Bringing a Picture to Life

Here’s a great picture I saw on NPR’s website back in May 2011:

So first things first — there’s no way that’s a picture, right?

It’s too surrealistic with twisted branches — and that sky — the sky is never that color orange, is it? And even if the sky were that orange (and what are those white specks?), sand isn’t blue.

In fact, I just did a Google search for “surrealistic desert” and this painting is exactly the sort of thing that comes up:

So clearly it’s a painting — there’s NO WAY this is a picture … right?

Wrong.

As my five-minute video below demonstrates, it really is a picture — from a desert in Namibia. Sorry about the sound quality — but if you crank up the volume you should be able to hear me…

As a way to orient you to my voice, I start the video by saying “Hello, and welcome to ‘bringing the news to life using Google Earth’ ”

I spent a few hours making this video — finding the place marks on Google Earth, planning the script, and recording a few takes of the video — and I had fun making it.

At Triangle Learning Community, the middle school I’m opening in 2013 for empathetic global citizenship, students and teachers alike will take time just about every morning to use Google Earth to gain more context about our world.

This surreal picture is the prompt today — students will see it and want to learn more about it.  Some mornings the prompt might be a news article about unrest in Syria, or a powerful poem, or even a song. And the prompt won’t come from teachers all the time.

The prompt might come from students or teachers or even parents who have something cool to share. And who says every student has to write about the same prompt?

Whatever gets students interested in learning about the world, expanding their global horizons, and practicing their communication skills (by blogging or making videos about what they learned) works for me.

Because if a student starts with this crazy surrealistic picture and ends up becoming fascinated with the Namib Desert (or with surrealistic art) and learning about it for a few days, and then blogs about what she learned, that would be a good thing.

I mean, the Namib Desert looks like a pretty cool place to learn about:

Let’s find a way to help students engage with the world in a rigorous way that they find fascinating and fun.

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About Steve Goldberg

I teach U.S. History at Research Triangle High School, a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning.
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