'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!
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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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I have been traveling with students to some capacity for 10 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 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. 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 traveled with students for the next 9 years.
I don't believe that experiential learning applies to biology alone. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand." That is experiential learning in a nutshell, and it pertains to all disciplines. You don't have to be a science or art teacher to get your students involved and active in their learning.
Getting students beyond the walls of the classroom is an amazing first step. I know it's tough in some teaching environments to even get students in the school yard, and that's assuming there is a school yard to go to. At a minimum, get your students out of their desks and involved in the concepts. Those hands-on, inquiry activities encourage students to observe, explore, ask questions and absorb new information and skills through experience. All great things. But traveling? Traveling encompasses these important facets of learning plus a whole lot more. Traveling is an opportunity to completely change the lives of your students. I've seen it happen over and over and over again.
Traveling with students isn't easy, but the outcome is why I 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. Student traveling isn't just hopping on a plane and sitting on a beach somewhere. The learning is in 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 any other means. Traveling is a unique and special learning opportunity.
Top 6 Reasons to Start a Travel Program at your High School
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 in 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 intense seminars and complete several 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.
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 exercise 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 Future for the First Time:
This is something that teachers 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. They may not know what, 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 you should start a travel program at your middle or high school, what do you do with that? You want to start a travel program, but how? Stay tuned for a post from on what you need to know to start a high school travel program.
I have a lot of travel resources available in my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. They are all FREE. I think it's important to make student travel resources easily accessible to teachers, as it is challenging enough to implement a travel program in a secondary school. Browse my store to download free travel resources by clicking the link above.
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!
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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....
Follow me on Pinterest (Experiential Learning Depot) and check out my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, for more educational resources.
School Travel Program Blunders and the Lessons Learned
Last night I was lying in bed recovering from a minor stomach bug. I was reminded of the time I thought I had rabies on a school travel experience to Costa Rica. That's how this post came to be! This article will be the launching point for a grander series of posts on student travel.
Most of you know this already, so I'll keep it brief. When I was teaching (I am now temporarily home with my children), I coordinated a lot of school trips, from nearby camping overnights, to elaborate travel experiences abroad. In my nine years teaching there, I planned, coordinated and chaperoned dozens of trips. Take a look at at my school travel blog to check out some of our travels. The first trip I ever took with students was a service learning experience to Texas after Hurricane Ike tore through cities like Galveston. I took that trip as a first year teacher. It was a tough one in many ways, but upon reflection, I realized just how dramatically the lives of students were forever changed (for the better). From that point on I was committed to providing as many of these life-changing-experiences with my students as possible.
Traveling did not come without a lot of trial and error! As I said, there were some mishaps on the Texas trip......and the Costa Rica trip, and California, Florida, Colorado, Hawaii. Pretty much all of them. I look back on those experiences now and laugh, because everyone got home safely, some of the mishaps were comical, and ultimately, each obstacle we faced was a learning experience. These adventures and mishaps bonded us (many of us for life). They presented opportunities to problem-solve in real-life situations, resolve conflict effectively, push through even the harshest of conditions. We all came out on the other side as stronger individuals for having endured and overcome these blunders.
1) "Awe, your friends came to welcome you home!" - Texas
The mishaps (a nice way to put it) on this trip were humdingers, to say the least. I have it listed as the first story strictly because it happened first chronologically. But it probably should be saved as the grand finale. I was a first year teacher, so hadn't planned any school trips up to this point. A colleague of mine at the time organized the trip, and I just tagged along as a chaperone, which even that I was ill-equipped to do at the time. Together we packed 10 kids in a van, hitched a trailer for our things, and trekked across the country from Minnesota to Galveston, Texas, which took about 3 days.
On the way to Texas there was an under-the-radar feud developing between two students. My colleague and I were for the most part completely oblivious to this fact. When we got to Texas, minor altercations started to surface here and there. We'd see conversations between students elevate a little, we'd quietly calm them down and move on with our work. About half way through the trip, a couple students sneaked into another students room in the middle of the night, took all of his things, and threw them in the hallway. My colleague and I dealt with that the best way we knew how at the time. We got mad, pulled the "I'm disappointed" card, had a mediation circle. The works. They all agreed they could tolerate each other for the rest of the trip, which they did as far as I was aware. We thought we were in the clear.
