Alum Inspiration: An Entire School’s Journey to Jordan

The entire school community at Truman Primary School in Norman, Oklahoma is traveling to Jordan this year. “Armchair traveling,” that is. Students and staff alike are immersed in a new world of Jordanian culture, history, and art, and they don’t even have to leave Oklahoma. This is all thanks to one teacher who traveled to Jordan and is now bringing a world of experience back to her classroom and school. ELL teacher Ellen Kraft embodies GEEO’s mission of bringing the world to the classroom. 

“Many of my students don’t get the opportunity to travel, so this is their chance for armchair travel. Especially with my younger kids, they’re so naturally curious and inquisitive. They love it.”

Ellen Kraft, ELL teacher and GEEO alumna

From a fellowship in Colombia to a teacher exchange in Japan and many places in between, Ellen has continually explored the world and then brought her unique perspective back to her students over the past 16 years. Ms. Kraft earned her undergraduate degree in international relations and comparative politics and her master’s in human relations. She credits her travels and knowledge of international affairs for helping serve her pre-K through second grade ELL students from other countries. 

Ms. Kraft’s Journey to Jordan display in her Oklahoma ELL classroom

Ms. Kraft’s Journey to Jordan

Most recently, Ms. Kraft traveled to Jordan with GEEO and a group of educators from around the United States. Ellen was awarded a grant through Qatar Foundation International to travel to Jordan so she could bring lessons on the culture of the Arabic world back home. 

“Starting with my international relations coursework back in the day, I’ve been fascinated by the Middle East, but there are so many misconceptions. I wanted to bring back the positive culture and things that are so rich back to my school and community.”

Before traveling to Jordan, Kraft created her GEEO Classroom Action Plan to strategize on how she would incorporate her experiences into her teaching. From the start, she planned to share features of the communities in Jordan with the entire school. “Through photographs, video blogs and a community connection (Skype), students will compare and contrast communities in Jordan with our community.  Additionally, I would like to share Jordanian children’s books with students and engage in an art lesson focused on Jordanian culture.”

With the support of her fellow travelers, who are all educators as well, Ellen collected artifacts, photos, books, decor, and experiences in Jordan that would help her carry out her Classroom Action Plan. She has achieved many of these goals and piqued her entire school community’s interest in Jordanian culture. 

Inspiring curiosity in the entire school

In addition to sharing her experiences in her own classroom, Ellen has inspired all of Truman Primary with her journey to Jordan. Mr. Greg, the school custodian, is a talented artist and drew illustrations of some of Ms. Kraft’s photos of iconic sites in Jordan. Her students then got to create timeline stories with Mr. Greg’s drawings. The activity was such a hit that she is now carrying it out with every student in the school. Later this school year, all students will collaborate to create a tree of life mosaic in the style of Jordan’s “city of mosaics,” Madaba. The mosaic activity will include a science experiment where students will get to test various compounds to determine the most durable grout mixture for their masterpiece. 

Creating your own global classroom

For teachers that are hoping to bring a global perspective to their classroom or school, Ellen says to start small, such as reading a children’s book that’s based in another country or culture. “It doesn’t need to be an elaborate project or something that takes weeks on end. With elementary students, just start with a read aloud. There are so many other things we’re supposed to get in, but just get down on the carpet, read a book, and ask questions. Where are these places on the map? What are the similarities and differences? What would you like to learn more about?” You can see Ellen’s full unit plan on Jordan here, which she generously shared with the GEEO team. 

Overall, Ellen hopes that sharing her travels with her students will open them up to new perspectives and possibilities. “If I can get my corner of the world to be open to new thoughts, investigating things, and being informed, then there will be less fear in the world.” Thanks for everything you do, Ms. Kraft! 

Do you have a story about bringing your global experiences back to the classroom that you’d like to share with GEEO? Get in touch with us and we may feature your lessons, unit plan, or story on our blog!

The group of educators that traveled to Jordan with QFI and GEEO in the summer of 2019.