I love maps! In my filing cabinet at home I have multiple maps from places I have been and places I would love to see. I dream of traveling around the world, and in my classroom I try to inspire my students’ curiosity about the world.
Three years ago, I began the World Traveler project, which is based on the Flat Stanley books by Jeff Brown, with my Grade 6 students. This is a project that is part tourist and part chain letter. Here’s how it works:
My students’ first task is to find someone they know, or someone their parents know, outside of their hometown – the further away the better. Once the students locate an initial contact, they start making a paper character to act as their traveler. Much like the old custom of travelers in days past presenting a letter of introduction, my students write a letter introducing their paper traveler to all the people their character might encounter. Each traveler is enclosed in a school notebook with the student’s introductory letter and a note from me. In my letter, I ask each person who receives this journal to take the traveler around their location, documenting the visit with a written account and pictures and/or tourism pamphlets of their locations in the notebook. I then encourage whoever receives the journal to pass it on to someone else they know. The notebook acts as the passport chronicling the journey of our travelers. Each participant is asked to send a postcard with a small update of our travelers’ progress around the world to the class. I also ask whoever has the traveler on June 1st of that year to return it to our school.
I wanted my students to see multiple adventures through the eyes of their paper stand-ins. The students and parents of my first group embraced the idea, and we started making our travel buddies. At the front of my classroom waited an empty world map, begging to be filled with pins marking the path of our travelers.
By the end of that first year of “traveling,” our characters had seen the depths of the Grand Canyon and the heights of the Himalayas. That first year was a fantastic success. I knew I had to do it again.
This past year when I moved schools and grades, I wondered how my project would succeed. My Grade 3/4 students were curious, the parents were receptive, and so we made our travelers, packed their books, and sent them into the world.
Just as before, postcards started coming in the mail and the world map began filling with pins.
The first postcards came from North America and Europe. Pictures of the London Eye, Venetian gondolas, and the faces of Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Francis were among the early arrivals. Halfway through the year, images of Egypt and Machu Pichu in South America arrived. By the end of the year, some of our travelers had made it to the pyramids of Egypt, Jerusalem, Australia, the Great Wall of China, and the mythical lands of Middle Earth in New Zealand. Some lucky travelers had lounged on the beach in Cuba and Jamaica, and caught a parade at Walt Disney World. One traveler ventured to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa, to see where the Atlantic Ocean met the Indian Ocean.
The kids were thrilled to hear about the latest adventures of their world travelers, and we started learning about the countries where our travelers were sightseeing. The students were making connections to the world beyond the classroom.
The last weeks of school were filled with wonder as the travel journals and the paper travelers started to return home. Their journeys were detailed for the students in writing and with accompanying photos by the willing participants.
This current school year I am back teaching Grade 5/6 in a new town, with a chance to try my project on a new group of students. This year I plan to create a website for our travelers and their friends to upload pictures and blog about their adventures. My Grade 3/4 students had travelers that made it to six continents; I wonder if this time we could make it to Antarctica?
To start your own World Traveler project, begin by reading Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown to your students. Then send a letter home to your parents explaining your project and asking them to locate someone they know, either family or friends, who can help be a part of this project.
At school, have the students create a paper character. I have always provided the students with the outline of a paper character; they colour and decorate it, then I laminate it for travel. After the character is created, I have the students write an introductory letter about their character, describing the unique characteristics of their paper friend. This allows for a couple of assessment opportunities in Language and Visual Arts. When that is done, the letter is stapled to the first page of each student’s travel journal, usually a classroom notebook. On the cover I paste my letter explaining the project and the goal of continual travel for our friends until the first of June, which requires the initial participant to find someone else to forward the traveler to. The students take the journals home, and with their parents they mail them off.
This is a fun project, but it requires faith in others. Though all students send out a journal, sometimes we lose some world travelers in the mail. It is important to stress at the beginning that this can happen, but that we as a class experience the world through all our travelers.
Photo: courtesy Bill Gowsell
First published in Education Canada, March 2014
EN BREF – J’adore voyager, et pour aider mes élèves à s’ouvrir sur le monde, j’ai lancé un projet appelé World Traveler (voyageur du monde). Les élèves créent une voyageuse ou un voyageur de papier et amorcent son voyage en l’envoyant à une connaissance qui apporte ensuite le personnage de papier dans ses déplacements dans la ville où elle vit (et lors de tout autre voyage effectué), puis rend compte à la classe au moyen de cartes postales traitant des progrès du personnage voyageur. Les élèves rédigent une lettre de présentation décrivant leur personnage et, à la fin de septembre, ils postent à leur destinataire un paquet contenant la lettre, le personnage voyageur, un cahier et une lettre que j’ai rédigée. La classe attend ensuite des nouvelles des aventures.
Au début de juin, le trajet prend fin, les cahiers de voyage commencent à revenir à la classe et les élèves peuvent constater la grande distance parcourue par leur petite création.