Update: This post was recently published in TIE Online, a journal about international education. The online publication is free! Check it out for more resources and great information on educational travel. Click here.
I have been traveling with students to some capacity for 11 years. I have a background in ecology and environmental science. Before I became a teacher I was working on various endangered species projects around the country. I knew from that time in the field that the deepest learning experiences in my own life happened when I got up close and personal with my environment, not when I was reading about biology concepts in textbooks.
I knew when I became an educator that I wanted to work at an experiential learning school where students directed their learning and could use the world as their classroom. That is how I came to be heavily involved in the travel program at Jennings Community School, where I advised at-risk teenagers, taught using project-based learning, and took educational travel excursions with students over the course of a decade.
Traveling with students isn't easy, but the outcome is why I have dedicated so much of my teaching career to providing these travel opportunities for my students. I know the impact it can make on someone's life. Learning spans the entire experience from trip planning, to fundraising, to packing, to relationship building, goal-setting, and sharing and reflecting on the experience. Not many students get the chance to participate in something that encompasses all of these critical learning opportunities in one. There is value in traveling that cannot be gained through other means. Traveling is a unique and special learning opportunity.
Teacher and homeschoolers, if you are interested in incorporating educational travel into your curriculum, start here. Learn the benefits first, listed below, then make your next move. Check out my top reasons for traveling with students, and scroll to the bottom for tips on getting started.
Click here for more posts about student travel.
6 Reasons to Include Travel in Your Curriculum
1. Increase Cultural and Global Awareness:
Children, particularly teenagers, tend to be self-involved. They're not culpable. It's just the nature of their brains. Removing students from their "bubbles" and shaking up their lives a bit by pushing them beyond their comfort zones can have drastic and beautiful results. It is difficult for students to understand others and the world around them when they are not directly impacted. The teenage brain needs to connect concepts with real-life experience. When students view the world from a different angle, their worldview is altered. Literally. Traveling puts them in that environment.
2. Gain Content Knowledge:
Yes, content knowledge. I am a project-based teacher. One of the first projects I assign to students is planning a hypothetical trip around the world. I do this because of all of the skills and knowledge they gain from the experience. They learn how to budget and find deals. They learn how to read a map and plan routes. They learn about the environment, topography, culture, arts, religion, politics and more while exploring the places they hope to "visit".
When I travel with students, we travel with purpose. Because I am a biology teacher, my purpose is usually environmental in nature, but traveling naturally integrates subjects. Students that travel with me on school trips go through seminars and complete several student-directed PBL projects pertinent to the designated "purpose" prior to the trip. They also work on projects while ON the trip - group and independent - relevant to the trip purpose. Upon return, each student reflects and shares their work with a public audience. The amount of content absorbed is astounding, and it's all because the concepts are right in front of them. They are involved. They are actively learning through experience.
Try my Project-Based Learning Toolkit to get students started on student-led PBL experiences on any topic of interest.
3. Develop a Healthy Self-Concept:
I know it's cliche, but it's true, and anyone who travels knows it to be true. The phrase "I'm traveling to find myself" would generally trigger my upchuck reflex, but when it comes to children, "finding oneself" is often times a matter of life and death, quite literally, unfortunately.
Teenagers deal with a lot. Getting through the teenage years in one piece requires a strong, healthy self-concept that can be acquired by traveling. By getting away from the daily pressures of life, students can ask themselves who they really are. This I've seen time and time again. A student travels on a school trip and comes back a changed person with a renewed spirit and ultimate confidence. They had the unique opportunity to learn about themselves, discover their skills, dreams, talents, and hopes through a fresh lens.
4. Develop Critical 21st Century Skills:
Content is important to a degree, but at the rate society is evolving, what's more important is having the skills to navigate those changes. Careers will look very different 20 years from now. Technology is changing everything. Traveling puts students in a position to work at those life skills. As part of the trip planning process they practice organization, locating credible resources, goal-setting, and managing their time. While on trips they encounter situations where they need to problem-solve, think critically, work as a team and get creative.
If you've ever read my posts on "travel adventures and mishaps", you know these scenarios are inevitable. All mishaps (mostly minor) provide opportunities to build on these 21st century skills.
5. Build Lifelong Friendships:
The feeling of belonging is a basic need. It is something that many people spend a lifetime trying to attain with little luck. Feelings of loneliness are rampant in young people as well as adults. Everyone is a bit vulnerable when they are traveling. They are away from their homes, their friends, family and comfort zones. In group travel, everyone is in the same boat. My students cast aside their differences on trips and create bonds that last a lifetime because they are experiencing something new and profound together. Only they can understand what the other is feeling in that moment.
6. The Ability to Envision a Bright Future:
This is something that educators that work with high-risk populations will see in their students as an outcome of travel. Having a student travel program at a school with underrepresented students is powerful because students living in poverty do not have easy access to travel experiences. It's not an option for most. Many of my students don't look further than the moment. They don't consider their future career. Many of them don't even expect to finish high school. When traveling they gain a new perspective on the future. For the first time they can look ahead and envision something positive. They may not know what yet, but for the first time they are open to the possibilities. They see opportunity for a good life.
Well, now what?
Now that you know WHY incorporating educational travel into your curriculum is important and impactful (homeschoolers or educators), what do you do with that?
Homeschoolers have more flexibility to travel, one of the beautiful things about homeschooling! Home educators, if you're short on time, finances, or travel resources, consider starting small and encouraging your children to play a role. You don't need to sell your home, pack up your kids, and travel the world (as cool as that would be). Even an annual weekend camping trip away from the monotony of everyday life gets children excited. You can also ask that your children help plan the travel experience (FREE student travel planning resources in my store) and that they fundraise for trips.
Educators, especially those working in a traditional school environment, you have a challenge ahead of you. If travel is something that is important to you and you want that for your students, consider meeting with other educators at your school, parents of students, community members, and more, and put together a proposal for a school travel program. By creating a committee you'll have more ideas and a bigger voice. This is especially true if parents are involved. Principals and directors, if you're interested but unsure, try connecting with schools that DO have a travel program and pick their brains on how they make it work and the impact it has had on learning and school culture. You won't regret it!
I hope this has been useful. If you are a teacher that travels with students, I'd love you to share your stories and travel tips.
Thanks for reading. Happy Monday!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education. You can also follow me on LinkedIn and Experiential Learning Depot on TpT for student-directed, hands-on resources.
Building 21st-Century Skills Through Travel
The 6C's of education, developed by Michael Fullan, include creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, citizenship, and character. These competencies are essential for today's learners to be successful in the 21st-century. It is more important (in my opinion) for educators of today to provide opportunities for students to practice these skills than it is to teach content matter. It's great to have both, but ignoring 21st-century skill building doesn't do anyone any favors.
There are many ways to facilitate the development of these competencies in the classroom, which I will post on in the near future. However, opportunities for skill development exist beyond the walls of the classroom. Those learning experiences are profound in a way that classroom activities just aren't. Travel is one very powerful avenue for competency development, particularly the 6C's.
Whether it be abroad, a weekend camping trip, or even a day trip to a local park, traveling offers an opportunity to building these skills by nature. By removing children from familiarity, by changing up their day-to-day, they get exposure to input that inspires curiosity, exploration, and inquiry. They meet new people, have novel experiences, and make observations that challenge prior thinking.
Parents and educators, as summer approaches think about how you can utilize the world to help your children and/or students develop or amplify the 6C's. Travel presents these opportunities organically, but you can deepen the learning experience by adding input through new layers, added expectations or challenges. When I was teaching, I was highly involved in our school travel program. I took a group of students to Costa Rica, and rather than just hanging out like I might do on a family vacation, I added purpose, in this case, tropical biology studies. I facilitated student-directed project-based learning, open-inquiry, and problem-based learning activities, before, during, and after the trip.
Below I have detailed how traveling innately helps students build these competencies in addition to suggestions for how to add another element to strengthen the impact of the learning experience.
How to Incorporate the 6C's of Education into Travel
How it Comes Naturally:
Getting away from the same old exposes students to other creative avenues that they may never have seen or experienced before. Art, music, dance, design, architecture, infrastructure, and so on, vary from region to region and culture to culture. If students are observing and experiencing more of the same day-after-day, they're limiting their creative potential. Exposure to different cultures and ways of doing things inspires new ideas with new ways of thinking.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
One way to do this is to ensure exposure to diverse experiences, especially if you have something specific in mind. For example, you might plan a trip around a specific cultural event, such as the Merrie Monarch festival in Hawaii where students would be immersed in an authentic Hawaiian experience. Hawaii is an incredible learning lab by nature, but including a cultural experience like the Merrie Monarch festival would bring learning to another level. Provide input that ensures exposure to a variety of creative displays.
How it Comes Naturally:
Traveling never goes according to plan, not exactly anyway. I have been challenged in some way on every trip I've ever taken, school trips included. Take a look at some of those mishaps in my travel blunders series. Sometimes you just have figure it out. There's no option. If you get lost in a mountain valley and your phone doesn't have a signal, you have to figure it out (happened to me). If one of the campgrounds you reserve for a school trip has patrons offering your students moonshine, you have to figure it out (happened to me).
