Let Students Lead: How are Local Investigations Relevant to Global Learning?

*This is the third installment of a four part series on local investigations in the classroom authored by Participate. For more ideas and stories on global education, visit Global Perspectives, a new Medium Publication dedicated to stories, thoughts and ideas to empower teachers and students to be actives contributors to their communities and our world.

The most effective approaches to global learning don’t necessarily start by focusing on things or places far away from students. Curiosity and perspective-taking are critical global competencies to help students develop, and those skills are nurtured when students thoroughly explore their own backgrounds, communities and cultural contexts. New literacy standards underscore the need for students as young as kindergarten to compare and contrast because understanding is strengthened when students analyze the similarities and differences between something they recognize and something they don’t.

Local investigations provide compelling foundations for connecting student curiosity to global contexts because students can’t begin to explore the world unless they recognize where they are.

Let’s consider some examples.

  • Oral history projects conducted by students in any U.S. classroom will find global connections among family or community members within one or two generations.
  • The inherent diversity of the U.S. population is something educators can use to create units of study built on the premise that the majority of U.S. Americans come from somewhere else in the world.

Several questions might drive these types of investigations and students may develop interview protocols to explore their own stories.

  • What brought their families and ancestors to this country?
  • What global event triggered their families’ immigration?
  • What was the relationship of newly arriving immigrants to the communities already here?
  • How did they adapt to their new home?

Most local communities are linked to the global economy in real ways. Community mapping projects will reveal local companies with inherent global connections established through trade, markets or outright ownership. Chambers of commerce are excellent resources for data and information about local and global business relationships that may be core components of local economies. Inviting local business leaders or planning a field trip to a local business will make these global connections transparent to students. Guest speakers may focus on how the products they produce locally are critical to relationships across cultural and geographic borders and to the success of their businesses.

Diving deeper, students may explore how local businesses have changed business practices and product development to ensure that they are connecting to diverse markets and customers, including how local businesses have adjusted to changing demographics in their own communities. In addition, many communities have experienced the loss of manufacturing industries and students may examine the global forces that contribute to such capital movement. Where did these business go? Why did they move? What other businesses took their place?

Local investigations create connections that help students recognize that most jobs will require them to interact with and communicate effectively across diverse cultures.

Local investigations driven by political and history curriculum standards might involve interactions with representatives from local, state or national governments. Students may conduct research and compile questions and then engage — virtually or in person — with political staff or local elected officials to discuss various aspects of the political process, the roles of elected officials, pending legislations, policy agendas, etc. These types of efforts may be integrated into standards-based projects that connect the study of U.S. government to local investigations of political representation and local-global interdependencies. Investigations such as these are also essential for students to understand how governments work and that they have a role in their own governance. Engaging directly with representatives through student-led questions is an excellent first step in making civic responsibility more transparent to students.


Finally, local investigations create connections that help students recognize that most jobs will require them to interact with and communicate effectively across diverse cultures. They also allow students to utilize technology tools, and to learn and apply technology literacy in their research. These are the types of applicable skills and insights that students need to interact effectively with their communities and with the world.


Julie Keane, PhD

Julie, head of research at Participate, leads research and evaluation for all Participate programs, contributes to professional development curriculum design, and is a key contributor to the development of Participate’s digital badging system. She holds a doctorate in education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a master’s in political science from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

If you liked what you read, be sure to hit recommend below to pass the story on to your followers, and follow The Synapse for more authentic voices in Education!