When seventh-graders at The Franciscan School start learning about how the Arab Spring unfolded in Morocco, they won’t have to rely solely on textbooks or newspaper articles to trace the protest movement there.
Instead, they’ll have the perspectives of everyday Moroccans at their fingertips in interviews collected by their social studies teacher, Matt Arnold.
Arnold, 32, traveled to Morocco this summer on a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship. He was one of eight teachers from around the United States selected for the award.
While there, he interviewed Moroccans about what they had hoped for before protests began in their country, what their experience was like during the protests and what they think now about what happened and the reforms that were put in place.
For Arnold, a world traveler who’s checked 70 countries off his list, the program was a perfect complement to the work he does in his classroom each day.
“I am very passionate about creating a global classroom because my students have to live in a global world,” he said.
During the summer, he also was able to take Arabic language classes, participate in lectures and travel from one end of Morocco to the other. Since returning, he’s tried to keep up with his Arabic reading and writing by jotting down notes during faculty meetings in the language.
He’s also one of 42 recipients of this year’s Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching. Next year, he will spend several months in South Korea sharing ideas about how American teachers foster creativity in their classrooms and study the culture of learning – and high test scores – of South Korea.
At the North Raleigh private school, part of the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church community, Arnold is known for his energy and fresh ideas about how to teach in a way that draws in every student.
“The creativity that he brings to his lessons is phenomenal,” said school principal Jennifer Bigelow.
Last week, for a lesson on capitalism and communism, Arnold handed out gold- and silver-wrapped chocolates to his students, then had them compete in games of rock, paper, scissors. The winners got to take a piece from their opponent, but Arnold also bestowed extra chocolates on some students or took pieces from others. By the end of the game, some students had no chocolate while others had handfuls.
Afterward, Arnold led the students in a discussion of whether they thought the game was fair and how it might be changed, then drew parallels to different economic systems.
“I thought it was really fun,” said Kaitlyn Stocum, a student in the class. “It was cool to see a different side of how you can learn things.”
This is Arnold’s third year at The Franciscan School and his fifth as a teacher. After college, he first owned an art fundraising business and worked as a professional musician, including playing the bassoon for the San Francisco Opera.
After years of being told he would make a great teacher, he returned to school to earn his teaching credentials. He considered teaching music but realized that what he really loved was teaching students about social change and social justice.
“I want all of my students to have that same fire and be impassioned to create positive social change in the world around them,” he said.