21st Century Skills

Around the World in 80 Days

From Hello Kitty and karaoke in Tokyo to rainbow plumed macaws and vibrant soccer fans in Rio de Janiero, the sixth graders in Tracy Horridge’s apprenticeship, “Know Your World with ThermoFisher” have seen it all without leaving their classroom at Collins Middle School! Unlike her colleagues at biotechnology giant ThermoFisher Scientific, Tracy does not wear a lab coat and goggles at work. In her role as export manager, she licenses products with defense contractors around the world and makes sure the company stays on top of international rules and regulations when doing research in other countries. In short, she carries out the company’s mission of creating a healthier, safer, and cleaner world through the art and science of international negotiation. Join us in congratulating Tracy as the Citizen Teacher of the Month.

Tracy got her start at Citizen Schools through teaching an engineering class with a group of coworkers.

“I felt like I was learning along with the students,” she said.

The engineering apprenticeship was also her first experience mentoring students one on one, and she found herself drawn to middle schoolers.

“I thought about myself at that age, and how much I could have benefitted from a program like this then.”

So it makes sense that the next semester, she would jump at the chance to teach “Know Your World,” a class originally geared towards social media and digital communication. Tracy, however, repurposed the apprenticeship to take the students on a trip through her world.

During the group’s travels, they danced to songs in languages other than English, celebrated major national holidays other than Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, and sampled all the delicious snacks each country had to offer!

“We all agreed that we would not go hungry in Brazil!  We weren’t so sure about Japan. I was surprised at the number of kids willing to try new things, most notably the sushi. (I was 48 before I tried sushi.)”

One student in particular, Jonathan, wanted to go beyond the local flavor and take a deeper look at facts and figures.

“He didn’t just want to know the “fun” stuff about a country, he asked questions about their financial system and economy.”

The main objective of the apprenticeship, though, was to teach an important 21st Century Skill: how to successfully collaborate with a group of people with diverse cultural backgrounds and values. She figured a middle school classroom would be an excellent place for the students to begin their intercultural education.

“Even in middle school you hear people saying ‘I don’t want to work with that person,’ but I tell them the world is just going to keep getting smaller. You have to work together here with people you don’t like.’”

As a result, the students not only had to learn facts and figures about different countries, but they had to work together to learn them. Each student was randomly assigned to one of three countries, and were paired with students with whom they would not ordinarily sit in the cafeteria. In order for the rest of the class to truly experience a new country, each group had to figure out a way to work together to research it, including delegating tasks and actively communicating with each other.

“My favorite things were those that we learned together. While I work with Brazil, I had never really studied it. It was interesting for all of us to learn about.”

All of this research and collaboration was meant to prepare them for their biggest challenge as a group: presenting their findings to Tracy’s boss at ThermoFisher at their WOW! event.

“They were so nervous. They had worked so hard on standing up to speak and speaking loudly.”

In the end, though, all that hard work paid off when Tracy’s boss complimented the group on how much their presentation impressed him.

As for the curious Jonathan?

“I’m going to be working for him one day,” Tracy laughed.