Another great thing about school travel is that you're stuck with a group of people, whether you like them or not. Group travel always presents opportunities for team-building, conflict resolution, problem-solving. In other words, critical thinking is a must while traveling. You as the educator can help facilitate opportunities for critical thinking.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
I love problem-based learning and project-based learning activities to help students build critical thinking skills. There are many ways to do this. One would be to have travelers problem-solve hypothetical scenarios, as they may turn out to be a reality. Getting lost without access to a GPS could have been prevented by simply having a physical map on hand. This is an example of a hypothetical problem that students could problem-solve solutions for before they take off on their trip.
What I often do is ask that students research their travel destination beforehand and design a student-led project around some aspect of that destination, particularly pertaining to local issues. For example, I assign community action projects to all of my student travelers, regardless of destination and purpose. This project requires that students identify a problem that exists at their travel destination, make an action plan to solve the problem, and then they take action. This is a great project to practice critical thinking because they are addressing real-world problems. Check out community action projects in my TpT store. Take a look at these earlier blog posts on community action projects for guidance - "10 Community Action Project Ideas to Wrap up the School Year" and "Four Ways Students Can Take Action Today".
How it Comes Naturally:
Communication happens organically while traveling, and a lot in the planning process as well. If your students are part of the planning process, they will likely be communicating with travel agents, friends and family for tips and advice, travel bloggers for ideas. They may have to communicate with home owners to reserve an Air B and B or tour guides to plan excursions. There is also a lot of communication that naturally takes place while traveling as well. My students tend to talk to locals for recommendations, directions, or even just to chat. Communication is another skill that is magnified on group trips. I need to communicate with my students when we will start the day, where we will meet back and at what time, and they need to listen and follow directions.
Team-building activities, such as kayaking with a partner, really tests one's patience, strength, and communication skills.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
If your students are not involved in the planning process, find ways to include them. This is a great option for homeschoolers and for student-directed project-based teachers. Check out this free educational travel planning checklist for guidance.
I highly recommend project-based learning in general to help students work on their communication skills while traveling. Working with community experts is an important part of project-based learning, among other things. Go back to any number of my posts on PBL for details if you're not sure what project-based learning is. My students are required to use three community experts on every project, travel related or not.
For example, one of my Costa Rica students did her community action project on primate electrocution. She researched experts on the issue and came across the Sibu Sanctuary, a primate reserve and rehabilitation center in Costa Rica. My student connected with Vicki, who started the organization, planned a tour of the sanctuary while on our trip, she interviewed Vicki while we were there, and utilized Vicki's expertise in her final action plan. The communication skills at play here are vast and comprehensive. Consider using my PBL toolkit to get students rolling on student-directed project-based learning today. Summer travel is a great place to start!
How it Comes Naturally:
Collaboration doesn't happen as organically while traveling as some of the other "C's". Collaboration while traveling or at home for that matter takes effort, planning, networking and organization. One could easily travel to an all-inclusive resort, lock themselves in their hotel for a week, and not talk to a single person. Collaboration can happen naturally on a trip, but open-mindedness is key. I have so many examples of this on school trips, where collaborations weren't necessarily sought out, but students made themselves available to the possibility by simply asking questions and inquiring.
For example, I took students to Florida to study marine biology several years ago. We stayed at a campground that had a little hut by the entrance where a man made decorative fish out of coconuts to sell to tourists. My students, for whatever reason, were so intrigued by this. They started off by drilling the poor guy with question after question. By the end of the week a couple of my students were sitting in his hut learning how to make coconut fish decorations. It mind sound like a meaningless experience, but my students not only practiced collaboration skills (without even realizing it), but they enriched their travel experience overall.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
There are a lot of great ways to promote collaboration while traveling. One way is to ask that students collaborate with their community experts for their PBL projects. Technically students do not need to collaborate with their community experts. They just need to use their expertise in their final product or authentic presentation. One of my students did a her community action project for Costa Rica on the issue of endangered sea turtles. She created a "tips for tourists" brochure and collaborated with hotels around the country to have those brochures placed in hotel lobbies and on hotel websites around the country (Costa Rica).
You or your students might also organize learning activities on the trip such as volunteering at an event, attending a cooking class, service learning experiences, and more. You might even consider collaborating with another youth organization where an "exchange" might take place. We often had exchanges with other schools where our students traveled to other alternative education schools in the state and spent the day as a "student" in their school, and vica versa.
These photos are from service learning trips where students not only helped the community but became immersed in it. The far left photo is a student playing in a community baseball game.
How it Comes Naturally:
It seems as if traveling to build citizenship would be contradictory, as you'd be removing students from the society in which they should be active in making a difference. The great thing about traveling when it comes to citizenship is that students see a variety of ways of life. Students gain a broader and more robust worldview. By having exposure to different people, different customs, and issues on a global scale, students are more apt to have an informed and comprehensive perspective, to then be more responsible citizens in their own societies.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
Again, problem-based learning and project-based learning are great ways to do this. Whatever you decide to do, facilitate a learning experience that incorporates a variety of perspectives. You can ask that students interview locals, organize storytelling experiences, connect students with penpals before the trip and meet with them when they arrive. Organize learning experiences on the trip that aren't excluded to touristy spots or expensive excursions. Plan a trip that requires students to see the destination as it truly is - the authentic version of their travel location.
How it Comes Naturally:
When I think of "character" in this context I think of traits like integrity, morality, responsibility, honesty, bravery. You know, admirable traits. Character building comes naturally in travel, again, because students develop empathy. They see more and experience more outside of themselves. Outside of their own bubbles. When they're out of their element, when there is discomfort, when their actions reflect the group and where they come from, when they open their minds to other perspectives and ideas, they can better understand and develop their own goals, priorities, values, and moral compass. Traveling puts students in the position to have to open their minds, reflect on who they are, modify, and continue forward as a better person.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
I think the 5C's already listed play a role in the development of character. Communicating and collaborating with others, exposure to new and different ideas and ways of life, access to new and interesting creative outlets, problem-solving, conflict resolution, etc. all shape someone's character. So try all of the things already mentioned with your students while traveling - project-based learning, inquiry, problem-based learning, student activism, service learning, cultural exchanges and more would all add significantly to character development while traveling.
I would love to hear about your travel plans for the summer, and if they're educational in nature. Worldschoolers, I'd love to hear your thoughts! How do you enrich the travel experience, or do you just let it happen naturally? Thanks for stopping by! Happy summer travels!
For more educational travel resource, stop by my TpT store, where you can find a variety of free student travel resources. You can also look back to previous posts on student travel.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education.
'Tis the season for road trips! Whether it be a spring camping trip with students, a summer road trip with your own children, or a cross country trip with just you and your dog, take full advantage of learning opportunities along the way. Learning is powerful beyond the walls of a classroom. Hitting the road opens doors to learning experiences that couldn't be achieved from a classroom.
There are many gears working to make a road trip possible from the planning stages, to packing, navigating, financing, and more. Involving students in these steps gives them the chance to apply skills and knowledge in real-world contexts. Travel gives students the wherewithal to figure things out regardless of the situation or changing circumstances. If you get lost, you have no choice but to find your way. It might put a wrench in your plans, but this is a learning experience in itself.
Learning naturally happens all the time, especially when traveling. But you can still encourage students to plan PBL projects, reflect on their experiences in a way that is intentional, collaborate with locals along the way, do the trip planning, fundraise, and more. I used to take students on road trips for summer school credit. When leading an educational travel experience, having purpose, expectations, structure, and guidance is important. I require my high school student travelers to complete student-directed PBL projects that are relevant to the trip at hand. I have also done this with my own young children. You might recall a past post on a family trip to Denmark where my four-year-old documented the trip with my camera and edited the photos using a photo app.
I am a champion of learning, particularly when it is student-led and promotes lifelong learning. It doesn't matter if it's summer. It doesn't matter if it's not in a traditional learning environment. Parents and homeschoolers, this post is especially pertinent to you because you have more flexibility when it comes to using the world as a resource.
The following is a list of learning activity ideas to do for or on a road trip. They are intended to be adaptable, modifiable, and work across the board with all skill levels, age groups, backgrounds, and more. They are just ideas to bring learning and travel together. Project-based learning is one of the easier ways to incorporate intentional learning into travel experiences. Check out my project-based learning toolkit to help guide students through the process of student-directed project-based learning from the design stage through to the reflection and assessment.
Good luck! I'd love you to add any ideas not listed here. This list is certainly not exhaustive. If you have your students or children do any of these learning activities this spring or summer I'd l'd love for you to share the experience!
20 Learning Activities To Do On Road Trips
1. Create a tour using Google Maps -
I wrote a blog post a while back about using Google Maps in project-based learning. Check that out for more specific ideas. Learners could plot points and narrate a tour on Google Maps of just about anything from restaurants to overlooks to birding spots along the way.