On the drive home everyone was joyful, happy, friends. We sang songs, played road-trip games, laughed, reminisced about the trip and the important work we did and the people we helped. When we pulled into the school parking lot I saw a large group of people congregating around their cars. I thought, "Oh wow, how nice. The students friends and families have come to welcome them home".
We all stepped out of the van, and before I could even open my mouth to say hello to the visitors, a full-blown riot erupted in our parking lot. Students, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends of our student travelers all felt the need to get involved. People throwing punches, tackling, taking each others shoes. Yes that happened. Turned out that our two rival students had planned this before we left, and were texting away, recruiting their people on the road trip home. Right. Under. Our. Noses. The only thing I knew to do was call the police. They arrived and everyone scattered. The rest is history.
The aftermath involved standard school protocol for such an event. There were some suspensions, some expulsions, some restorative circles. The usual. I will remember that trip forever, for one because I couldn't have in my wildest dreams expected what happened to happen. I learned a lot about myself as a person and as an educator. Students did as well. One of the kids involved in the the altercation graduated that year, and has since stayed in touch. That was nine years ago. He successfully started his own business, and is a kind individual. This is an example of how our past mistakes don't have to define us. I try to remember this with each new student I encounter. Who they were before they came to me is irrelevant. They start clean in that moment.
2) "There's a bat in the room" - Costa Rica
My sister, a volunteer chaperone, and I took a small group of female students to Costa Rica in 2014. Anyone who has been to Costa Rica knows it's a wild place, hence the reason we went. I am a biology teacher with a background in ecology and conservation, so the purpose was to study tropical biology. We got what we asked for. There was tropical life EVERYWHERE - beetles the size of cell phones barreling into our foreheads at max speed during dinner, howler monkeys providing our daily morning wake-up calls, poisonous frogs, "bullet" ants (just imagine what that means), some of the most dangerous snakes in the world, invisible stinging insects, and bats. At times it felt like a scene out of Jumanji or Avatar. Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places I've been by the way. I don't mean to make it sound bad.
One of the hotels that we stayed at had an open ceiling sort of concept. There was technically a roof, but the walls didn't go from floor to ceiling, so anything that flies could be in your room at any given moment. One evening my sister and I were winding down from a full day hangin' in the rain forest. We were lying in our beds, watching a Spanish version of Frozen on TV. Something was telling me to look up. My eyes slowly directed their gaze toward the ceiling like a scene from a scary movie, and low and behold, right above the bed on the ceiling was a bat. Now normally a bat is not something I would be afraid of. I'm a biologist after all. But the hypochondriac that my sister is felt the need to dive to the floor like a bat outta hell (ha, good one, right?) She was literally shaking in fear. She proceeded to explain to me, as I'm still laying in bed with a bat hanging over my head, that sometimes people get bit by bats and don't know they were bit. They die from rabies within hours. Parts of that are true. I've heard stories. Just a little dramatic. I got out of the bed to go get a hotel staff member to remove the bat from our room, when suddenly the bat started flying around our room and took a dive right at me. I dove to the floor, army crawled to the corner of the room behind a small desk, and proceeded to lay there in fetal position for the next ten minutes. Finally a couple of our students came knocking, walked in to see my sister and I both curled up in corners while a bat continued to fly around the room. Surprisingly the students were cool as cucumbers, and went to get a manager for us (because my sister and I were afraid to get off the floor).
A manager came into the room and basically laughed. By that point the bat had crawled into some small space in the ceiling. Not only do I think the hotel manager didn't believe us, but he walked into a room with two grown women shaking and screaming on the floor, while two young students saved the day. Tourists at their finest. We ended up going to bed and crawling deep down under the covers to avoid any bat attacks in the middle of the night.
Around 2 a.m. I awoke, drenched in my own sweat, but shivering. My muscles were weak, my bones were sore. I was cold and weak. I was so lethargic that I had to drag my body across the floor to the bathroom where I attempted to take a warm shower. It was cold and there was only a trickle. My sister rolled my suitcase in the bathroom where I proceeded to put on every item of clothing that I brought, crawled back into bed, and didn't sleep a wink because I was CERTAIN that I had rabies. How could I not? The next morning I was still in a bad way. Still weak, still freezing, but sweating profusely. But we had plans, I was their instructor, I had to pull through. We had plans to go white water rafting that day, and it was absolutely the most miserable experience of my life. Nothing like getting drenched in frigid water when you have rabies. Ok, turns out I didn't have rabies, obviously. But it's pretty crazy that I just happened to get a 24 hour flu the same night we slept with a bat flying around our room. Things happen on all school trips that you don't anticipate. That's a great lesson in life - for all of us.
