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Alum earns Educator of the Week nod from National Geographic

​Alumnus Joe Grabowski (in foreground)

Nipissing alumnus Joe Grabowski is giving students a chance to explore the world without ever leaving their seats by using Skype to enhance classroom communication and learning.  For his innovative style of teaching, Grabowski was recently featured in National Geographic’s Education Blog as Educator of the Week.

For as long as he can remember, Grabowski has had a passion for the natural world and has been drawn to the sciences.

He grew up watching David Attenborough’s wildlife series and Jacques Cousteau’s underwater adventures and believes their passion for teaching and exploration made a lasting impression on him.  This is what drew Grabowski to teaching, wanting to inspire in a similar way and share these same passions for science with a younger generation.

Grabowski teaches science and math in Guelph, Ontario.  One day, he had the urge to try something new in effort to make lessons more interesting for his students, as well as himself.  To shake things up, Grabowski started to connect his students with scientists from around the world, via Skype, as a supplement to his biodiversity unit.

The students loved the connections they were making.  To make things more interesting, the classes challenged themselves to connect with 50 scientists, conservationists, explorers and adventurers by the end of the school year.  They call this challenge Exploring by the Seat of Our Pants.

So far, the students have joined an expedition on an active volcano in Italy, hung out in an adele penguin colony in Antarctica, observed a science work-up on a wild shark in Bimini and chatted with Fabien Cousteau from the bottom of the ocean. This barely scratches the surface of the students’ growing list of connections.

“I love science and figuring out how the world around me works.  All students who enter my classroom are scientists and explorers,” says Grabowski.  “With any luck they will leave as critical thinkers and life long learners, always asking why...and then finding the answers.”

Grabowski first earned a degree in Biological Sciences then came to Nipissing University to complete his education with the Schulich School of Education.

“I had a blast at Nipissing, the campus is in a beautiful location and the faculty was great,” says Grabowski.  “I made a lot of good friends in my section and I had some pretty unforgettable experiences with them.”

Grabowski thoroughly enjoyed the program, especially an optional course he took called Outdoor and Experiential Education.  It had a profound influence on his teaching. Grabowski loves to get his students outside of the classroom and to try and create more hands on learning opportunities.

What really drew Grabowski to Nipissing was the technology.  “I firmly believe that in order to create 21st century learners, we have to be familiar with the technology that is available and the best way to utilize it in the classroom. The program at Nipissing does a great job in this area.,” says Grabowski. “Nipissing is a Mac school, which was another huge plus for me. To this day, the Macbook I used for my program is still going strong and is a vital daily tool in my classroom.”

Grabowski’s advice for education graduates is to always be looking for new ideas and learning strategies to bring into the classroom.

“You can’t be afraid to try new things with your students.  It’s easy to fall into a habit of using the same lessons ove​r and over again, lecturing from the front of the classroom.   Bring your passions into the classroom and share them with your students. It’s guaranteed to keep things fresh,” says Grabowski.  “Science is now something my students look forward to, and they often head home to research the people and places with which we’ve connected. These connections have lead to countless exciting and unexpected journeys.  My students have learned more about our planet and what we are doing to it than I could have ever hoped for.”

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