2. Scientific inquiry experiments -
students could ask a question about their route and collect data as they go. For example a student may want to conduct biodiversity sampling from a variety of different habitats. I took students to California a few years ago to study the starkly contrasting ecosystems in the state. We traveled by car around the state collecting climate and biodiversity data. I also drove students through Florida studying the diverse marine ecosystems along the way. These are just examples. There is an infinite number of questions your learners could ask and test on the road. If you're interested in inquiry-based learning but would like some guiding materials, check out the toolkit offered in my store.
3. Scrapbooking -
Students could create a physical scrapbook by adding photos with captions and collecting and adding artifacts from the trip such as museum stubs or souvenirs. They could also find a digital scrapbooking program such as Shutterfly. Shutterfly is a photo program where you can create photo books. They can be costly. Students could use any number of free programs as simple as Google Slides or the free version of Canva.
4. Photojournalism -
Have students document some relevant current event using photography as their medium. This could be on any number of topics in politics, art, culture, humanities, etc. An example would be documenting evidence of an upcoming election. There may be events taking place in towns along the way, campaign signs littering yards or billboard advertisements splattered along freeways.
5. Budgeting -
Have your students create a trip budget that includes lodging, gas, food, activities or tours, etc. I have many travel products in my TpT store, most of which are free. One of these products, free, includes budgeting guidance. Challenge students by encouraging them to keep the trip under a certain amount of money. It might also be cool to have students create a blog post on tips and tricks to pinching pennies on the road.
6. Design and create a road trip game -
Road trips can get long. Ask your students to create a game before the trip begins that they can play in the car. The challenge is making sure the game is road trip appropriate such as keeping it compact, limiting small pieces, and making sure it can be played while seated. You could also have students create a game that is inspired by the trip such as gathering information about small towns on their route and writing trivia questions about their stops.
7. Journaling -
Students could also keep a written journal. I have done this on every trip I've ever taken, even as an adult. It's fun to look back on them years later. I have had students do doodle journals instead of written journals as well where they articulate their experience through pictures, or doodles in this case.
8. Make a cookbook -
All cities have cuisine unique to their region, or types of food they are known for. Determine food staples in different towns/cities along your trip, learn how to make those dishes, and create a cookbook. For example, if I did a road trip through the midwest I might learn how to make deep dish pizza (Illinois), pasties (Michigan), hot dish (Minnesota), and cheese curds (Wisconsin).
9. Photography -
Capturing the travel experience with photos is an obvious road trip learning activity. Just because it is obvious doesn't make it any less valuable. When taking pictures you see things differently than you would if you weren't trying to get the perfect shot. You notice more, learn to ask questions, and go to greater lengths (such as climbing this hill just a little bit higher) to get that perfect shot. Students would experience the trip from a unique perspective. Try landscape photography, wildlife photography, environmental portraits, etc.
10. Create a trip inspired playlist -
This is more of a trip reflection as it encourages students to look back on the trip and connect music to meaningful experiences had on the trip. Click here for a free travel reflection.
11. Creative writing -
Students could write a book of poetry, a short story, a children's book, a graphic novel, a song(s), a comic, etc. inspired by trip experiences.
12. Make postcards -
Students can make their own postcards of stops along the way with any number of art mediums such as photography, drawing, painting, charcoal, etc. They can then send their postcards to friends and family as they travel.
13. Social media documentation -
The great thing about technology today is that students can share their experiences in real time. Students can document their trips as they are on them and post updates for friends and family to follow along on their journey. I had my students do this on school trips with me. We published a blog post at the end of each day of the trip. My students have mostly blogged in the past, but they could have also vlogged, made a podcast, a documentary, or simply provided updates on their own social media sites. I took students on a bio trip to Costa Rica a few years ago and we blogged about the experience right here on Experiential Learning Depot - check it out.
14. Volunteering/community involvement -
Before students take the trip, ask them to contact organizations along the route that reflects their interests. For example, students interested in environmental science or nature may be interested in cleaning up road litter along the way or plastics washed up along beaches.
15. History projects -
Have students do PBL projects on the history of places they stop on their trip. They might want to know how the infrastructure of towns has changed over the past 100 years, the history of the people and changing demographics, the history of specific monuments located in each town they stop, or even the history of particular buildings such as lighthouses, factories, schools, or abandoned buildings.
16. Economics projects -
Have students explore certain aspects of the economy along the route. One example is to investigate the unemployment rates in different towns along the way and mapping the rates. Another option is exploring major markets or industries in the cities that they visit such as tech startups, logging companies, hospitality, tourism, etc. They could visit some of these companies, tour factories, interview employees, etc.
17. Art portfolio -
Students can create a portfolio of art pieces inspired by trip experiences such as drawings, watercolor paintings, a collage, etc. The portfolio could be art pieces based around a theme such as landscapes, water towers, lighthouses, bridges, barns, etc. or the portfolio could just represent the trip in general. One of my students created an adult coloring book, her coloring pages inspired by experiences or things she saw on her trip.
18. Journalism -
Interview people along way on any number of topics and write a "news article". I took some of my students to the Big Island of Hawaii last year, and as we circumnavigated the island over the course of the week, several of my students interviewed locals, farmers, business owners, and more on whether they've felt any impacts of climate change or expect to in the foreseeable future. The students then wrote an article summarizing their findings. Again, this is just one example. I am a science teacher, so many of my examples will be science related. It doesn't mean they have to be. Let your students get creative!
19. Collecting and analyzing artifacts -
Have students collect and catalogue any number of artifacts they find during their travels such as insects, leaves, shells, soil, rocks, flower petals, etc. They can even map their findings and examine how environmental factors might play a role in what artifacts were found where. For example, they may find very different rocks at one stop than they do at another. Students can research and analyze why this might be.
20. Maker projects/ STEM -
Have students observe a problem associated with car travel, such sore backs from sitting too long, and design and create a solution to the problem. I saw a video on Pinterest a while back of students games that could fit in the side pocket of their backpack to bring on an airplane. The pieces had to be small, they had to have three games in one, and the whole game needed to fit in an Altoids tin. The final products were astounding. This is an example of a product engineered to make travel easier.
Thanks for stopping by! Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education. Check out my TpT store - Experiential Learning Depot - for student-directed resources. Most of the educational travel resources are free.
Again, follow up if your students have done any of these learning activities on road trips or if you have any learning activity ideas. Feel free to contact me through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Parents and students, if spring or summer travel is unrealistic because of time, money, or any other obstacle, check out some of these creative ways to get your kids traveling this summer!
Happy road tripping!
How to Use Google Maps in Project-Based Learning
I am never the most tech savvy person in the room. There is so much out there and it's always evolving. It's tough to know where to start and just when I feel I've gotten it, everything changes. Technology can be intimidating and time-consuming to learn. Time isn't something teachers have sitting around in abundance.
One tech tool that I have been using with my students for years is Google Maps. I used to only touch the surface of this program; to get from point A to Point B. I slowly started discovering that there is a lot more to it. I have really stuck by this program as an educational tool because it is user-friendly. That is a win for those of us that feel a little overwhelmed with technology at times. It's a fantastic learning tool and a great way to showcase student work.
I have used Google Maps as an end product option for many of my class PBL projects. Google Maps can be used for obvious projects such as trip planning, but it can be used in some unexpected ways as well such as storytelling, scrapbooking, and data collection for science experiments.
Benefits of Using Google Maps as a Learning Tool:
1) It's an innovative final product - A lot of projects end with poster boards. One problem with poster boards is that they tend to be cut and paste. There's little engagement depending on ho they're used. Putting information into Google Maps requires a certain degree of inquiry and problem-solving.
2) The final product is shareable - one of the important principles of project-based learning is sharing the information with an authentic audience: relevant and public. You can easily share your Google Map by sharing the link via social media, embedding it in a website or blog, and personally inviting specific people by email to view it.
3) Encourages community collaboration - Another important principle of project-based learning is getting the community involved by utilizing experts in the field and creating a usable final product that is of benefit to the community. Creating a usable map for others to use is ideal. Let's say a student creates a tour on Google Maps. Once the map is published, anyone looking to take a tour in that specific area could use the map as a guide.
4) A tool for developing 21st-century skills - Technology is around. It's a part of life now. For students to be successful in the 21st-century workplace, I personally believe that we need to embrace technology and help our students learn how to navigate it. Google Maps is a great way to effectively utilize technology in the classroom as well as pose the opportunity to practice problem-solving, critical thinking, flexibility, collaboration, communication and so on.
Google Maps Features:
The following features are utilized regularly by my students for PBL projects. There are many more features to Google Maps, but I'm going to stick to the basics right now. Students will learn more elaborate features as they spend time getting to know the program.
1) Create routes and alter them - Students could design a tour for example, and map out their route for the day. If there is an alternative route that they want to take, students can simply move the line that Google Maps created between two destinations to fit their needs.
2) Plan routes by bike, car, and foot - Students can choose their mode of transportation and Google Maps will automatically find the best route. For example, Minneapolis has an elaborate trail system throughout the city. If you choose "bike" as your mode of transportation, Google Maps will lay out the safest and most efficient bike route using the trails whenever possible.
