Among the many restrictions brought to us by the coronavirus pandemic is the limit on travel. What was once a truly global world, connected by rapid means of transport, quickly became a sectional world—one where physically exploring and connecting with people across the globe is difficult. Despite this, middle school world cultures teacher Ms. Kori Brown has persevered in relating global views, educating a background of diverse cultures, and addressing global citizenship to her students during a pandemic.
The Form II World Cultures class challenges students to become better, more engaged citizens of the world by exploring cultural context through the lenses of people and events across the globe. Ranging from pre-modern history to the present, Ms. Brown draws heavily upon active learning to simulate and stimulate the components required to be involved in our greater world.
“A lot of [World Cultures] is meant to be experiential or interactive. The idea is to get students up and moving and experiencing something instead of just learning about it in one modality,” Ms. Brown said. “Instead of just reading about something, students actually get to experience it a little bit more, and therefore, approach a culture from multiple angles, which gives a richer experience of what they’re learning.”
For Ms. Brown, being part of this evolving classroom setting is something she knew she wanted to do from a young age.
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Ms. Brown said. “When I was a kid, I played school.”
Still, leading global investigations through the World Cultures setting was not always the curriculum she envisioned.
“I thought I was going to be a science teacher for a very long time. I started college thinking I was going to major in chemical engineering and go the science route, but I took some history and art history classes and absolutely loved them,” Ms. Brown said. “I realized that could be a really fun way to connect with students and to get them to think, to think about the world.”
Her new focus on history forged through college and eventually led her to World Cultures.
“My formal training was in European and Asian history and art history, and so I think World Cultures just made the most sense for me,” Ms. Brown said. “Given where the world is right now, it just feels like it is such a relevant topic, and it allows me to explore everything that is going on with my students, and isn’t that what education should be about? Exploring stuff? And so, I think that’s why I was drawn to World Cultures and still am.”
For Ms. Brown, conveying a curriculum focused on experiential learning during a time where precautions for in-person learning are paramount can be challenging. To abide by the social-distancing rules, the middle school schedule split classes into two so that two sections share the same period. The single-classroom doesn’t exist in the middle school this year.
“In the absence of [experiential learning], I tried to find other ways of giving students the same classroom experience, or a similar experience, because they can’t get up, because they can’t move around, because we can’t do the stations and simulations of past years,” Ms. Brown said.
To cultivate an experience that fits both an altered schedule and pandemic precautions, Ms. Brown has moved digital resources to the forefront of class activity.
“Some of the ways that I found to continue engagement were through digital experiences,” Ms. Brown said. “We’ve done a couple of simulations online.”
These activities have all sorts of purposes and formats, ranging from civilization development games of medieval Europe to virtual tours of Russian and Southeast Asian landmarks, exploring the hidden landmarks of Northern Africa with the aid of Atlas Obscura, or learning of the recorded daily life of a manga creator in Japan. Class competitions have even made their way into the World Cultures classroom.
“I found a global competition put on by the Global Oneness Project where they asked students to photograph their culture and then write a mini-essay about it,” Ms. Brown said. “There were submissions from Russia, Ukraine, Thailand, and all over the world there were thousands of thousands of submissions—and [Second Former] Ian Rosenzweig was one of the ten winners. I give credit to all my students for making the most [of the opportunity].”
Many of these activities and challenges take form in a new enrichment journal—a tool for providing insightful activities into a larger global context.
Ms. Brown said, “I formalized the bonus tasks from the end of last year’s virtual classes into a formal enrichment journal. Some of the kids have been really interested in them and have been doing all of them. I think that it is interesting because they’re getting an experience without having to leave virtual spaces in our classroom.”
All of these additional learning opportunities derive from a common foundation: technology.
“Technology, within the last five years, has revolutionized [the classroom] and made more things possible, and so I think that when we think about how far we’ve come, I’m excited about continuing to evolve, and continuing to change, and continuing to incorporate new things into the curriculum,” Ms. Brown said.
World Cultures’ continued evolution has become more significant than ever. In addition to the necessity to adjust to pandemic classroom conditions, the course also helps critically address recent events of the past year.
“Even though we’ve been cut off from each other more, I actually think that the technology and the connections and doing some of this from home has allowed us to establish some connections that we wouldn’t otherwise have had.”World Cultures teacher Ms. Kori Brown
“The first unit [of World Cultures] is all about culture and the history of scientific racism, and revisiting that curriculum in light of what has happened in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement and race relations in this country has been really fascinating and crucial for me,” Ms. Brown said. “I think that there are many ways that we can work to dig a little bit deeper even into what we do and to provide more contexts there.”
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, Ms. Brown feels there has also been much gained from this new classroom experience.
“As I have evolved with the class this year, I’ve found that many of the challenges with finding virtual learning opportunities have become ideas I hope to integrate into the future curriculum,” Ms. Brown said.
Ms. Brown also sees a strengthening in the student-teacher relationship.
“I think the challenges of this have allowed my students a bit of a glimpse into teacher lives,” Ms. Brown said, “and so, in weird ways, even though we’ve been cut off from each other more, I actually think that the technology and the connections and doing some of this from home has allowed us to establish some connections that we wouldn’t otherwise have had.”