Ways to Connect Local to Global

Examine the aquatic life in a local stream, sample the cuisine of another country, or launch a discussion of ethnic stereotypes, and you’ll open the door to the world for your students.


Global issues can and should find their way into every classroom and any unit of study, says Rita Adhikari, humanities teacher at the Washington International School in our nation’s capitol. The key is to look for the global in the local, and take even the most remote, historical event and show students its relevance to their lives today.

It’s all about connections.

For example, Adhikari teaches standard historical topics in ways that bring the past to the present. At the end of a unit on the Islamic world during medieval times, she asks her middle schoolers: “How do stereotypes happen?” Particularly after 9/11, she says, students needed a way to “make the grandeur of the past relate to the modern day negative pictures of Muslims.”

Students conduct research on Arabs who made significant contributions to world knowledge, and then analyze their legacy. Many of her students wrote about mathematicians, and were able to see how they still use math that originated in the Islamic world during that time, she says.

This not only opens a discussion of how different cultures have negative and positive periods in their history – and that one thing shouldn’t necessarily define an entire culture – but shows students how ideas can originate in one place and travel, Adhikari says. Other lessons in this frame include using food and cooking to show how ingredients literally traveled via trade, and comparing the Silk Road to the Internet, by examining how information and ideas spread.

This type of study isn’t limited to the humanities, of course. Washington International School science teacher Kusum Waglé also shows her students how make to connections that impact their understanding of the lessons – and the world.

Her students study water, first looking at maps and tracing their watershed address to see how they are geographically linked to the Chesapeake Bay. Then Waglé takes them out onto the Potomac river where they conduct water quality testing and examine the wildlife, even occasionally finding fish with tumors. Later, they test a stream near their school and discover that the water quality results are similar to those on the river.

“They see how they’re linked to the (Chesapeake) Bay and that whatever they dump in their own backyards eventually winds up in the bay,” she says. The local connects with the regional.

To take it the global level, students, via videoconference, compare notes with a sister school in Bangkok, where students have done similar testing on their local Chao Phraya river.

Waglé wants to get students “a little bit out of their comfort zone,” and reflect on water in a deeper way. At the end of the unit, they not only see how their own actions can affect their local water, but how it in turn affects a larger body – and that it’s a common problem around the world that requires taking responsibility and action.

Making global issues relevant to students’ lives doesn’t need to be a grand task every time. Instead, the goal should be for your students to show they understand the material at hand by finding connections between it and their own lives, moving away from simply the teacher teaching.

When that happens, Waglé and Adhikari say, you’ll have more than a classroom of students, but a community of learners, asking questions.

Author: Alexandra Moses