3) Add pins with photos and descriptions - Let's say a student is planning a trip. They can throw down markers/pins to places they want to visit on their trip, and add details to those pins by creating a photo card. Descriptions and photos can be added to every pin.
4) Add layers - Students can add layers to their maps. One reason to use the layers feature would be to add itineraries for multiple days.
5) Measure distance - There is a ruler tool to measure distance between two points. This is helpful for gauging how much time to set aside for commuting, among other things.
6) Add directions - You can choose to add directions between pins if you wish. The directions will show up as a blue line between pins. Viewers can also get step-by-step written directions.
7) Share your final product - Because your map is online, it receives its own unique link once you have published it. That link can be shared on any digital platform. You can also embed a code to your map into any website or blog. Finally, you can invite specific people to view your map and collaborate if you wish. This last part would be helpful for feedback from a teacher, peer, or community expert (an important element of PBL.)
PBL Project Ideas that Utilize Google Maps:
1) Plan a trip around the world - This is a project that my students do every year. They love it. Creating a Google Map is one final product option for their trip plan. This resource is available on my TpT site - "Project-Based Learning: Plan a Trip Around the World".
2) Plan a trip itinerary - Students could create a Google Map outlining their itinerary for a trip. My school is travel-based, so my students have created Google Maps of actual trips that they've taken with the school. You could also assign this project to students as a theoretical trip or even as a family trip, especially if you're homeschooling. Check out these free resources for student-planned trips - Trip Project Proposal and Trip Planning Guide. Refer back to an old blog post on student-led travel for guidance.
3) City scavenger hunt - Students can create a scavenger hunt around the town or city using a Google Map as their guide. Our school is located right in front of the light rail, which connects Mpls and St. Paul. A coworker of mine created a scavenger hunt for students to get better acquainted with public transportation. That is one example and something a student could do.
4) Storytelling or content sharing - A Google Map could be created to demonstrate learning of content knowledge in place of a more standard end product such as a poster board or Powerpoint. For example, if a student is doing a project on art history, they might create a Google Map with the locations of some of the most famous art pieces around the world - Louvre for the Mona Lisa or the Galleria dell' Accademia for the Statue of David, and so on. They would add descriptions or content info that they have gathered through research to their Google Maps photo cards.
5) Map out a story that has already been written - A few of my students did this for the Serial Podcast. The first season is about a murder in a suburb of Baltimore. The setting is critical to the storyline. Several of my students created their own Google Maps of the crime scene and other relevant locations to the case to demonstrate comprehension as well as analyze evidence from the case.
6) Map out your own story - My advisory students tell their own story through Google Maps as a beginning of the year "get-to-know-you" activity. They map out their past such as where they have lived and specific places that have played an important role in their lives. They include in their map where they are today and where they hope to be in the future.
7) Creating a scrapbook of a vacation - I have mentioned creating a Google Map of a trip plan, but a Google Map could also be created as a reflection to a trip already taken. Students can drop pins at the places they visited and add photos and captions describing the experience they had, much like a scrapbook.
8) Use "time travel" to analyze how neighborhoods have evolved - There is a feature of Google Maps called "time travel" that came out in 2014. This feature allows you to look at how things have changed at any given location. Students could analyze neighborhoods to see how they've evolved over time.
9) Use Google Maps to record data - You can drop a pin and add descriptions anywhere on a map. Therefore, students that are conducting experiments outdoors could drop pins and add observations to Google Maps similar to what one would do in a field notebook. For example, I did biodiversity surveys with my bio students in Minnesota and then again when we traveled to Costa Rica. We could drop pins at every location that we surveyed and add our biodiversity count to each pin under the description. Another example is collecting water samples from various wetlands throughout the state. You drop a pin where you are collecting samples and add the results to the description.
10) Be a citizen scientist! There is something called "treks" on Google Maps where you can "off-road". You can see places that you can't see from a typical snapshot such as Angkor Wat or the canals of Venice. Google needs people to get these off road views by taking photos and submitting them to the database. You need to apply to be one of these people. If travel is part of your curriculum, you might want to look into this. This would be a great ongoing project for worldschoolers.
11) Plan a hometown tour - This is my favorite project for using Google Maps because it really excites and engages my students. It is relevant to their lives, it is personal, and they take pride in their final product. The project is for students to create a tour of their own hometown. They create a 2-day itinerary and map it out on Google Maps. The include stops on their tour that are meaningful to them, not the masses. They can then share their map with the public. Click here to get to this resource from my TpT store.
I created my own hometown tour of MPLS using Google Maps. My tour is very personal to me, as it would be for each of your students. It's a great way to provide tours for those that are looking to skip the super touristy stuff and see the town from the perspective of a local. Check out my tour below as an example of a final product using Google Maps. You can move the map around and click on the pins to see my photo cards with descriptions and photos. To go directly to the tour, click here.
Minneapolis Bike Tour Project Example
Check out this tutorial on how to create a tour on Google Maps. Your Students can easily access this "how to" on Youtube. Click here to be redirected to Youtube.
I would LOVE to add student projects to my blog. If any of you use either one of my TpT products mentioned above, OR if you have your own projects for students that use Google Maps, I would love to showcase student work right here. If you use Google Maps in your curriculum in a way that wasn't mentioned in this post, please share in comments. I'd love to hear more ideas!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education. Check out student-directed curriculum in my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot.
Several years ago I traveled with some of my high school students to Costa Rica to study tropical biology. The purpose of the trip was to experience biodiversity and a culture different than their own first-hand. I often write about the benefits of educational travel. There are many reasons to incorporate travel into school or homeschool curriculum - enhance worldview, gain content knowledge, build 21st-century skills, make lifelong friends- among other things. Check out 6 Reasons to Start an Educational Travel Program for more.
I have taken dozens of educational trips throughout my teaching career but this trip to Costa Rica stands out among the rest. It exemplifies all of the reasons students should travel. The students were very involved in fundraising and trip planning. They enrolled in my pre-trip biodiversity seminar. Each student completed an independent, student-directed community action project (find this project in my TpT store by clicking on the link) in relation to biodiversity and Costa Rica. Students were immersed in another language and culture. They learned about the people, politics, topography, traditions, history, and of course the biodiversity of Costa Rica. Most importantly, this trip changed their lives. It will be an experience they will never forget because of just that. They experienced it. They weren't just reading the travel guide. They were in it.
During the trip one of the student travelers and I kept a blog on the experience. Each evening one or the other of us would come back to our hotel and write about the day. I wrote some posts and she wrote others. I took that blog we kept on our Costa Rica trip from five years ago and placed it below in hopes that you can be inspired to incorporate travel into whatever learning environment you're a part of. Happy travels!
High School Biology Trip: Costa Rica
The Time Has Arrived!
After two years of planning the day has finally arrived! A group of Jennings CS students will be heading out to Costa Rica to study tropical biology and environmental science on November 17, 2014. The idea to travel to Costa Rica came into fruition in 2012 by one of our students, but at the time was just a dream. We knew there would be challenges to traveling abroad such as getting passports and travel vaccinations, but the student overcame each obstacle. For example, she posted a "project" on Donors Choose asking for donations for passports and travel vaccinations. Within a week $800 was donated toward this project by complete strangers nationwide. Our Costa Rica travelers just purchased their very first passports a few weeks ago thanks to the generous donations. All is falling into place.
Pre-Trip Learning Activities and Preparation
- All students will be taking a biodiversity/environmental science course before the trip.
- All students will be working on one group PBL project throughout the course of the next couple of months. They will be conducting biodiversity surveys/counts in various habitats of MN and then again in Costa Rica.
- Spanish lessons
- Student-directed biology PBL projects
- Student-directed culture and history PBL projects
- Student-directed community action projects
Examples of student community action projects for this trip:
1) Primate protection petition - one of the students discovered that monkeys and other arboreal species are getting electrocuted by telephone wires while trying to get from place to place.
2) Sea turtle protection education brochure - one of our students researched how tourists can help protect sea turtles. She put together a brochure and placed her brochure in hotels around the country.
3) Trash to treasure - a couple of the students took plastic bags, CD's and other trash items and turned them into art pieces. This trash would otherwise make its way to the ocean threatening marine life.
Day 1 - WE MADE IT!
We left for the Minneapolis airport at 10:00 pm last night. It is now 7 pm the next day and we just arrived at our hotel. On the drive from the airport to Arenal Volcano we spotted a large iguana, blue jean dart frogs and tucans. We also passed through a cloud forest, stopped to check out a coffee bean farm, and ate authentic Costa Rican rice and beans for lunch. We are exhausted, so this will be a short post. But we are excited! Tomorrow will be a long day of exploring the Arenal National Park.
Below is a picture of Arenal (are-en-all) Volcano from the deck of our room. Arenal is one of 7 active volcanoes in Costa Rica. It last erupted in 2009, but was relatively harmless. The last serious eruption was 1968. Tomorrow we will be hiking the base of this volcano. Stay tuned!
