- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - It’s almost always dark in Layne Zimmers’ world history classroom at Lincoln Magnet School.

She teaches in a paperless classroom, where it doesn’t need to be bright because every lesson and project is performed on a computer.

One of Zimmers’ favorite digital tools is Google Earth, a free program that allows users to fly over a virtual globe and view the Earth through high-resolution graphics and satellite images.

On one Wednesday morning, she assigned her sixth-graders a project to put together a digital tour of an Asian country, pulling pictures from Google Earth and writing captions explaining what the images show.

The process may sound foreign, and even a little futuristic, for those who remember learning about the rest of the world in school from textbooks, maps and lectures.

But to Zimmers, the 2016 Horace Mann Springfield Public School District 186 Educator of the Year, the project is only on the cusp of what she has in store next year.

Zimmers is one of 35 teachers chosen from among 500 applicants nationwide to participate in the Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Society’s Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program.

She’ll be traveling on a 10-day expedition to the Galapagos Islands, considered one of the world’s top places for viewing wildlife, off the west coast of South America from Sept. 22 to Oct. 1.

Other fellows will travel to the Canadian High Arctic, Antarctica, southeast Alaska, Arctic Svalbard, Iceland and Greenland.

The idea is for fellows to enhance their geographic learning through direct, hands-on field experience, and then bring that knowledge back to their classrooms.

Zimmers already has big plans.

On her trip, she will have a video camera and a digital camera that allows her to take 360-degree pictures. So next school year, those Google Earth images can be swapped out for some of her own, she said.

“Students are more interested when they have a personal relationship with the material,” Zimmers said. “They will actually be able to see my experience.”

To the extent technology will allow, they’ll be able to live it, too.

Nichole Heyen, principal at Lincoln Magnet said the district is working on securing funding to buy Google Cardboards for an entire classroom. The devices turn a smartphone into a virtual-reality viewer at a cost of $15 apiece.

It’s just another example of Zimmers thinking outside the box, Heyen said.

“She is a change agent,” Heyen said. “She’s always wanting to try and make things better and connect her students with the real world.”

For someone who grew up reading National Geographic, Zimmers said, the fellowship is an opportunity of a lifetime.

She’s already traveled to National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., for a series of professional development workshops.

“It was a magical spot that I used to dream I would work someday,” Zimmers said.

Two areas she’s particularly interested in, Zimmers said, is learning about the effects of tourism on the Galapagos Islands and getting an up-close look at the island’s culture.

She’s also excited to learn from experts in the field, natives, other teachers and have access to new resources from National Geographic, she said.

While she’s down there, Zimmers will be documenting her experience and forming lesson plans.

Her intention when she returns to Springfield is to share what she learned with her peers and discuss ways for other teachers to incorporate different ideas into their classrooms.

“This is going to change my world and hopefully my school’s world,” Zimmers said.

Heyen also believes the trip will have a ripple effect throughout the school. In addition to the educational possibilities, it opens students’ eyes to new possibilities beyond Springfield, she said.

“Our students are going to be able to explore the world in a different way,” Heyen said. “It’s such an amazing opportunity.”


Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, https://bit.ly/2pLBCDt


Information from: The State Journal-Register, https://www.sj-r.com

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