ hands.
Launch Earth Having Google Earth “at the ready” allows my students to “go anywhere” to explore. My students have followed Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, searched for a variety of 3D shapes in the “real world” during a Geometry unit, followed the journeys of explorers and even travelled to outlet space. Put Google Earth in your students hands and let their adventures begin!
Be a Voyager Google Earth Voyager stories have allowed my students to venture on a plethora guided thematic learning journeys! I cannot begin to tell you the quality of learning opportunities that Voyager stories presents. My of my students’ favourites are: “Explorers:Vikings”, “Planetary Exploration on the Earth”, “Searching for Sharks in Streetview”, “Indigenous Cultural Heritage”, “Van Gogh at Night” and “Blue Gold:Our Lakes. Our Lives” (a Voyager story that I had the honour of co-authoring).
Create Your Own Adventure! Did you know that anyone can now create their Google Earth stories? My students have created adventure stories of their voyages around Lake Superior, we’ve collaborated with classes from around the world through our Junior Water Walkers initiative and shared our water walks and I used Google Earth to have my students follow my adventures as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. The world is in our children’s hands…
When we create an Explorer Mindest in our students we open up a world of possibility to them. They become naturally curious and see learning not as something they have to do. They will want to continually learn and…explore. When children are truly engaged in their learning they see the world in a different light. They take responsibility for it and feel a sense of empowerment knowing that they have the ability to positively impact their world.