Day 2 - Arenal National Park
We all went to bed last night by 8 pm from sheer exhaustion. We awoke at 6 am to the view of Arenal Volcano in the pic above. Apparently there is rarely a lucid view of the volcano. There is usually overcast covering the cone, so we were lucky (so we were told).
Today we hopped a bus and traveled to the rainforest to check out the canopy from hanging bridges. It was a three hour hike. We saw vipers, cutter ants, a sloth, a tarantula, parrots, a Montazuma pendulum bird (so cool), howler monkeys and their young, and on top of that the most diverse array of plant life I had ever seen, all from the perspective of an arboreal (tree) animal, since we were up in the canopy. We were able to see organisms that we would have had a tough time seeing from the ground.
We decided on Costa Rica because it is the biodiversity capital of the world. It hosts 5% of the world's biodiversity (variety of species) yet is only .03% of the world's land mass. Before we left for Costa Rica, our biodiversity class went to Fort Snelling State Park to do biodiversity sampling. In 100 square feet we recorded 5-10 species on average. In Costa Rica we did a similar activity. There were too many species to count. Many of the species are endemic, meaning they can only be found in Costa Rica. That is why the biodiversity needs to be protected. Costa Rica is one of the international leaders in land protection, since they became dangerously close to losing it all.
Day 3 - Adventure Day
I told the girls that they could plan one tour that is more adventure than education. They chose a ziplining/white water rafting tour. The students were nervous about ziplining at first. They got used to it after the first couple of cables. A couple of the girls were afraid of heights, so doing this was an incredible challenge and accomplishment for them. From there we went white water rafting on the Rio Balsa. We weren't the greatest paddlers at first, but about 15 minutes in we were doing well. We practiced communication skills and teamwork. After the tours we went to eat lunch with a group at a traditional Costa Rican spot. We ate rice and beans, fried plantain, beef, potatoes and topped it off with homemade Costa Rican fudge and coffee. They use a special strainer to make the coffee to get the most flavor possible. They demonstrated the process and the coffee was amazing.
Tomorrow we will be packing up and leaving Arenal to head to the coast. Mostly driving, but tomorrow evening we should be checking out the "arribada", arrival of nesting sea turtles to the beach in the thousands. Conditions have to be just right though, so cross your fingers.
Day 4 - Which Way to the Beach
Today we woke up, ate a quick breakfast of fresh Costa Rican fruit, beans and rice, and French toast. We packed up all of our things and hit the road, heading to the Pacific Coastal region of Guanacaste. Costa Rica is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. We went to the Pacific today. The students slept for most of the drive, but had a pleasant visit with seven howler monkeys on the way. Costa Rica has four monkey species including howler monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys and white-faced capuchins. We have seen howlers and spider monkeys and hope to see capuchins in the next couple of days.
The drive was 5 hours, which was a bit taxing, but there is no way around that in Costa Rica. There is not an established highway system in Costa Rica. It's hard to find straight roads because of all of the volcanoes. There are over 100 volcanoes in Costa Rica.
The girls were pleasantly surprised by our hotel. The picture below is the view from our deck. Unfortunately the minute we arrived it started storming. We got some bad news today. We will not be able to observe the "arribada" or arrival of nesting sea turtles because of torrential rain. We are pretty heartbroken. But tomorrow we will be going to visit the old Mayan town, Guaitil, to see them make traditional, hand-made pottery.
Day 5 - Guaitil Pottery and Palo Verde River Tour
Today we drove to Palo Verde where we did a river tour. We saw capuchin monkeys, iguanas (currently mating season, so the males turn from green to orange at this time), howler monkeys, crocodiles, and hundreds of different migratory bird species. Many of these birds were likely in the Midwest a few months ago, like great blue herons for example.
After Palo Verde we drove to a small Mayan town called Guaitil, where the Choretega people make pottery the same way they did hundreds of years ago. These are the native people of Costa Rica. It was an amazing experience to watch them make the pieces. So much time and meticulous detail goes into each pot.
Each pot is made on a small, manual pottery wheel. Not electric, no foot pedal, they just use their hands to spin it. The first phase is making the pot on the wheel with clay. They use sharpened rocks to cut the clay and leaves to smooth out the clay on the wheel. Once the desired shape is achieved, they leave it out in the sun to dry. Then they polish the piece with a stone. Next, a layer of white paint is put on it. It dries, and they polish it with stone again. Then a layer of black paint, thet let it dry, then polish it again. Then they take what looks like a crayon, and draws designs on the pot. All of the symbols they use represent something. Monkeys symbolize luck, butterflies symbolize beauty, and so on. From there they polish the piece one more time with a stone, and let the pot bake in the sun for 4-5 days. Finally they put the piece in a homemade oven to bake. It sounds like a challenging process, but the natives make it look easy!
Day 6 - Sibu Sanctuary
Today was an incredibly educational and emotional day. Two years ago, I dreamed up this trip. I wanted to work with monkeys in some form or another in the future, and learned that Costa Rica is a great place to study them. We found a place on the Guanacaste coast called Sibu Sanctuary, a large, protected, dry tropical rainforest. This 50 acres of land was bought by a couple of North Carolinians in 2009. On the property they built a sanctuary and rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured arboreal (tree) species like monkeys, particularly howler and capuchin monkeys that are treated, cared for and eventually released back into the wild. Today we got to visit this sanctuary and get a behind the scenes glimpse of the ins and outs of such an operation.
When we arrived to the center we met Vicki. She explained to us the purpose for the center. Costa Rica is a conservation conscious country. They believe in conserving resources. For example, we learned from Vicki that 93% of Costa Rica's energy comes from renewable resources like wind and solar. They have also protected 25% of the land from destruction and fragmentation. This sanctuary was established specifically to rehabilitate monkeys that have been electrocuted by electric lines. The sanctuary took in 200 monkeys last year alone with horrific injuries that often times resulted in amputations or death. Mothers are often electrocuted with infants in tote, leaving the infants orphaned.
It is currently illegal for electric companies to run uninsulated wires through jungles, but unfortunately it still happens due to lack of enforcement. It is not possible to insulate existing wires. It is possible to put up new lines that are insulated and/or bury them, but both are costly. One thing that goes a long way is making sure those branches that hang over the lines are kept trimmed back to prevent the monkeys from trying to use the lines to get through fragmented forest. Boots to shield the transformers are also helpful. Education is the best way to make change. This experience in addition to some research I did before taking this trip inspired my community action project. Find the video titled "Baby Monkeys of Costa Rica" on YouTube to get a better idea of what goes on inside the sanctuary.
Day 7 - Last Day
Today we went kayaking and snorkeling in the coral reef. It was everyone's first time kayaking and most of their first times snorkeling. About half of the students had never even seen the ocean let alone swam in it. We saw a tiger snake, eels, a blowfish, sea urchins, crabs, an octopus and more. The students got to see some of the adaptations at work that have evolved in these animals to help them survive and reproduce, which they learned about in our evolution seminar earlier this year.
Educational Travel Resources
If this looks good to you, feel free to reach out anytime. I'd love to help you get your students traveling whether it be through a high school travel program, a homeschooling experience, or simply a family trip. There is an enormous amount of learning potential for young travelers regardless of how they get to their destination, especially in the planning process. I have many student travel resources available in my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, most of which are free. Please check them out and let me know if you have any questions.
I also have many more blog posts on student travel right here on this blog. Just click on the category titled "Student-Travel".
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For much of January and some of February I have have slowed down on blogging, not because I haven't wanted to write but because I've been tied up in family travel. As most of you know we traveled to Denmark in January and right now we are in Florida visiting my parents. I am exhausted and so are the kids, but I don't regret any of it. There are learning experiences that can only be had from removing oneself from from the comforts of their everyday living and learning environments.
When I was teaching I was heavily involved in the school's travel program. There are few schools that have travel programs. Mine just happened to be one of them. The school's founder and director recognize the connection between travel and learning. Learning comes organically when traveling, especially when traveling with a group that shares the same purpose and goals. Our school travel program is an example of that. Our travelers bond over a profound shared experience.
I understand that our school travel program is a rare thing in public education. There are a couple things you can do if you do not have a school travel program at your school. Teachers, students, and parents can be proactive. Below I have listed a few ways students can travel if traveling through school isn't currently an option. I split them up into different roles for the sake of organization, but encourage combining your efforts.
8 Ways To Get High School Students Traveling
1. Start a Travel Program at Your School -
Go back to a previous blog post that I wrote on the Top 6 Reasons You Should Start a School Travel Program, put together a proposal that highlights the value of travel, and present it to the school board. Teachers, students, and parents can do this together. Creating a committee of teachers, parents and students would make the greatest impact. Strength in numbers!
2. Start a Travel Club -
If you can't have a full blown travel program at your school that provides traveling experiences to all then start a travel club. You can get it started by organizing and ironing out logistics, and students can take over from there. It would be like any other club, such as prom committee. They would organize fundraisers, plan travel opportunities, and recruit chaperones including teachers, parents, and community members.
