“The best things in life are the things we don’t and ultimately can’t plan for.”
I find this to be especially true for the learning in our classroom and yet as an educator, planning is something that almost becomes an innate sixth sense. As I grow in my teaching, I have learned that the key to having a learning environment that is authentic, purposeful and connected to the real world, an educator must be flexible. Plans are great for back-up, but for me, they can never replace experiences which may suddenly arise that could enhance the learning in our room.
Real life is happening when we are in the classroom and as educators we can either ignore this fact or embrace it and welcome the events of the world into our room. With everything we learn, I try and find connections to our lives and invite my students to find and create those connections as well.
This year, we have been learning about world geography with a curriculum focus on India, Peru, Tunisia and the Ukraine. Our school is located in a tiny rural hamlet, and so for my students to really grasp just how large our world truly is, we have been researching and learning about as many cultures and countries as we can and tying them back to our lives. We’ve connected with classrooms in a wide variety of countries, had guest speakers Skype with us, tried foods from around the world and are becoming global citizens.
Imagining the world and its vastness can be a very difficult concept to grasp. I also know that some of my students still struggle with trying to fully understand this and so when I saw today that Google was pulling off an ingenious April Fools Day joke that could actually help my students search the world, I jumped at the opportunity to have some fun! The Google Maps Pokemon Challenge asks the world to find 150 hidden Pokemon characters all around the world using Google Maps.
Students divided themselves into groups, each with a self-created role (country researcher, landmark researcher, typer, Pokemon catcher), with one iPad and one laptop per group. We created a Google Spreadsheet called @Gr34bears’ Pokemon Challenge and each group logged in to record what Pokemon they found and where in the world they found it.
What transpired next was just incredible to watch! The learning and connections we have been involved in from the start of the year came out and I heard them working together saying phrases like:
- “They must have hidden them in capital cities! What is the capital of the Ukraine? Kiev! What is the capital of Peru? Lima!”
- “I remember that in India there was a huge palace! Oh the Taj Mahal….look up the Taj Mahal!”
- “The biggest city I know is Edmonton. Do you think they came to Canada? Let’s see if they are near us!”
- “What country has the most people? They would definitely hide them there but we need to find out its biggest city too.”
- ” San Jose, California… my favourite hockey team is the San Jose Sharks….where is that? How close is it to me?”
- ” Let’s remember the Olympics …what country and city were they held in again? Sochi, Russa!”
- ” Google is in the United States, so they must have put more there. What is their most popular city? New York! I know the Statue of Liberty!”
- “I did my research on Australia. I wonder if they placed some in Australia? Let’s go look!”
They were collectively using iPads, laptops, world maps and atlas’ and making connection after connection. I didn’t even have the heart to tell them we had to stop as it was lunch time. They had already located 73 of 150 Pokemon but they had looked at almost every country across all of the continents and had no intention of stopping. We were also watching the hashtags #GoogleMapsPokemonChallenge and #GottaCatchThemAll on Twitter and they knew so many people around the world were also searching and discovering new places with them.
As I reflect tonight, I am so thankful for opportunities like this. They allow me to witness first hand just how incredible my students are and just how much they have learned and continue to learn every day. The “plans” we had for that period couldn’t even come close to this experience and what they learned and showed me.
I continue to strive to bring the best of the world to my students and if that means being flexible enough to change, switch, or toss those plans out altogether for the sake of true learning, then that is what shall happen.