Global thinking: broadening student perspectives

By Jon Gold, MS History

The beginning of the year in 8th grade Global Thinking class is all about broadening students’ perspectives, questioning our assumptions, and laying the groundwork for the development of our global thinking skills. We seek to establish two of our key principles right away: one, that our preconceived notions and assumptions shape how we see the world; and two, that the world is always changing. We watch Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” to prompt students to think about stereotypes and how what we think we know gets in the way of our learning and growth. We then watched two videos, Putting the history of Earth into perspective and World History (3000 BC – 2013 AD to get students thinking about change and how the modern world came to be.

This culminated in an exercise in which we asked students to examine five world maps from different eras. We set the stage by discussing different kind of maps and reflecting on what maps reveal and what they might conceal. They were asked to study the five maps, note the changes from map to map, and then theorize what might be responsible for those changes. One student noted that she “was extremely surprised after looking at the maps” by how much change had happened. Another was interested to find that she could “gain so much perspective from an activity that seems so simple” because she realized that the world we know today is not the one humans have always known. Practicing generating questions and theories based on available evidence sets the stage for our learning throughout the year. And the collaborative nature of the exercise trains students early in the year to listen to one another and support each other’s observations. Finally, appreciating the fluidity of the past prepares students to embrace the uncertainty of the present and future. Indeed, another student reflected on a broader goal of the course, wondering if, just like the maps, “our ideas about political issues and social issues could change dramatically too.”