Bringing Senegal to Life


It happens sometimes in teaching–a moment where you marvel at lightbulbs going off in your student’s heads as they make the connections needed for learning to happen. Last week we were lucky to have a guest speaker, Cesar Badji come to our class and I think it would be safe to say that what happened went far beyond lightbulbs–he was able to set off  FIREWORKS for my 2nd graders.

Our class has been reading the book  One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul as part of our How People Affect the Environment Social Studies unit. It tells the true story of Isatou Ceesay, a woman from The Gambia who found a way to solve the problem of plastic litter by “up-cycling” the plastic to create crocheted purses for sale. Part of this learning led us to investigate The Gambia. We discovered that this is a very small country surrounded by another country: Senegal. It turns out that one of the students in my class has an uncle from Senegal! Of course, we invited him to come and tell us about his country.

It was such a terrific experience for my students. He was able to teach us the geography of Senegal and the Gambia, he was able to teach us some Wolof phrases, (“Wow” means yes!) Even better, he was able to tell us about his childhood growing up in the rainforest of Southern Senegal. The kids were enthralled to learn that he could not recall ever buying a toy. He and his friend made their own toys from things from nature of from things they found. His pets were animals from the forest–he even had a pet monkey!  He brought jewelry that was made from up-cycled products and natural materials, he brought clothing for the kids to try on–and best of all he brought his drum and taught us a song!

His visit was such a great way to bring a global connection to  our learning about the environment and how to take action to make a difference. My students learned that all plastic bags are banned in Senegal. They learned that for a variety of reasons, kids in Africa often create their own toys from up-cycled products. We have learned that in Africa most of what is thrown away is organic waste–a big difference from what we throw away here in the US.  I am so grateful to Lou for taking the time to share his culture and experiences with us!






Look Local, Think Global

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This week my class took a 20 minute walk to the visit what has to be the most important natural resource of our community–Lake Michigan!  Cumberland School is literally 8 blocks away from the lake but this is the first time in my 6 years of teaching that I have taken a class there. When I did some refection about why this is, I think it has to do with taking what is close and near to us, (local) for granted.  A major takeaway that I learned from my course on global education this fall is the importance of helping my students to  make connections between local issues within a community and broader global issues and themes. (Asia Society).  When we were at the lake we enjoyed its beauty, we threw rocks in the water, we surveyed the plant and animal life that we saw. But my real goal for our walk was to apply some of my new learning and help them to understand the global impact and importance of this natural resource. We talked about how the Great Lakes supply 1/5 of the world’s fresh water. The Great Lakes ecosystem is under strain and my students will need to understand and care for it in the future. According to the United Nations, 11% of the world’s population lacks access to clean drinking water.  A TGC fellow, Brielle Carlson is in Senegal right now and has been writing in her blog Grand Rapids Goes Global about the water scarcity and how precious clean water is there. In Milwaukee, local organizations such as Milwaukee Water Commons are working to help educate our community about the importance of protecting our lake.  Organizations such as Kids Go Global provide resources to empower kids to take action in response to the global water crisis. In my own class we are learning how our actions effect the environment, specifically ways that we can keep plastics out of our rivers, lakes and waterways.  Our walk to the lake may not have been a long one, but it feels it was the start of a very big journey!

Question for kids: What was your favorite part of our walk to Lake Michigan? What new questions do you have about the lake that we can add to our Padlet?