Monday, September 25, 2017

An Explorer's Mindset ~ Guest Post by Susan Koch

We teach kids about the world and how it works, empowering them to succeed and to make it a better place.”  
Public Domain

That's the mission of the National Geographic Society's Educator Certification Program, which provides a learning framework and resources to help K-12 teachers inspire
the next generation of explorers, conservationists, and global citizens.

Last month, in GROG's back-to-school post, Christy Mihaly interviewed me about my expedition to the Arctic as a participant in National Geographic's Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program. Applicants for the Grosvenor program need to be National Geographic Certified Educators, and we promised to come back this month and explain more about the certification program. So here goes.
Enjoying outdoor education
The National Geographic teacher certification program uses a learning framework with three elements: Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge. The program trains teachers new techniques to get students excited while learning about geography and nature. I loved the idea as soon as I heard about it, because I'm passionate about getting students outdoors for learning. I am most excited when my students can explore, inquire, and make discoveries about their world.

First grade ECO explorers
Almost ten years ago, I helped developed an outdoor education program in my community of Montpelier, Vermont. This ECO (Educating Children Outdoors) program has become a school-wide opportunity for learners to develop a sense of place by interacting with the natural environment. 

In applying to be a Grosvenor Fellow, I submitted a video about my work with the ECO program. The application required a statement about my passion, and I decided I would need to go outside to tell the story. I bundled up with a down jacket and a hat, cleared some snow from the back deck, propped up my laptop and turned to the camera. 
To watch my video about ECO, click this link

In ECO, classes spend time weekly at outdoor learning sites, to explore, inquire and make connections. Learning outside in nature helps us to create a community that values earth stewardship and sustainability. The National Geographic certification program is so appealing because it helps teachers foster this kind of learning. 

Here are the elements of the National Geographic educator framework.

ATTITUDES: The program seeks to create students who are 

Heading out for ECO

Curious: excited about new challenges and adventures.

Responsible: respectful of differences and concerned with the welfare of others.

Empowered: willing and able to work to make a difference.

ECO students observing and recording

SKILLS: The program helps students develop their abilities to

Observe: see and make sense of their observations.

Communicate: tell stories! (through spoken or written words, video, songs, and more)

Collaborate: work together to achieve their goals. 

KNOWLEDGE: The program focuses on three subject areas:

What's this find, in a Vermont forest?

The Human Journey: where we are, where we're going.

Our Changing Planet: the earth and the interconnected life forms it sustains.

Wildlife and Wild Places: far-off and in our own backyard.

Educators in the certification program complete classroom activities based on this framework. They also present a capstone project in video form, using the framework to tell the story of their students' learning. 
ECO is all year round!
National Geographic believes that telling stories is an effective way to convey our knowledge -- and listening to stories is a great way to learn. The program helps educators discover their own stories. Often learners don't believe they have stories to tell; educators can help them discover their own stories. 

A recent favorite picture book develops this idea beautifully: Everywhere, Wonder, by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr. 
With poetic language and beautiful illustrations, the book makes the point that each person's story is made of all the things they notice and imagine. It urges readers to "open your eyes and open your window and let your story out into the world." What better summary of how our stories are shaped by our world.

If you have questions about the National Geographic program, feel free to ask me in the comment section below!


  1. Christy os thrilled to have Susan Koch back on the GROG. This program sounds like an awesome opportunity for student and teachers alike. Love the framework of the overall program. TY both.

    1. Thank you, Kathy. National Geographic has some amazing resources for educators. I hope some eligible GROG readers will check out the certification program -- but anyone can benefit from the framework and the concepts . . . and appreciate the importance of geography!

  2. What an interesting post! Makes me wish I was still teaching! I'm sure your words will inspire teachers to check out the program and pursue a different kind of "certification" that is sure to be challenging adventure of discovery, learning, and opportunities to explore more open doors! Thanks for a great post, Susan!

  3. Sounds like an awesome program, Susan! I agree that we need our kids to be more engaged in authentic education that has them collaborating and communicating as well as studying the environment they are a part of.