Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How-To Tuesday # 2 - Teaching to the Trip

For over twenty years, while I was conducting tours for several student tour operators, it never failed to amaze me that the students on my tours had no idea of where they were going, no background on the sites, or appreciation of the significance of many places. I thought it was inexcusable that eighth graders visiting the Capitol in Washington, DC in April didn't know how a bill was passed, what cases were considered by the Supreme Court, or who Franklin Roosevelt was! While I didn't feel it was my responsibility to teach this, I was obliged to in order for them to understand what they were seeing.

There had been no preparation or reference to their classwork!

It is precisely for this reason that there are so many unruly groups running around Washington, Williamsburg, etc.! One can see them at the Smithsonian and the various memorials literally going wild - especially during Easter and spring break)! They are unfocused and unsupervised and totally disinterested in the educational value of the trip, focusing only the social aspects.
As I lamented in a previous post, "They are unable to label their photos!".

When I decided to change tack and become an Educational Travel Program designer rather than a full- time tour guide, one of the questions I initially asked the teachers concerned the ways they expected to prepare their students for the ETP. Some of them never considered this! They were under the impression that all they were to do was sit back and see the sites! That's not educational, that's sightseeing!

I work extremely hard with my teachers to provide some innovative Educational Travel Programs (ETP) reflecting their teaching plans, curricula, objectives, and some personal interests or requests. And all this effort would go to waste if their students were not prepared for the ETP.
But how does one do this?

Some of my teachers are faced with students traveling on the trip who had not been in their classes. Some schools combine two grades so the trip acts as both an introduction and reinforcement. Some school combine with another school (like my Alaska and Missouri schools) in order to be able to afford the program. (In this case the teachers need to be on the same page and communicate. I also like to suggest email /pen pals so the students can get to know one another before the ETP.)

These considerations as well as the inevitable sites along the way (i.e. FDR Memorial, 20th century war memorials etc.) that have nothing to do with the curriculum or state standards, make it necessary to prepare the students in advance of the ETP.

A few of my teachers have developed a Travel Club. All students who are traveling are required to attend one meeting of the club per month where the teachers and/or parents host activities relating to each day of the itinerary. So the first meeting would cover the first day of the itinerary... and so on. Additionally there are some (fun) research projects and reports that can be assigned to the students. My school in Alaska encourages the students to prepare Power Point Presentations before and after the trip. The winning one has his/her Power Point used to 'advertise' the trip for the next class.

To aid my teachers, I arrange to have curriculum materials forwarded to them by the educational sites we plan to visit. Almost all educational departments of museums and historic venues have curriculum materials free of charge for school groups who will be visiting. Occasionally, curriculum-based teaching plans as well as background information can be downloaded from the respective websites. Sometimes a teacher can be fortunate enough to receive a CD-ROM or a DVD. Posters are also popular.

One teacher that I had worked with for over ten years retired and her replacement had a totally different approach to the ETP. When I asked the new teacher what her objectives were, she indicated that she would like to include Annapolis since she was born in Maryland! During the discussion I learned that she also loved Edgar Allen Poe! We've decided to replace Williamsburg and Jamestown (a bold move) with Annapolis and Baltimore (of course, visiting Washington, DC) then head up to an Underground Railroad experience and culminating with a tour of Gettysburg battlefield. To make things more interesting, I have arranged an Edgar Allen Poe night tour to visit his grave and then have an historic character interpreter of Poe step out from behind the grave to recite, The Raven and have a Q&A with those students who are still alive.

Although this is not part of her school or state curriculum, she will be doing her part to introduce the students to Poe through his writings and biography, as well as some study concerning the history of Maryland, the U.S. Naval Academy, Washington, DC, and the Underground Railroad. She is also preparing a workbook/journal. (The necessity of journals and/or workbooks will be discussed in another posting in February.)

She also had her students research the various memorials and statues in DC for a wreath-laying in lieu of the one at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Each student pulled a memorial or statue from a hat, researched it, and became an advocate for it. There was a vote, and I am pleased to say these students are going to lay the wreath this year at the Korean War Memorial because it was, the forgotten war and the forgotten veterans. She said they also related it to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as current events surrounding North Korea. Not bad for eighth graders!

Another California public school is embarking on an all New York State ETP! Well, not all New York State as we have to fly into Cleveland, OH, because the flight logistics to Buffalo were too difficult. En route to our original starting place, Niagara Falls, we (yes, I'm on this one) will be breaking up our drive with a visit to the Erie Maritime Museum in Pennsylvania. I'm actually looking forward to my first visit to this museum as they have a recreation of Perry's USS Niagara and present the War of 1812 in depth.

Obviously, New York State history is not part of the California SOL's, but through New York State we can include everything from Native Americans; European explorers; French and Indian War; US War of Independence; War of 1812; Industrial Revolution; the Erie Canal; Water Power/electricity; Geology; the Civil War, yes, the Civil War; the Underground Railroad; Women's Rights; Labor Movement; Immigration; USMA at West Point, and all the usual New York City tour stuff including Mary Poppins on Broadway! The Principal of the school and another administrator or school board member normally accompany this group.

And the personal requests for this group? Cooperstown and a NY deli lunch at Katz's! The ETP Genie was able to grant all his wishes! (Cooperstown was the deal-maker!).

This particular teacher has also adopted the concept of the, 'Travel Club', and is currently busy creating workbooks for the students. he is overwhelmed by the quality of the curriculum materials he has received!
While some teachers might balk at the extra work, many have told me that it has enhanced the classroom work, help to bond the students, and made the actual experience far more meaningful to all.
Teachers with a tremendous workload or family obligations have enlisted the help of teaching assistants, interns, and parents to conduct the meetings.

All really enjoy their trip because they're totally into it!

Preparation is the key!

The Educational Tour Marm


Dennis said...

If you have the time at your stop in Erie PA, try to visit the new Tom Ridge Environmental Center (TREC) located at the entrance to Presque Isle State Park as well as the Erie Maritime Museum.

The Tour Marm said...

Thanks for visiting, Dennis!

I looked up the TREC and it's terrific! Unfortunately, my itinerary is set and we have to hightail it to Old Fort Niagara for our program. Howeverm I am planning a Great Lakes environmental program and might rethink it to include the TREC.

Buffalo's loss is Erie's gain!

Tour Marm