In a matter of weeks, Paul Salopek will be embarking on a seven-year journalism project that will take the form of a 22,000 mile walk following the footsteps of the original human migration out of east Africa, across the middle East and Asia, and down through the Americas to Patagonia.
In addition to the long-form articles that Paul will be writing for National Geographic magazine and the other media he will gather along the walk -- photographs, short interviews, audio samples -- he will be interacting with learners throughout the world. Students will be able to communicate with him through Skype chats, Google Hangouts and online Q&As. "Let me be your foreign correspondent," Paul has said.
Last month I traveled with Paul to Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, DC and Philadelphia to speak with more than 3,000 middle and high school students about his hopes for the walk, and to invite them to join along in creative ways. The response was tremendous.
I think what is most exciting is not the idea of students following along passively, but rather acting as fellow explorers, conducting their own research and creating work that will build on the themes of the walk.
At Washington International School, in Washington, DC, Paul spent a day working with the sixth grade on a mapping project. After an introduction by Paul in the morning, the entire grade broke in to groups of six or seven to work out some recommended first-year routes and timelines.
Using computers, iPads, sticky notes and pens, and an atlas, the students first reflected on what they already knew about the geography, climate, and social settings along the walk's starting line, making notes and comparing insights.
Next, they puzzled out the likely questions that would arise in their research, again compiling these on the sticky notes.
And last, they explored the resources available to them to determine the best route for him to take from the city closest to the walk's starting line, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Amman, Jordan, and to make a prediction about how much time this first section of the walk would take.
For reference, I have attached the lesson plan the teachers used for the day. I encourage teachers also to make use of our professionally created unit maps for elementary, middle, and high school grade levels. These maps were devised with Common Core State Standards in mind. And we welcome both questions for Paul and the students' own stories of personal journeys that have been meaningful to them.
Here are some video clips of Paul working with the students: