Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Future of School Field Trips

As an 8th grade American History teacher I am fortunate to take my students on two field trips. In the fall the entire 8th grade goes to Philadelphia and in the Spring our team goes to Gettysburg. Both trips are designed for students to "walk in the footsteps of history".

In Philadelphia the students tour the National Constitution Center to get a wonderful overview of the workings and history of our government, and then spend the remainder of the day in small groups visiting group selected historic sites in Olde City Philadelphia. The self guided tour is popular with the students because they have a say into which historic sites they visit and they can schedule some time at Starbucks. There is nothing like visiting the self proclaimed "most historic square mile" in our nation with students as they are learning about the foundations of our nation. This trip really brings the classroom to life!

When we visit Gettysburg, the students get to walk the same fields where thousands of Americans fought and died for what they believed America should represent. A lot can be learned about the Civil War in a regular classroom setting, but students will never get a true appreciation of the devastation of the Civil War without walking in the final footsteps where so many Americans walked in 1863. The connections from the field trip form a frame around which students can paint their own understanding and significance of the Civil War as they apply their field trip experience to what they learn in class.

So, how can technology enhance traditional field trip experiences? I am not thinking about virtual field trips. Virtual field trips are fine in their own way, but they do not enhance an actual trip. I have some ideas, but I would love to hear how others would use technology to enhance field trip experiences.

To get the ideas flowing view the following TEDTalk by Blaise Aguera y Arcas as he demonstrates augmented reality:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Transform--Not Reform--Education

I'm sick of hearing about education reform. It is too easy for politicians to be in favor of reform. The problem is education reform is a misnomer. Education reform is about more of the same old 20th century, industrial era accountability thinking--high stakes testing and standard curricula.

Why don't we try some new words and approaches. Instead of "education reform", how about "educational transformation"? This approach is dangerous because is means that the traditional educational approach that has been driving education "reform" would be dismissed in favor of real change.

What would educational transformation look like? How about taking a cue from Harvard Education Professor Tony Wagner, who has written about what schools need to do to be relevant in the 21st century. Wagner's 2008 book The Global Achievement Gap details 7 essential skills schools need to be teaching students:
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination
Wagner has written about the blueprint for educational transformation, but it is up to fearless teachers, administrators, and politicians to create an environment where these 7 skills can be emphasized in school. Sadly, the Educational-Testing Complex would take these skills and create a standardized test to assess how collaborative, adaptable, and curious students are.

For a real example of a school that is trying to transform themselves check out the Hunterdon Central High School's 1:1 computer initiative and their use of Wagner's 7 skills.