“After traveling the world to learn from diverse perspectives, I returned home to find there were just as many different viewpoints to learn from right in my home state!”
-Colleen Waterston, author of Our Minnesota Community
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
Our Minnesota Community: A Big Shared World Activity Book was created by, for, and about Minnesotans as an entry point to inspire children’s curiosity and conversation about culture. Designed as a learning tool with interactivity in mind, the activity book is meant to serve only the starting point for deeper classroom engagement and interpersonal interactions between students, their classmates, educators, and ultimately their greater community.
The activity book was inspired by Big Shared World, a global travel project where I took my own curiosity into the world and asked people the same three questions along the way. I designed BSW as a personal social experiment to connect with people, places, and concepts around the globe. Between October 2014-December 2015, I traveled to 40 countries across six contients and asked over 700 people my three questions.
The Big Shared World three questions:
What does a good life mean to you?
In your opinion, what is the biggest threat to humanity today?
What do you think the world will be like 50 years from now?
To learn more about this quest, you can visit my Big Shared World journey’s website here.
Upon completion of my travels, I returned home to make sense of the findings and write a book about the endeavor with insights woven from the rich interactions I had with diverse people from all walks of life. With plans to self-publish the book, in 2017 I launched a crowdfund campaign and shared it with my personal friends and family. The link made its way to a retired administrator from my high school. A brief exchange on Facebook turned into regular coffees to discuss how I could leverage the experience beyond the travel memoir, especially with younger audiences.
Our conversations over coffee also delved into the intercultural challenges faced in Minnesota, including the fact that the state has a notably high achievement gap (achievement gap, or opportunity gap, refers to the disparity in performance between different groups of students, particularly between white students and students of color). The retired life-long educator felt that Minnesotans need to talk openly about cultural differences in order to teach students from all backgrounds more effectively. While Minnesotans are known for being “nice”, sometimes this very characteristic is a barrier to having productive dialogue about uncomfortable topics. While this is only one contributor to a much larger problem, the regular coffee conversations took on a new energy driven by a desire to address this issue in a productive way.
Our Minnesota Community evolved as the creative process unfolded. What started as a coloring book with stories turned into an activity book with question prompts for children to think about their own cultural and heritage backgrounds, as well as coloring and creative activities to think about culture in general. Using the Big Shared World model of asking people the same questions, we interviewed individuals from 13 different heritage backgrounds with a strong presence in Minnesota.
The OMC interviewees all answered, on video, the same nine questions – six original along with the BSW three questions. Highlights from the interviews can be found on our YouTube channel.
The Our Minnesota Community questions:
What does family mean to you?
What is most precious to you about your culture?
Which cultural objects or buildings are most important to you?
What challenges have you faced as a result of being a part of your culture?
What is the biggest stereotype that people have about your culture?
What else would you like people to understand about your culture?
An activity page in the activity book prompts students to develop their own three questions to get to know someone, a fun nod to the original project that inspired this local endeavor. Much like the forthcoming book about the BSW experience, these interviews informed the narrative and illustrated content in the book. In addition, we added activities and questions to spark children (and their teachers and parents) to think about their own values and beliefs.
Geared toward elementary aged kids, the activity book is meant to inspire children’s curiosity and conversation about culture. Working through the activity book allows students to have participate in a “windows and mirrors” approach to learning. The hope is that students reflect on their own values and beliefs while getting a glimpse into the lives of fellow Minnesotans.
While originally an unexpected diversion from my original project, completing the activity book has felt like the actual completion of the initial Big Shared World journey. I took what I learned while traveling the world and created an entry point for conversation about different cultures right in my home state. My vision for Big Shared World is to continue to serve as the launching platform to create evergreen tools for building global community and cross-cultural understanding by humanizing the world through stories.
I hope this resource is helpful for you, and that whatever we continue to develop creates meaningful connections among students across Minnesota, and beyond.