Global Learning in the Classroom
Five of my students – all sophomores – presenting their plan to reduce social inequality in Italy to a panel of Euro Challenge judges in New York over Zoom (April 2022).

If I could, I would take every single one of my students on an overseas trip – or even just a trip to New York or California – so they would have the chance to step outside of their suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul bubble and experience life in a different community.

As I explained on my Home Page, my month in Spain in 1983 was life-changing, and it made me hungry for more. Every time I travel abroad, I learn something new about people, culture and the global community, and I try to bring these experiences back to my students in the form of stories and examples – like the ones below.

Hundreds of bikes parked outside a train station in Ede, Netherlands in 2020. Although my Minnesota community is car-centric, not every place is. Students find this hard to imagine.
Cork is a major resource in Portugal, and it’s even used to make shoes, not something you see much in the U.S. A good example of how resources impact economic decision-making.
At the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, you can recharge your phone by pedaling a stationary bike at a high table. A small example of how sustainable energy can work.

But they need more than my stories to pique their own global curiosity.

Getting students to engage with the world themselves – rather than as passive receivers of my stories – is more challenging. But it is critically important if we want to cultivate globally competent citizens.

Here are a few strategies from my own experience:

International Travel
Enjoying a fresh cup of coffee in the Recuca coffee region of Colombia with some Minnesota high school students in 2014.

There are dozens of organizations that will arrange international travel for students – too many to name here. Language immersion trips, volunteer trips, and cultural sightseeing trips are just a few options. On this 10-day trip to Bogota and Armenia, Colombia, students stayed with host families, attended school, spoke Spanish and learned about the country.

Competitions and Conferences

Even if you don’t travel outside the country with students, traveling inside the U.S. can connect our students with students from elsewhere in the world. I’ve taken high school students on more than 30 out-of-town, overnight domestic trips in the past 10 years, and on many of these trips they have met and learned from students from other countries.

At the Harvard Pre-Collegiate Economics Competition in Cambridge, my students met teams from Chile and Canada as well as teams from all across the U.S.

At the Junior Achievement Titan global finals in 2013, my students met teams from China, Poland, Canada and Russia.

Students from all over the world toured the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia as part of the JA Titan championship weekend in 2012.

At the National Economics Challenge in 2019, my students competed against teams from China, and we met teachers who were visiting and observing from the Netherlands. 

American and Chinese students interact at the National Economics Challenge in 2019. (Photo: Council on Economic Education)

Students competing in the Euro Challenge (pictured at the top of this page) don’t get to visit the country they are studying – unfortunately – but the winning team does get to present their solutions to representatives of the nation they studied.

This summer and fall, four of my students will be participating in the Young Economic Summit (YES), conducting research into immigration policy with German experts, and they’ll get to travel to Hamburg, Germany to present their findings (along with students from Germany and the UK)  in the fall.

Exchanges of Goods and Services

Even when students cannot travel along, they can still participate directly in our global adventures. In 2010, I traveled to Chontala, Guatemala with the Sister Parish organization, to meet community leaders there and launch my church’s program to help more children in Chontala complete high school. 

I enlisted the help of a Spanish teacher at my school, and she assigned her students to create picture books for the children in Chontala.

Children in Chontala, Guatemala, reading paper picture books made by American high school students.

The children loved the books, and one high school student there sent back a handmade purse to thank the American student who made her a book.

Virtual Exchanges

One of the silver linings of COVID is that we all learned – whether we wanted to or not – how to “meet” over Zoom, Google Hangouts, Teams or Skype. Now we can put that skill to use in a much more interesting way, by using it to connect to students and classrooms all over the world. 

This video, The World is as Big or Small as You Make It, is one of my favorite examples of what we can do with virtual exchanges. I’m still new at the virtual exchange piece, but I’m hoping to replicate that experience for my students.

My Global Learning Unit Lesson Plan (developed for AP Macroeconomics)  is another example of how we can use virtual exchange to build our students’ understanding, communication skills and global competence. Here’s a sample lesson from this plan as well.

Additional Resources For Teachers

If you’re looking for additional resources or ways to create collaborative global lessons, start with discipline-based organizations, like the National Council for Social Studies or the Council for Economic Education (which sponsored my trip to South Africa in 2010). 

Here are links to help you find more programs and practical tips.

Goethe Institut – Instructional Resources

Jacobs Institute

Urban Land Institute   

Tony Blair Institute for Social Change

Educating for Global Competence: Preparing Our Youth to Engage the World 

Global Minnesota

Global Studies Educator Resources

Global Oneness Project

World Without Genocide 

Choices Program (Brown)