Crew Commentary

Developing an Explorer’s Mindset

Bob Leonard - Climate Risk Manager


NOTE: This Spaceship Earth is aligned with Authentic Exploration Matters via our Mission2030 Youth program. Today’s youth will be living the remainder of their lives with our climate crisis. We believe that urgent action must be taken to avoid the worst effects of global warming… and it must be taken by 2030 (otherwise it will be too late). Mission 2030 Youth aims to recruit and equip youth from around the world to effectively tackle this global threat.


The Crew Commentary below was written by Kirstin Cowan, one of the educators behind Authentic Exploration Matters.


We are living in an unprecedented time of change. Change that is challenging the way we live our daily lives. Changes I never thought I would see. Upon graduating high school in 1991, the words “climate change” were unknown to most of the global population. Thirty years later, that label is a common term known to all and frequently in the news. We see changes within political, cultural, environmental, educational, economic, and health arenas, and more. The amount of change we are experiencing can be overwhelming.



We must upgrade our focus from local to global, to successfully take on the challenges we face. Change isn’t always a negative. Change is also a strong force for good. Change is constant as it ebbs and flows through our lives. One area of positive change that I see is in relation to our youth and how they will impact the future. They are using their voices to promote positive change. They can be a powerful force that will create a wave of positive changes for all life on Earth. They need to be given a chance to ignite their potential. One of the key areas where adults can help empower youth is by teaching them an explorer’s mindset.


An “Explorer’s Mindset” is the framework used by the National Geographic Society. When fostering an explorer’s mindset in students, an educator is enhancing students’ abilities via a more creative and engaging hands-on process. This framework enables students to solve issues and challenges that matter to them. The development of an explorer’s mindset is applicable to any age group and subject area. The idea of an explorer’s mindset encourages youth to be curious, adventurous and responsible change makers and story tellers. An explorer’s mindset encompasses the attitudes of curiosity, responsibility and empowerment. It also promotes the skills that are essential to exploration and discovery. This includes their need to observe, communicate and collaborate to solve problems. Additionally, an explorer’s mindset helps students understand our evolving and connected world through the lens of the human journey, the changing planet, and wildlife/wild places.


So, how can educators (of all types) prepare youth for a future that is beyond our current reality? How can educators engage youth in hands on experiential learning? One answer is to enhance current educational methodologies with an explorer’s mindset. This means changing how students are taught.


Let’s take a moment here and think about how these changes affect educators before we jump into how they can benefit students.


Today’s teachers face a multitude of constantly morphing educational approaches, theories, demands, duties and expectations. It can be exhausting. Teachers use curricular materials that address the standards that need to be taught. However, teachers also work tirelessly to find ways to include extensions to these lessons. Perhaps it is a guest speaker, a hands-on experiment, or a field trip. Teachers are constantly looking for ways to elevate the learning experience through the addition of opportunities to engage students with the vocabulary, concepts and skills that a given standard is addressing. Finding appropriate and effective extensions is time consuming and difficult. And can be overwhelming to coordinate when one considers all the other aspects that are a part of a teachers’ job.


I have spoken with many teachers who would love to provide more authentic learning experiences in class. The reality comes down to the fact that they simply don’t have the time to research and/or design experiences that are valid and align with standards. Educators want change! They want to bring creative and engaging extensions into the classroom. To do this effectively, they need time. Something that they already have too little of.


Today’s teaching is demanding. Yet, dedicated educators work to enhance their students’ learning experience because they care about the lives they touch every year.


What if teachers didn’t have to leave the school to implement real world learning opportunities? What if they didn’t have to spend countless hours searching for lesson extensions that are aligned to standards? What if these resources were easily accessed by teachers? This is where Authentic Exploration Matters (AEM) can step in and assist educators.


The mission of AEM is to provide a trustworthy, safe, free web-based platform for teachers who seek to promote innovation, collaboration, experiential learning, and inspiration through highly vetted science resources and experts. Our vision is to supply the tools to engage all students in relevant and purposeful content; evolving classroom learning with a systems thinking approach. Our team has a passion for bringing these opportunities into the educational system. We have had first-hand experience with how hands-on, authentic learning can unleash an explorer’s mindset in youth. Staff members have led students through experiences in growing corals in the classroom, researching algal blooms through on campus experiments, citizen science days where they researched the health of a local ecosystem, and more.


AEM aims to connect educators with applicable content that immerses students in a more authentic learning experience. The AEM platform is informed with educator voices and ideas. Our web-based application is a connection to creative and inspirational experiences that engage youth on a more personal level. We look forward to being a valuable, free resource for educators to access in the near future. The mission of AEM aligns with the explorer’s mindset framework.


According to a CNN Health article (10/29/19), nearly 65 percent of the children entering primary school today will work in jobs that currently do not exist. Research completed by the journal, Science (9/28/21) found that children born in 2021 will live through seven times as many heat waves, twice as many wildfires, and three times as many droughts, crop failures, and floods as their grandparents did. These two pieces of information alone are strong evidence that we need to change our educational framework. This shift must focus more on authentic learning experiences that explore topics that matter. Providing students with learning extensions, that help create an explorer’s mindset, will enable youth to take on real world challenges with a more expansive perspective. This type of learning experience not only helps students to think creatively, it also gives them ownership of the research, data collection, and storytelling… all skills that will be in demand throughout their lives.


Here’s an example of how AEM can help educators foster an explorer’s mindset:


Let’s say a class is studying biodiversity and instead of simply being lectured to and watching a couple of videos, the class is engaged in a more authentic experience. How could this effectively be accomplished? An educator could access the Authentic Exploration Matters platform and enter some simple search items. This search will then direct them to vetted learning opportunities that they can implement. Simply click on the link to the resource you are interested in and be automatically directed to that resource. Using the biodiversity example, an educator could go to the AEM website and plug in the grade level, subject, topic, or even a standard and be directed to valid and engaging learning opportunities.


A teacher might choose to incorporate the National Geographic Geo-Inquiry Process that will guide the class to create a central question: “How does the loss of seagrass beds in the Indian River Lagoon affect the biodiversity of this essential ecosystem and how can society help increase the health of the seagrass?” 


Through accessing the AEM platform, an educator could be directed to Team ORCA. This organization offers hands-on opportunities to study the Indian River Lagoon. They also have access to the University of Florida Youth Science lesson on marine ecology and seagrasses. The teacher could even opt to tap into the Florida Oceanographic Society resources for Seagrasses. This link not only educates on seagrasses in Florida, but also provides citizen science opportunities to engage youth. Educators would also have the opportunity to contact, through AEM, a qualified speaker to deliver a presentation and a Q&A session with students. These resources put the students at the center of the learning process and engage them in a more authentic way.


An explorer’s mindset is essential in engaging students in learning opportunities that immerse them through experiential extensions to lessons… thus preparing them to effectively deal with an uncertain future. AEM looks forward to helping teachers catalyze today’s youth to become tomorrow’s leaders.


The mission of Authentic Exploration Matters is to provide a trustworthy, safe, free web-based platform for teachers who seek to promote innovation, collaboration, experiential learning and inspiration through highly vetted science resources and experts.


Our vision is for teachers to have the tools to engage all students in relevant and purposeful content; evolving classroom learning with a systems thinking approach. 


We will be sharing our vision at Stepping Out of Line on October 19th from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. Learn more about opportunities for student engagement, AEM, and how you can help us help you!


Please CLICK HERE TO REGISTER. It’s free. Please share with educators who may be interested.