another great assignment from my Global Urban Education Class

Our week 6 assignment from Fred Mednick was to 

“Please write a one-page letter to anyone passionate about starting or working in an organization designed to help education around the world.  Take into consideration what you’ve read thus far in this course and in these most recent scans of the web.  Here are some guidelines for the approach: 

  • “Narrow the focus of that hypothetical person’s passion…
  • “Play the role of a mentor…
  • “End with your advice for about what to do next…”

As I’m contemplating the broader world of education myself, I chose to address myself with this letter. I think this nicely fits the spirit of the assignment!

July 20, 2013

Dear Sarah,

I know how passionate you are about citizen science, as an engaging and empowering educational approach, as a way to engage kids with their environments, and as a way to ask and answer important questions about our changing world. I know you are contemplating how to do this on a bigger stage than just Maine. Here are a few considerations.

Check your assumptions – education looks very different in different corners of the world, and good ideas and approaches are found in the unlikeliest places. Don’t forget that you don’t know exactly what learning currently DOES look like in all corners, and how important it is to get that understanding before offering suggestions. Creating project-based learning in resource-poor schools may require addressing unforeseeable challenges as well as predictable ones, like technology access. There may be in-county or in-region resources available. Speaking of which, don’t forget to search for resources under different titles, such as inquiry-based learning, or enquiry-based learning or problem-based learning, etc. And there is no substitute for on-the-ground experience with the challenges of education in new-to-you places.

Teacher preparation – What are the key steps teachers must master before launching their first problem-based unit? What are the resources that can help teachers launch their first projects? Creating a toolkit of training, tips, and materials may be essential. And don’t forget your lesson in Vital Signs that even for well-trained teachers, asking interesting investigable questions can be difficult. For teachers without post-secondary degrees this is liable to be very challenging indeed. Last Sunday’s New York Times story about education in rural areas of Afghanistan is a case in point. In Afghanistan, only 24% of teachers have the two years of post secondary education required under Afghan law to qualify as a teacher.[1] Teaching these teachers how to guide their students through asking relevant questions, supporting students in developing strategies to address their questions, and producing a product to share with their communities may require significant support, in the form of training, materials, or coaching. In rural areas that are not linked by internet connection or even cellphone signal, this could be impractical to support at any scale.

Most people live in urban areas – I know how you love citizen science focused on nature! And there are likely wonderful opportunities to create these projects in many countries. But don’t forget that most people live in urban areas. According to Asian Cities Climate Change Resiliency Network, half the world’s population lives in cities and this trend toward urban living is continuing.[2] If we don’t help city dwellers appreciate environmental issues such as natural resource security and climate change we will miss the bulk of the world population. Citizen science is not just about nature in its undeveloped splendor, but about urban parks and gardens. Think about how project-based learning can happen in cities, how city-dwellers can study and interact with their natural environment, how they can address resource issues important to them.

Small successes can be powerful – Start small, learn on the ground, grow on early success. Don’t neglect building in powerful, pragmatic measures of impact!

Good luck!


Your July 2013 self

[1] Nordland, R. (2013, July 20). Despite education advances, a host of Afghan school woes. Retrieved from

[2] Asian Cities Climate Change Resiliency Network and the Rockefeller Foundation. Retrieved from



One thought on “another great assignment from my Global Urban Education Class

  1. Pingback: another great assignment from my Global Urban Education Class | Teacher Ideas

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