3. Provide Support and Travel Resources -
If a school travel program just isn't realistic at your school, provide resources and encouragement to students that could really benefit from a travel experience. We had a student who wanted to study abroad in Japan her senior year. She worked with her school advisor to get there, as our school didn't have it's own exchange program with Japan. The student did most of the work, including the fundraising, but the support and assistance of her advisor was critical. The student did study in Japan her entire senior year, went off to college, studied abroad in Japan again, and ended up getting a degree in organizational development. This experience significantly changed this student's life and continues to play a role in her life. Her advisor recognized that and did everything she could to make it happen.
Students and Parents:
It's tough being a parent, as we want to provide as many experiences for our children as we can, but traveling isn't cheap. Many of us don't have the means to make it happen for our children. The reason I was able to bring my own children to Denmark is because it was paid for by my husband's company. If student travel is a priority, I would start by checking for schools in your community that have a travel program. If that doesn't exist or if that isn't an option, there are a variety of other ways to travel cheaply, especially when it is with a volunteer or educational organization.
Keep in mind, some of these options may not sound exciting. Just because it's not an adventure trip to Brazil or a food tasting experience in Paris doesn't mean it's not valuable. A simple two night camping trip a couple hours drive from home could be a profound life-altering experience.
1. Camp Counselor -
Students, consider applying for a job as a camp counselor at a summer camp. It could be nearby, or if you have a way of getting there, consider applying a little further from home. The great thing about this experience is that it's free and it's paid. Save that money for a grander travel experience such as that trip to Paris. Another plus is that it's organized. It's a great place to start teen travelers. Working at a camp is a great way to make lifelong friendships and memories.
2. WWOOF -
This stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. There are organic farms around the world that register for this program. Travelers can choose a farm from a catalogue to visit. You can stay at the farm in exchange for labor. You volunteer your time and they let you stay for free. Usually they provide much more such as fresh food from their farm, excursions after work hours, and more. I have taken students on WWOOF experiences, one to a chicken farm in Colorado and another to a maple syrup/hobby farm in St. Croix, Wisconsin. Both hosts took us on hikes, gave us lessons on farming, taught us how to can and cook using farm ingredients. The chicken farm was off the grid in the mountains of Colorado, so my students learned a lot about sustainable living and renewable energy. Students may have to raise money for airfare, and maybe food, but the rest is free. If they can't afford airfare, there are certainly WWOOF farms within driving distance. Parents: if this experience isn't with school, which it likely won't be, I highly recommend WWOOFing with your child. Background checks are not mandatory. Reputation is strictly based on reviews.
3. Conservation Corps -
There are Conservation Corps' scattered across the United States. There are several opportunities for student work within the organization, but their Summer Youth Corps program offers travel. Students travel around the state working and camping in state parks as they go. Students earn a small weekly stipend. The groups are small so they build deep and meaningful friendships with people from various walks of life. They work in dirt and learn the value of our natural world. I have several friends and students that have participated in this summer program. I highly recommend it. For students 18-25, consider applying for counselor positions.
4. Community Organized Travel -
Many of you are connected to a church, are in boy or girl scouts, or are active in the community ed system. A lot of these community organizations or clubs offer travel opportunities. Most of these will require fundraising on your part. My parents insisted that I go on trip with our church when I was 16. I fervently resisted, but didn't like to be at odds with my parents. I went on the trip because when it came down to it I didn't have a choice. It changed my life. Look for opportunities like this in your own community. You don't have to be a member of a church or affiliated with a religious organization. There are other community groups that offer such experiences. Keep your eyes and ears open.
5. Summer Volunteer Abroad -
There are a variety of volunteer abroad programs for teenagers, most of which take place in the summer. Check out this great list of organizations from GoAbroad.com that are not free, but reasonable. If you're finding that the experiences you are interested in will cost something, usually for transportation like flight, don't let that discourage you. There are a variety of ways to raise money for your learning adventure. Check out this blog post that I wrote a while back on student-led fundraisers. Start with a crowdfunding page such as FundMyTravel.
Note to parents: Not all travel programs are reputable. As with anything else, do your research. Make sure the company you're working with is safe and reputable.
It's important that students travel. It doesn't have to be all the time, but an experience here or there could potentially change their lives. Teens are under a lot of pressure from their schools, parents, peers, social media, and more. Give them an opportunity to take a step back from all of that and gain perspective, meet new people, embrace other cultures, and become active and engaged citizens.
If you have more travel resources for high school students please share!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education. Check out my travel curriculum at my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. Most of the travel resources are free.
You are likely aware by now that I did a lot of school travel when I was teaching. I post on these trips often because I believe traveling to be an indispensable learning experience. I wrote about the benefits of student travel in a post a couple months ago - Top Six Reasons to Start a School Travel Program. Take a look.
When I wasn't planning and coordinating school travel experiences I was project-based teaching. Because I taught at a project-based school, travel and PBL often went hand-in-hand. I took students on a tropical biology trip to Costa Rica in 2013. One student created a brochure on ways tourists could help protect sea turtles. She placed the brochures in hotel lobbies as we traveled the country. I took students to Hawaii in 2017. The students completed a group project on climate change interviewing locals, business owners, farmers, etc. as we circumnavigated the island.
If you're an educator looking to tie field trips or school travel experiences with project-based learning, or if you are a homeschooler about to go on a family trip and want to enhance the learning experience by adding a PBL project, head to my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, for this free student travel project proposal.
In just a few hours my family and I will be heading to Copenhagen. I have two kids; a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. My four-year-old has recently developed a passion for photography. He takes photos with my phone and edits them using the Photofox app. The cover photo of this blog was taken and edited by him. It started off as a close-up of my eye and evolved into this beautiful abstract photograph. His abilities blow my mind. I never expected a preschooler to be able to navigate a photo editing app, nor that he'd want to. But he can, and he's great at it.
My son and I sat down and filled out a project proposal together, the one mentioned above, which I would normally use with my high-schoolers. With effective scaffolding, students of any age can design their own PBL project using a project proposal. He will be doing a project on "Copenhagen Through the Eyes of a 4-Year-Old" by photo-documenting his travel experience.
This project proposal was written by my four-year-old. I wrote and he told me what to write. His "research questions" were largely based on activities - what he'll do in Copenhagen, where he'll sleep, what he'll eat. This proposal would look very different if it were to be completed by a high schooler. That's another great thing about project-based learning. It's personalized, so could be adapted to any age, backgrounds, skill level, etc.
Rather than "what will I eat when I'm there?", says the pre-schooler, a high-schooler whose project topic is "Danish culture", for example, might ask "what are the main culinary ingredients used in Denmark?, "In what ways are staple Danish ingredients used in Copenhagen?", and "What dishes are the Danes known for?" The student would demonstrate understanding or new skills and knowledge by photographing ingredients, food, and/or chefs in action among other things related to their driving question. They might arrange to take a cooking class while traveling, shadow a farmer, or interview a chef.
My preschooler has decided that he will take a few photos as we tour Copenhagen, edit the photos using Photofox, write a brief caption, and share with an authentic audience by posting his photos right here on this blog post. I will try to upload new photos each day as we go. Whenever I was teaching and took students on trips, I documented the experiences on a travel blog so that staff, students and parents could "follow" us on our travels. Check those out - The Jennings Experience. Return here, to this blog post, to see updates of our travels and my preschoolers project photos.
Combining Project-Based Learning with Student Travel:
"Copenhagen Through the Eyes of a Four-Year-Old"
Hey, we made it to Copenhagen!! After a long flight with two littles, no sleep, very little real food, and a minor bout of toddler motion sickness on the plane, we made it to Copenhagen. We plowed through the day yesterday a bit delirious, came back to our Air B and B, slept for 15 hours and awoke ready to explore the city. We stayed near the canal where we are lodging this week and explored the heart of downtown. We ate lunch at the fresh food market, TorvehallerneKBH, which is made entirely of glass. Lot's of bikes in Copenhagen, regardless of the weather. We strolled on cobblestone streets through winding roads of shops, castles, cafes, and of course, the LEGO store.
Now, for the 4-year-old's project. I mentioned above that my preschooler will be documenting his experience with a photography project. He is very into taking photos, but even more interested in editing using the Photofox app. A challenge for project-based teachers is letting go of control. It was for me when I was teaching and was even more apparent when working with my son on his photography project. We as teachers have likely been taught to instruct - share facts, seek the "right answers", with a few student-centered activities thrown in here and there. Project-based learning is not that. It's active participation by the student, not passive, which means students have to be given the freedom to arrive at conclusions through their own process. There should be a lot of student choice, and students should be directing their learning from project design to assessment criteria.
It has been an extreme challenge watching my child edit his photos. We are in a country with breathtaking views, old architecture, we are steeped in Danish culture, yet my son wants to add "stickers" and wild fiters to his photos. I have to remember as his teacher to scaffold, encourage, and accept his learning process. The learning experience is not diluted just because he added a few special effects to a photo of a castle. It's how he sees it and how he is expressing the experience. Just because it's not what I would do doesn't make it bad or poor work. So I step back and offer suggestions or ideas if he wants them. That is the job of a project-based teacher. To facilitate. The student through exploration, questioning, trial and error, and testing comes to conclusions on their own.
