Educators are always looking for meaningful professional learning to implement in their classrooms, and thanks to a grant from the NEA Foundation, Stonington teacher Elaine Temel was able to embark on eye-opening global travel to create new learning opportunities for her students.
“My experience in Berlin, Germany was unforgettable,” says Temel, a sixth grade language arts and social studies teacher. “I was profoundly inspired by this trip. Place-based learning is so valuable for educators because it allows us to develop a greater sense of awe and wonder in our students as we bring our learning to the classroom.”
During summer 2022, Temel traveled to Berlin to visit the Berlin Wall, Holocaust Memorial, Brandenberg Gate, Stasi Museum, Sachsenhausen Death Camp, and many other historic cites and museums. She took photos, filmed videos, and purchased artifacts from the places she visited to use with her classes and share with her teaching colleagues to immerse students in the Berlin experience.
“As a result of this trip, I brought my students a multi-dimensional learning experience,” Temel says. “I developed learning activities that placed my students in the sites that I visited. Having firsthand knowledge of places in and around Berlin helped me broaden our learning perspective. I was able to answer many questions students had about Berlin and my travel that made class discussions much richer. I created a Berlin Scavenger Hunt for my students. I set up books, postcards, pictures, maps, brochures, and artifacts collected on my trip. Students had to find and respond to questions about all of these items that were around the classroom. There is no way I could have created this activity without going to Berlin.”
Temel adds that brining back her personal experiences also helps level the playing field for students. “Some of my students’ families have the means to travel to Europe and some do not. By bringing Berlin to my students via my place-based learning, I create a more equitable learning environment in my classroom where students are seen, valued, heard, and have equality in resources.”
While in Berlin, Temel followed the path of the main character from A Night Divided, a novel about a girl who escapes to freedom after the Berlin Wall divides her family. Temel took pictures of the wall, the tunnels, the watchtowers, East Berlin, and much more. “When the character talked about the Spree River I went to the Spree and made a video of myself reading that passage. In the story she walked by the wall and looked up at a watchtower. I went to a watchtower and read that passage on video. I did the same for Checkpoint Charlie, a car that hid a person, the tunnels, and much more.”
Back home, Temel created a multimedia presentation with quotes and passages from the book to use in class as she and her students read their way through the novel. “The students were so engaged and interested in the pictures and videos. I ended the presentation with memorial sites and pictures from modern day Berlin. The presentation sparked many questions from students.”
Place-based professional learning on another content can feel out of reach to educators, which is why the NEA Foundation offers grants to allow more educators this type of opportunity. Learning and Leadership Grants support the professional development of NEA members by providing funds to individuals to participate in high-quality professional development like summer institutes, conferences, seminars, travel abroad programs, or action research.
“I would and do encourage any teacher to step outside of their comfort zone and apply for a grant,” Temel says. “I returned from my trip with a much broader world view. Travel and learning not only benefits students but allows teachers to learn deeply in a way that they may not have even considered at home. Traveling for learning is energizing and fires a passion for the subject matter. When I got back, I couldn’t wait to share my learning and resources with my students. An enthusiastic teacher motivates students. Travel fuels teacher enthusiasm for a subject matter. Sometimes teaching the same subject matter can get stale for teachers but travel is a great way to breathe new life and depth into existing curriculum.”