August 20, 2012
by Stephen Danilovich ‘14
Knox College graduate Layne Zimmers '06 partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to teach students about the global water crisis. Inspired by a trip to Tanzania, she has developed a yearlong project for her sixth-grade classrooms that incorporates online seminars, field trips, and fundraising.
An educational studies major at Knox, Zimmers is a middle-school teacher in Springfield, Illinois, at Lincoln Magnet School, a 2011 High Performing National Blue Ribbon School. She teaches sixth-grade world history and language arts and eighth-grade research writing.
In the summer of 2011, she took a month-long educational service trip to Moshi, Tanzania, where she came face-to-face with unsanitary living conditions and inadequate water supplies.
In her travel blog, Zimmers explained why she chose to volunteer in Tanzania.
"It was because of teachers who fostered my curious nature. I was introduced to the country a few years back when I took my first (anthropology/sociology) class at Knox College," Zimmers wrote. "With that being said, I not only am going to Tanzania because of an undergrad class, but because I need to fulfill my curiosity in order to pass on the spirit of inquiry to others."
While in Tanzania, Zimmers taught history and language arts to middle-school students. She and her colleagues had previously decided to plan a yearlong focus on an environmental issue in their classrooms, which would be inspired by Zimmers' experiences overseas. Once she returned, they agreed to design their educational project around the global water crisis. (Photo at top of page: Layne Zimmers with women from a Maasi village in Tanzania. She had the opportunity to dance with them during a tribal celebration.)
Zimmers worked with 10 other sixth-grade teachers to develop the project and get all 108 of Lincoln's sixth-grade students involved. The project was incorporated into every sixth-grade class, including math, literature, history, and music.
"For example, students might be working on life-expectancy maps in history, reading and analyzing text about floating markets in Thailand, solving math problems relating to rainstorms, analyzing a water photo from National Geographic in writing, and learning a regional song in choir."
"Regardless of a student's academic ability," Zimmers said, "all 108 of our sixth-graders were expected to become experts on the water issues."
Students were also able to participate in live online seminars with scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, chatting with experts in various fields related to water and the water crisis. This was part of the Smithsonian Shout program, a global initiative to develop webinars and projects on environmental issues for use in classrooms.
Lincoln Magnet School was the site for the Smithsonian Shout program, and Zimmers said she was "very honored" to present during the Teacher Preview webinar sessions, sharing her students' achievements with educators around the world.
The final stage of the project involved the students' active participation in the water crisis. Through fundraising activities, students in the sixth-grade were able to raise a total of $800 and voted as a class to donate the money to three water-related organizations: water.org, Water for Sudan, and the Brazil filter project. (Photo above right: "Change for Change" plastic jars that Zimmers' school used in raising funds for water-related organizations.)
"I hope that our students will become active, global citizens," Zimmers said about her project. "We want to instill an innate passion to always be curious with the world around them."