With that said, here are his photos from day 1.
Well, so much for posting everyday. Things have been a little crazy around here. We've been here for four days, and the time-change still has us all feeling a bit off. We have been keeping really busy, trying to get to every corner of Copenhagen, and we had one little set back. My daughter dislocated her elbow while rough playing with my son, so we have experienced the Danish health system. That was an eye-opening experience.
My son has evolved a bit with his picture taking and editing over the past two days. As his "facilitator" I've let him take the reins while subtly guiding him through the process. He played around with lighting on photos from day 3, which led to many revelations about angles, various sources of light and how they come together to add interesting features to his photos.
There is something really special about photography when traveling. If you are ever taking students or your children on a trip consider suggesting a photography project. Photographing one's surroundings encourages a level of observation that can only be achieved when coming from a certain perspective. Pulling out a camera, especially when there is purpose behind it, makes you notice things you may not have noticed otherwise. You're fully immersed in the experience because you are actively looking for great shots. There are certainly other ways to immerse oneself in an experience such as sketching or talking with locals. Project-based learning while traveling, regardless of the final product, gives students some direction and purpose. Taking pictures has led my son to ask a lot of questions that he may not have asked if he was just following me around the city.
I decided to put the original photos of day 3 side-by-side with my son's edited photos as well as captions. The original photos are on the left, edited on the right.
This area is called Nyhavn, a strip of colorful shops and restaurants lining a canal.
This building, Rundetaam (Round House), was built in the 1600's by Christian IV of Denmark as an observatory. The winding ramp leads to a tower that overlooks the city of Copenhagen.
A view of Copenhagen from the top of Rundetaam.
The royal crowns found in the "dungeon" as my son called it (aka the basement) of the Rosenborg Castle.
A view of the Rosenborg Castle from Kongens Have, or the "King's Garden." We toured the inside of the Rosenborg Castle where we found the royal crowns.
The tree-lined corridors are one of many stunning features of the King's Garden.
Day 4, 5, &6
I had to combine three days into one post because we got so behind! I don't remember timely posting being an issue when I used to travel with my high school students. I posted our adventure daily. Different with littles I suppose.
The last few days were amazing. We hit up all of the typical tourist spots like the Little Mermaid statue, the canal cruise, Nyhaun, the castles and shopping areas. We visited the sites that make Copenhagen such a kid friendly city like the Experimentarium and many of the awesome outdoor playgrounds. The best part of the trip though was a bike tour that my cousin took us on. She has lived in Copenhagen for a couple years. She took us on a full snowy day bike tour to all of the cool corners of Copenhagen that tourists rarely frequent.
Check out my preschoolers final project photos, Copenhagen through the eyes of a four-year-old. His favorite feature of the photo editing app is "blending." He finds background images on Google Images and blends them with his original photo. They turned out really interesting. Check them out!
Rows and rows of bikes and lights in Nyhaun Viking ship parked in front of Barr
Konditaget Luders - rooftop playground Classic Copenhagen courtyard
Experimentarium Inside an art installation - no filters or edits
Canal Boat Tour Glimpse of Church of Our Saviour from the boat
View of King's New Square from Nyhaun Photo of tour boat. No edits were made here.
Just changes in camera settings and angles.
Both of these photos were taken biking through Assistens Cemetery at dusk.
Copenhagen has an amazing sense of community and I think a part of that is tied to the biking and walking culture.
Sledders out in waves to sled the hills in front A view of the Royal Library on our bike tour.
of the King's Stable. The sky is an example of the "blending"
feature that my son loves on the app.
Going crazy with the stickers on the editing app. This is a photo of my daughter eating a
chocolate covered waffle on a stick.
The trip isn't the end of a project for student travelers. They return from their trip, organize their new skills and knowledge into a final product and demonstrate learning to an authentic audience. For example, they may put all of their information into a blog and share via social media like my son did here. They might share their final product in a presentation or exhibition night. Student travelers complete a reflection, which is critical in my opinion. Try this free option from my store - Student Travel Reflection. Finally they self-assess their own project and the travel experience in general using rubrics. They meet with their instructor to complete a final evaluation, and that's that!
I'll be moving on from student travel for a while, but I'm sure I'll be back with more in the near future. I'll be moving into student-directed learning for a couple of weeks. Thanks for following us on our learning adventure!
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Don't worry! We didn't forget about Thomas the Train.
The bulk of my experience as an educator was at a school that was student-centered, travel-encouraged, and predominantly project-based. Combine all three and you have student-directed school trips.
I participated in dozens of travel experiences with my students, from one night camping excursions, to weeks abroad. Out of all of those trips I only planned and organized a couple of them myself. All of the others were planned by students as school projects. I provided assistance with logistics, but the students gave the trips meaning and purpose. Some trips planned by students include an earth science trip to Hawaii, an ecology trip to California, marine biology trip to Florida, and a tropical biology trip to Costa Rica. Note: all trips do not have to be biology related! The ones just mentioned are because my background and teaching license is in biology.
Step-By-Step Guide to Student-Led Educational Trips
Where do school trip ideas come from?
All school trips start with a "spark". There is some input a student receives that strikes a chord. They may come across an interesting concept while working on a different project. They may hear stories from friends, family, teachers, students, or community members about a place that ignites curiosity. Maybe they even learn about something on a documentary, from a podcast, social media or in the news. It's typically accidental. The student isn't necessarily "looking" for a school trip to plan.
One of my students, let's call her D, was interested in primates. She wanted to know everything about primates from natural history to a career in primatology. I gave her a book to read for a project she was doing on primates called "A Primate's Memoir." In the midst of exploring this topic, she decided she wanted to visit a primate research center. The closest one we could find was in Iowa. We tried EVERYTHING to get a hold of this primate reserve, but were ultimately unable to connect. She went back to the drawing board. She discovered a primate research center in Sacramento, California and from that point on was determined to get us out there to study primates.
This interest in primates launched D into a high school career of school trip planning. She planned the trip to California and upon our return decided she needed to get to a place where she could observe primates in their natural habitat. Her senior project then became planning a school tropical biology trip to Costa Rica. Never did it cross D's mind when she started school that she would travel across the world.
A student decides they want to plan a trip. What's next?
Ok, so let's say D just discovered this primate research center in California and now she wants to go. What's next? If it's to be a school trip, there are requirements she needs to follow. She needs to identify the purpose of the trip, research cost, look into learning activities, connect with community experts, and create a fundraising plan.
Part of planning a school trip requires determining a specific purpose that is educational in nature. D quickly learned that California isn't where one typically goes to study primates. She also discovered that California has diverse ecosystems scattered throughout. When you drive an hour in any direction in MN what you see is more or less the same. When you drive an hour in any direction in California the landscape completely changes. It is night and day between San Francisco and Napa Valley for example. So D modified her purpose, broadening it to ecology to study biomes, biodiversity, climate, etc. This made it easier to align the trip to standards while sticking by her original plan to visit the primate research center in Sacramento.
My students use a Trip Plan Guidesheet that I created to assist them in the process. This product is FREE to download in my TpT store. My students research the questions on the guidesheet, put their information into a slideshow, and present their trip plan to the school board. The school board then approves the trip. The slideshow below was created by D and presented by her to the board. The trip to California was approved.
Preliminary plans are in place and the trip has been approved. Now what?
The first step once the trip has been approved is to start fundraising efforts. These fundraisers can and should also be student-led. A school policy was that students needed to raise a certain amount of money before making any trip arrangements. Check out this blog post I wrote a couple months ago on student-led fundraisers.
Once an agreed upon amount of money has been raised students start preparing for the trip (with your guidance). They will refine their itinerary; book tours, lodging, car rental if needed, etc; complete pre-trip projects; create project proposals for on-site trip projects; and connect with trip experts.
Even if educational travel isn't reality at your school, consider assigning students to plan a theoretical school trip. The skills and knowledge that D gained in the planning process alone was staggering. She learned how to budget. She gained content knowledge, in this case related to ecology. She learned some topography techniques and had some lessons in geography. D gained experience in public speaking and speech writing. She even practiced important life skills and competencies such as organizing, planning, follow-through, and determination. She learned how to fail, go back to the drawing board, and try again.
Planning a trip is an impressive learning experience. Feel free to download the Trip Plan Guideline mentioned above. You might also consider purchasing my PBL project - Plan a Trip Around the World - which provides all of the templates helpful in trip planning.
Student-led trip planning is just one of many ways to implement student-directed learning in your classroom. In the near future I will be writing a series of posts on this topic. Also stay-tuned for tips on what it takes to start a school travel program at your school.
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Several years ago I brought six students to California to study ecology. California is such an amazing place to do this. A one hour drive from one city to another and suddenly you are in a starkly opposing climates and landscapes. We studied the variety of habitats and biomes across the state. Not the purpose of this post, but if you're a science teacher, it's something to think about!
Before I go on I want to promote a FREE activity for your students! I clearly believe in travel as part of the educational journey, and think you should too! Even if you don't want to or don't have the resources or support at your school, you can still get your students enthusiastic about travel by completing some of these classroom activities. Check out travel brochure classroom mini-project for one such activity.
