Emily Kjesbo-Johnson

Washington Technology Magnet, Saint Paul MN

Capture in virtual reality Thailand's history, culture and architecture to create case studies for the analysis of geometric properties and theorems set amidst the rich backdrop of the Southeast Asian nation.

Where I've Been

  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand

My Fellowship in Images

During a visit to the Patara Elephant Farm, I participated in conservation of Thailand's most sacred animals. I spent the day with an elephant named August, bathing him, checking his health, and learning about elephant care.
At Wat Suan Dok in Chaing Mai, I observed the unique white temple, and learned about a princess buried there, known for making great strides towards equality for the women of Thailand.
While walking the streets of Bangkok's China Town, I took in the sights, sounds, and flavors of Thai street food.
Taking cooking classes taught me about Thailand's culture on a personal level, and introduced me to the techniques, flavors, and textures of Thai cooking
On a night bicycle tour of Bangkok, I saw Bangkok life from an up close and personal street view. I took in the wonders of Wat Arun and other temples, lit up against the dark night sky.
During a visit to Wat Pho, I marveled in the intricate artwork and geometry of the many chedi structures there. I learned about the history and legacy of Bangkok's oldest and largest temple complex.

Igniting Personal and Professional Growth

What changed as a result of your fellowship? Why was it vital for you to pursue this particular opportunity/experience? What learning gaps (yours and/or your students’) were/will be filled as a result of your fellowship?

My fellowship gave me fresh insight into the lives, backgrounds, and cultures of many of my students. Despite teaching at a school with a majority of Southeast Asian students, I had never visited Asia, nor had I found success integrating Asia's cultural themes into my pedagogy. I have a new sense of appreciation for Thailand's culture, people, and the way its customs have influenced my students and their families. I return with a committment to work new cultural themes into my curriculum.

How do you see your teaching evolving after your fellowship? Your students’ learning?

My fellowship helped me grow not only in my apprecation and understanding of Thai history and culture on a personal level, but also in the curriculum I will develop this year. I will create virtual reality tours in which my students can explore the geometry of Thailand. This will be an exciting and engaging learning opportunity, while also validating their cultural identities. I will also prepare some Thai recipes I learned on my fellowship, creating a multi-sensory learning experience.

What were some unplanned or unexpected experiences or outcomes of your fellowship?

Although many of my students are Southeast Asian, I did not expect to engage with their specific tribes in Thailand, as most lived in refugee camps during their time there. However, I had the opportunity to meet Karen people living outside of Chiang Mai, and learn a little bit about the Hmong tribes living in the hills of northern Thailand. I was able to have a deeper understanding of the Karen experience in Thailand during a long conversation with a new Karen friend I made in Chiang Mai.

Impacting Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your students learn differently because of your new knowledge or skills?

This experience has prompted me to explore a teaching tool I hadn't yet experienced - virtual reality. Using VR, my students will experience geometry through the context of Thailand, rather than simply being told about it. They will analyze 2D and 3D figures within Thailands rich cultural backdrop, learning about far more than just shapes. They will also see their teacher in a new light - someone who cares about the culture that has influenced them, and who seeks to validate who they are.

What specific events, projects or deliverables will your students experience related to your fellowship?

Students will explore Thai architecture through 360 degree photospheres in virtual reality. They will then use digital analysis programs to explore properties of the 2D and 3D figures they discovered. The final project of the unit will be the creation of their own mini skyscrapers using 3D design software, creating a classroom "skyline" of 3D figures. I will use our worktime on these projects to expand learning outside of math, sharing my findings related to culture, history, and even food!

How, specifically, will your fellowship extend beyond your classroom? (e.g. families, school-at-large, afterschool groups, surrounding community, colleagues, etc.)

I look forward to sharing about my fellowship, and what students have created as a result, with families. At conferences, family members will be able to try on the VR headsets to explore the 360 photospheres. They will also be able to see the classroom skyline on display. I will also use my fellowship to lead professional development sessions for my colleagues at the school and district level. Lastly, my geometry PLC will have the resources to replicate the project in their own classrooms.

Inspiring the Future

Why was this opportunity transformative for your teaching on a macro-level?

My fellowship will allow me to relate to students in a new way - by connecting deeply to their cultural identity. While my own life experience differs greatly from that of my students, this fellowship represents a large step towards commonality. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, helped me explore new places and experiences, and grew my understanding of who my students truly are. This will create overarching opportunities to connect with students in ways far transcending the curriculum.

Why do students benefit from this type of teacher learning?

I believe the best teachers teach holistically, and that the content we teach is simply a vehicle through which we can validate, inspire, and connect with young people. Teachers who are themselves inspired, passionate, and seeking connections between student learning and the world around them are the strongest asset to innovative teaching. As we know, the world is changing, and education right along with it. Through a more global mindset and creative approach to learning, our students grow.

How would you describe to a friend or grant funder the fundamental ways in which your fellowship changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

As a result of my fellowship, my worldview has been expanded, and I have a greater appreciation for the cultural context from which my students come. My fellowship has awoken a passion for bringing the world into my classroom in a new way, tackling the intimidation of using a new and innovative tool for instruction. My fellowship has encouraged me to take risks for the benefit of my students, developing innovative curriculum to engage and inspire them.