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A science teacher shares the surprising benefits of online PD—including how the courses helped her find her tribe

3 unexpected ways online PD strengthened my teaching


A science teacher shares the surprising benefits of online PD—including how the courses helped her find her tribe

As a science educator, I love showing my students the wonders of the world. I encourage them to always be curious, ask questions, and seek out new knowledge and skills. An important part of my job is modeling lifelong learning for my students—and one of my favorite ways to do that is by honing my skills in professional learning courses.

I’ve participated in a variety of professional development (PD) courses throughout my teaching career, but some of the most powerful ones I’ve experienced have been the free, short, self-paced courses from the National Geographic Society. These online PD courses cover everything from developing an “explorer mindset” in students to methods of empowering students to tell impactful stories. The courses surpassed my expectations of what an online professional learning course can be—and how easily I can translate what I’ve learned in these courses into my classroom activities and instruction.

Here are three of the lasting impacts that these courses had on me as a teacher–and as a person.

1. The courses helped me form a community of practice with teachers around the world.

Myth: Self-paced courses are isolating. Fact: When teachers across the world go through the same course at their own paces, this shared experience and knowledge helps forge a community of professional learners. After taking a 50-minute mini-course called “Developing a National Geographic Explorer Mindset with Your Learners,” I joined the National Geographic Explorer Mindset Community to continue my learning, collaborate and share best practices, and learn how other teachers were applying what they had learned in the course. Through this Facebook group, I met other educators from around the world. I even formed a connection with two educators—Tim Black in Paris and Danielle Zelin in Mauritius—and co-created the Global Educator Explorers Team website.

The GET OnBoard website is dedicated to helping teachers use the UN Sustainable Development Goals, National Geographic Resource Library, and International World Days, to spark curiosity and foster an Explorer Mindset in students. Without taking the mini-course, it’s unlikely I would have connected with these educators on different continents and undertaken such a valuable and impactful collaboration.

2. The online PD courses gave me an opportunity to delve into one of my personal interests. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to visual storytelling. I’m a visual learner, and I love stories that are told with graphics and data. So after taking the Explorer Mindset mini-course, I decided to take another course called “Storytelling For Impact In Your Classroom: Graphics.” This course, which was co-developed with Adobe, allowed me to delve into my personal passion for visual storytelling and inspired me to create new projects for my students, such as creating infographics.

I also now make it a point to tell graphical stories to my students–using the YouTube channel I established for my class–because the Storytelling for Impact course taught me how to share stories in engaging, powerful ways that I know will resonate with my students. That’s important for me as an educator, but it’s also fun for me: the ultimate intersection of professional praxis and personal passion!

3. It helped me look at the world–and myself–differently.

As a true nature lover, I believe that every time we go outside, we learn something new. I hope that through my science class, my students are able to see how amazing our world is. Nature is extraordinary, and I enjoy taking my students outdoors to experience our world first-hand. These online PD courses have inspired me to try out new hands-on ways to engage students in nature–from using the Seek app to identify flora and fauna, analyzing geo-inquiry problems, or creating drawings of what we observe outside.

Each of the National Geographic courses I have taken has inspired me and has rekindled my appreciation for our amazing planet. These courses have motivated me to find new ways of guiding students to explore nature for themselves, as well as developing new methods of sharing nature with my students and the global educational community. Moreover, these instructional strategies have shown me that anybody can be an explorer—including me. As I discover new teaching practices and progress on my professional journey, I now see myself not just as an educator but as an Educator-Explorer.

When I registered for my first free National Geographic Society online PD course, I had no idea the amazing journey that awaited me. Who knew that a course that was less than an hour long could open the door to global collaboration, personal fulfillment, and a fresh outlook on the world?

As I continue to grow as an Educator-Explorer, I hope that my lifelong learning inspires my students to keep exploring the wonders of the world, too. And I hope that our collective learning journey will empower our students to be the next generation of changemakers and explorers.

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