What in the world are the students in Anne-Lise Olsen's class at Webster School, Granite District, doing?
Learning where in the world things are, that's what.Olsen took to heart criticisms that American students have big gaps where their understanding of geography should be. The criticism was based on a survey of university-level students that disclosed a third of them couldn't find the Pacific Ocean on a map. Nearly half couldn't find Japan.
As a result, her students can identify the flags of 26 nations. They know the capitals of these countries, as well as the capitals of all 50 states and their location on America's map.
"We started our geography project with the objective of knowing the North American Continent," Olsen said. They were so enthused that they continued their classroom travels to Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia.
The class was so enthusiastic, in fact, that they sent letters, maps and flags to Lee Schwartz of the School of International Service at the American University in Washington, D.C. He conducted the revealing survey that sparked their interest.
"It is heartwarming to see such enthusiasm and quality from a group of young students," Schwartz responded. Some of the Webster students' items were displayed during the university's International Week. Their accomplishments were shared with the National Geographic Society and the Association of American Geographers. Schwartz used the Utah school as an example when he was a guest on National Public Radio.
"I only wish my students here at the university were as well prepared by their elementary school teachers as your students have been by you," he told Olsen.
She shares the credit with youngsters who are "so receptive to knowledge of all kinds that it makes teaching a joy." The enthusiasm has spread to entire families as they become involved in their children's projects.
As for the students, well, as one lad put it, "I'm smarter than some college kids are."