Teacher Julie (Jorgensen) Theim ’09 is redefining art classes at Rolling Hills Elementary in Mukwonago, Wis., by integrating other subjects such as geography.
“One of my students said, ‘I didn’t know we could talk about maps in art class,’” she says.
This school year, her students will learn even more about geography as Theim incorporates her summer travels throughout the Arctic into her lesson plan. She traveled there as one of 40 educators chosen for the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program. The goal of the highly competitive program, which is sponsored by the National Geographic Society and Lindblad Expeditions, is to increase geographic literacy in the classroom by giving teachers experiences they can share with their students. Educators in the program travel aboard Lindblad’s ships.
For her, the expedition was like her education at Alverno: learning about the real world via hands-on experience. During the last school year, Theim says her class focused on developing global perspectives by looking at cultures, places and wildlife on a broader scale.
“Through this understanding, students are using their problem-solving skills in how to create and share their artwork with others and what it means to them,” says Theim, who majored in Art Education and Art Therapy at Alverno. “When students value their own work and learn how to share their work with meaning, they become positive communicators who are creating work for change and positive messages versus cookie-cutter art pieces.”
Theim left the United States on May 30 to begin her 11-day expedition. After a brief stop in Oslo, Norway, she traveled to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, to board Lindblad’s National Geographic Explorer ship. As the ship circumnavigated Svalbard, Theim kayaked and hiked in the Artic.
She also learned from experts aboard the ship. One evening, while listening to a polar bear expert, there was an announcement that the ship was nearing a polar bear. She was among the first passengers on the deck. The polar bear captivated her audience for 20 minutes before walking away, Theim says. “It was pure magic.”
Theim used her photography skills to capture photos of the bear and other moments. She started taking pictures in high school using a darkroom with real film, she says. For this trip, she used a 360-degree camera that will allow her to create a virtual reality film for her students, who range from kindergartners to sixth graders.
“It’s a whole new way to learn,” she says.
Photography by Julie Theim.