If you read parts 1 and 2 you know that students typically plan our school trips (with guidance) as projects (PBL). The particular student that planned this trip wanted to snorkel. I told her that California isn't really known for their snorkeling, but we decided to set something up anyway. We worked with an outfitter that snorkels the kelp forests in Monterrey, a marine habitat we studied before the trip. Kelp forests are only found off of the United States' west coast because of the unique landscape and topography.
The day we were scheduled to snorkel was rainy and windy. Central California often is. We arrived to get suited up and get out there, but the guide urged us not to go. The water would have been murky and turbulent. I took his word for it and canceled.
Suddenly we found ourselves without any plans. Our students got to talking to the guide, a young guy, probably 22 years old or so. He told us that a little later he would be going inland to some hot springs to meet up with his coworkers, and that we should all meet him there. It would be warm, the kids could swim. It would be great. It was even more convincing when he said it's a spot only locals know about. Of course my students were all over that. He gave me his phone number and very vague directions.
It was supposedly a 30 minute commute. The drive inland was stunning, with winding roads through the mountains and idyllic ranches around every corner. Somewhere along the way I missed a turn on the guides very nebulous directions. At first I didn't think much of it. I just thought I could turn around and retrace my steps.
Wrong. I proceeded to get us more and more lost. There were no other cars, no shops or restaurants, and NO CELL SERVICE. I couldn't call the guide even if I wanted to. In the meantime, one of my students was getting violently car sick because the roads were so windy. I had to pull over every so often so the poor guy could vomit.
At this point we had been driving around for 5 hours. Yes. Five hours. That is not an exaggeration. We were so lost, my students were so sick, my phone didn't have service and deep down I was completely panicked.
Suddenly by complete coincidence, we stumbled upon a little town. That little town by fate ended up being the town with the hot spring. I pulled into a gas station to find out exactly where this hot spring was. I asked the gas station clerk if she happened to know of this particular place. She looked at me and paused. "How did you hear of this place?" I told her our story of the snorkeling guide, how lost we got, how long we've been driving, that I had six students in the car waiting on me.
"You have teenage students in the car with you?" she asked. Yes! I didn't want to make small talk at the moment. I was so exhausted. I just wanted to get there. Then the words I will never in my life forget came out of her mouth. "You can't take your students there. It's a nudist colony."
No! No, we must have been talking about different places I thought. Turns out we were talking about the very same place, and after some cross-checking discovered that she was very correct. This guide convinced 6 teenagers and a 30 year old woman to drive out to a nudist swimming hole. I was completely stunned and had the displeasure of walking back to the car to tell my students that we just spent the day driving around and throwing up for nothing, because no, I will not be bringing my students to a naked swimming party.
What lesson was learned here? I now know better than to take travel advice from a stranger that is lusting after my students, in a town that I am unfamiliar with! Hopefully my students learned the necessity of asking questions and critically thinking. Can't trust everyone unfortunately. I wish that wasn't a lesson that needed to be learned in life. I think it is a great thing to take advice from locals when traveling. They have the best insight into the best experiences. There were red flags though with this particular individual. I should have questioned him more. Would have saved us a lot of time and stomach pain!
Until next time! Happy Wednesday
Check out my Pinterest page and my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, for more educational resources. I also want to invite you to join a Facebook group I recently started called Curriculum Share Unbound, where you can share and view any educational resources (free). Thanks!
Experiential Learning Travel Mishaps and the Lessons Learned
I like this quote from John Dewey. Although there have been trip-ups on every travel experience I have ever taken, with students and without, there are lessons to be learned from all of them. Struggle and failure, albeit annoying, are catalysts for learning, especially when combined with purposeful reflection. The intention of these posts is to tell stories of hardship, complication, unexpected obstacles, defeat and downright failure. But most importantly it's to encourage persistence. Along with calamity comes new knowledge, change in current thinking, and self-growth. Not just with travel blunders, but with mishaps in life! Failure isn't a set-back, it's progress.
Check out this free school trip reflection on my TpT page. It can be used for a field trip or something more elaborate like a camping trip or travel experience abroad.
Alright, upward and onward! I'm back with part 2 - another story of adventure and mishaps on school travel experiences.
"You'll have to wait here for an hour. You can't drive in your condition" - Big Island, Hawaii
I took several girls to Hawaii in 2012 on a marine biology trip, entirely planned by a student. Check out How to Plan a School Trip - Student Led Project (free) at my TpT store if you're interested in assigning a theoretical or real project. Hawaii is an awesome place to travel with students because the best learning experiences are free. Everything you want to see is outside, so aside from spendy excursions, money spent on activities really doesn't exist. This particular student probably spent 100 hours of her life fundraising for this trip, so I told her she could choose one excursion for the group to go on. She chose night diving with manta rays. I was nervous about it from the start. I wasn't sure about swimming at night. I'm from the Midwest, no ocean in either direction for over a thousand miles, so my perception of the ocean is essentially what I've seen on TV, which comes dominantly from Shark Week. Shark Week has led me to believe that under no circumstances should anyone be swimming in the ocean at night! The biologist in me knew this was probably irrational thinking, and that's what this student wanted to do, so I went ahead and booked it.
I scheduled our dive with the manta rays for the evening of our second day on the trip. The girls were so excited to do this. The excursion required a 45 minutes boat ride to get to where the manta rays hang out. Some of the students had never been on a boat before, and few of them had never seen the ocean. The captain of the boat allowed the girls to go to the top deck where they could see better. I think the students would have been satisfied if we had only done a boat ride. It was that amazing. The view of the coastline was gorgeous at dusk, the ride was a little bumpy and wild, but what teenager doesn't like that? When they went to the upper deck they looked out to see schools of dolphins surfing the wake. It was an unbelievable experience for the students, one they will never forget.
We finally arrived at our snorkeling site, and began to get geared up. I noticed one of the students in a daze. I asked her if she was OK and she didn't respond. She was sweaty and clammy and her face was turning a scary green color. I leaned in a bit closer to ask again, thinking maybe she didn't hear me, and in that exact moment she sprayed vomit across the entire boat. That probably that dramatic, but it's how my brain has shaped this particular memory. Her instinct understandably was to find the edge of the boat and vomit into the ocean as to avoid puking in the boat or all over herself. The boat crew in unison dove at her with buckets to stop her from vomiting in the water. At this point the boat was parked in the water and we were still sitting on it. There wasn't a dock or slip to pull our boat into so the kids could get out onto dry land. We had to sit on the boat, and at this point it was rocking on 5 foot waves. The crew encouraged the student to get in the water to relieve some of the discomfort associated with her sea sickness.
We got in the water and proceeded to observe one of the most spectacular sights I've ever seen. Manta rays are massive creatures and they're not afraid of people. These weren't anyway. So they swam right next to our bodies. We put our faces in the water, and looked down, and they glided and danced all around us. Some even swam right up next to our bodies, like we were lying on a manta ray bed. It was wild and exhilarating. Thankfully in the water the sick student felt a little better, but at some point we had to get back in the boat to take the same ride home. So we did. Within minutes she was vomiting again, only now ALL of the students were sick too. Every single student on this trip was sick and vomiting in unison. I have never seen anyone sick like that in my life. They weren't just nauseous. They were delirious. One student didn't speak at all for the entire duration of the boat ride. Another was saying things that didn't make any sense. I felt like another was going in and out of consciousness. At one point I looked around and it was just a pure vomit bath. The boat ride was so wild that some of my students were getting thrown around the boat, buckets in hand, vomit everywhere. Again, a little dramatized perhaps, but this is how my brain has preserved this memory.
I thought I was in the clear. We were SO close to home, when suddenly I felt nauseous myself. This deep, pit in my stomach persisted no matter what I did - stood up, sat down, closed my eyes, put my head in my lap - I couldn't make it go away. My body started to ache like I had the flu, I got a headache, I was completely disoriented. And then we arrived. The girls got to dry land as fast as their legs could carry them, which wasn't fast considering they were all violently ill. I stumbled off the boat, in shock that I never actually threw up myself.
If you've ever been sea sick you know that you aren't immediately fine as soon as you reach dry ground. My students were definitely not fine. I was not fine. We got all of our things loaded into the car, I turned the key to the ignition, started to drive out of the parking lot and had to stop. I could't drive. It felt like our car was in the water, bouncing up and down on waves. I felt drunk. I stopped the car, got out and sat on the curb. A crew member from the boat came over and said I should wait it out for at least an hour. I never even threw up, but the boat ride was enough to make me feel like I was intoxicated.
The lesson learned from this experience was simple. Be prepared for anything. I was so consumed by the irrational potential for sharks that I didn't bother to think that someone could get sea sick. Motion sickness is very common. Shark attacks are not. The experience was so magnificent. It's a little sad to think that one student was so sick that she vaguely remembers being there. She missed it, and may never have the chance to do it again. From that point on I have been sure to cover every possible angle. That's hard since you can't plan for everything. Next weeks story of adventure and mishap is case in point. Stay tuned....
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To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.