Gill St. Bernard’s is proud to announce that Noreen Syed has been selected as a National Geographic Society and Lindblad Expeditions Grosvenor Teacher Fellow in recognition of her commitment to geographic education. “We are so proud of Noreen for this achievement, both as a member of our faculty and as an alumna from the Class of 2010. She is an outstanding teacher, and we are so fortunate to have her back at her alma mater,” said Head of School Sid Rowell.
At GSB, Syed directs the STREAMS (sustainability, technology, research, engineering, agriculture, math and service) program and teaches fifth-grade science. She is the only recipient from New Jersey this year and the youngest in the group, which comprises 45 teachers (grades PK-12) from the United States and Canada. This highly prestigious award, which entails a two-year commitment from the recipients, is the only fellowship offered by National Geographic.
As part of the fellowship, Syed will travel to southeast Alaska and British Columbia this summer aboard the National Geographic Quest for the Lindblad expedition Treasures of the Inside Passage. According to Syed, the fellows are expected to advance three related goals through the expedition: 1) broaden their own knowledge about the Inside Passage—its culture, geography, biodiversity, and people; 2) create a curriculum that allows their students to share in that learning; and 3) create an educational resource that will be posted on the National Geographic website and can be used by teachers everywhere.
Before Syed could apply for the fellowship, she had to first become a National Geographic Certified Educator. She explains, “The National Geographic certification is not about learning a specific curriculum, but rather about an approach to teaching that ‘empowers students to be informed decision-makers equipped to solve meaningful challenges in their communities and beyond.’ When I started exploring the teacher certification, I was struck by how similar those goals were to those of the STREAMS program, and honestly much of the curriculum at GSB.”
As a capstone project for her certification, Syed took inspiration from the novel A Long Walk to Water, which the fifth-graders read in their language arts class. To help students connect more fully with the novel, Syed designed a STREAMS lesson that explored water inequity throughout the world. It began simply with students carrying buckets of water from the pond at Home Winds back to their classroom and comparing their experiences with those of Nya, a young girl in the novel who walks eight hours each day to carry water back to her village. The objective was for students to generate empathy for the character and to develop a deeper connection to the story.
Afterwards, Syed and her students read the book One Well: The Story of Water on Earth, which focuses on access to water and water inequity worldwide. This generated discussion in which students learned more about the problem of water inequity. Then, they worked to design a solution; students researched and created their own water filters using recyclable plastic bottles, activated charcoal, sand, and gravel. They tested their filters using the same pond water that they had collected. After multiple trials, the filtered water was clean. Syed shares, “My students felt empowered that they could create something that could benefit so many people in the world with a design that was inexpensive and equitable.”
Syed earned National Geographic educator certification in December. The video she had created about the water filter project was then featured by National Geographic on its educator network as one of the top videos from the cohort of nearly 500 educators who had completed the certification program. Buoyed by that success, Syed included the video when she applied to the Grosvenor Fellowship.
Although Syed is thrilled about the time she will spend exploring Alaska and British Columbia, she is most excited by what she can share with her students and with the STREAMS program that she directs. “I think the biggest thing I have learned from National Geographic so far is to be an explorer. We want our kids to be curious, but if we don’t model that then how are we going to teach it? I want my students to make really keen observations—to approach life with their eyes open and to feel empowered to take action that makes the world a better place.”
The 13th group of Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellows at National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Photo by JT Hardin.
Syed and her shipmate Lori Martin from Lenexa, Kansas
Syed at National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, D.C. for pre-expedition training
Grosvenor Fellowship “Treasures of the Inside Passage” expedition to Alaska, photo credit Ralph Lee Hopkins
Syed teaching STREAMS at GSB