3) "Uh, my pack broke. Do we have another one?"
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
"Ummmmmmm, no!?" I believe was my answer to that question, along with something like, "Are you kidding me right now? You're kidding, right? Right? RIGHT!!??", in a tone somewhere between frustration and utter and complete panic.
Approximately three hours prior to this conversation, a group of students and I set off on our 5 day trek along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It is a stunning hike along Lake Superior, with a mix of pine forest, rock cliffs, and sand dunes. It's one of the most beautiful places I have been. We arrived after a seven hour drive from Minnesota to our trail head, excited to get started. Now let me give you some background information before I continue. The school at which I worked serves inner-city, at-risk students, many homeless, almost all under the poverty line. They are not rolling in the best backpacking equipment. And anyone who has ever done serious backpacking knows that you can't bring a 20 lb tent, a huge camping stove, a pillow, a drawstring bag for your pack! Everything you're going to eat, cook with, sleep with, dress with ends up on your back, which is carried with you for the entirety of the trip.
Knowing that my students didn't have all of this equipment sitting around, I gathered what the school already had, got a few donations, and thought we were good to go. My students and I spent a significant amount of time before the trip planning for it, talking logistics like what to pack. I unloaded all of our equipment in front of them offering each one of them great packs. Each student except one insisted that they had their own stuff. I remember thinking it was a little strange, but trusted that if they said they had it covered, then they had it covered.
We arranged to meet at the school before our departure to get the school van and pack up our stuff. When students pulled in, got out of their cars, and walked toward me with little to no gear, I started to get concerned. I asked one student where all of his stuff was. He turned around to show me his bag - a small, black, draw-string bag, no bigger than 18 inches long, with fraying seams and wearing ropes. I never swear in front of students, but there were no other words at the time. They just tumbled out of me under my state of complete shock. "Holy shit!" I believe were my exact and only words. I think I was truly waiting for him to say "gotcha!" and run back to his car to grab a legitimate pack. He did not. You'd think I would have marched right into the school to grab one of our bags. I didn't, and I don't remember why now. It was either because I couldn't get in the school, or it was sheer stupidity on my part. Likely the latter. None of the other kids had drawstring bags, but their arrangements were not much better. Somehow we managed to stuff everything we needed into all of our bags. I do remember having to hang a lot of things off of their bags with bungee chords. I think we even put a bunch of food in a plastic shopping bag and tied it in a knot around his drawstrings! Ha. Ah, it's so crazy to think about now. I'm not sure how we survived it.
Flash forward, we start our hike. It's gorgeous! We're admiring the view, telling stories, laughing, blah blah blah. We had been hiking for hours, and about 5 miles in I see a good photo op, and let the kids walk ahead a bit. Once I got my picture I sped up to catch up with the group, and from a distance saw them all crouched down on the ground. They must be checking out an insect or a toad, I thought to myself. As I got closer I noticed one of the students was fiddling with his bag. When I approached he gently let me know his bag was broken. There was nothing we could do. We couldn't turn back, we didn't have an extra. We reallocated some of our things, and because I had the best equipment, I ended up carrying most of our gear. Within the first hour of this arrangement, I was pretty sure I was going to be crippled for the rest of my life. But we pushed on. To top the cake, it started down-pouring about five minutes before we needed to set up camp. All of our gear hanging off of our packs (because there was no room inside them), including our tents and sleeping bags, were soaking wet within seconds. We arrived to our site, set up camp in the rain, and slept in puddles all night. The students didn't complain. Not once.
The rest of the trip was a series of this type of mishap. All of us were tested that week, and we all came out of it stronger and better for having experienced it. At times I thought we might die out there. I realize now that that is hyperbole and irrational. But it's how I felt at the time because we were so unprepared for the physical and mental rigor of this trip. My students were rock stars, and to this day, I would hire any of them for a job that requires working under harsh conditions, because they will get it done, they'll push through, and they'll probably enjoy every second of it. My students taught me that week to be positive, and regardless of the circumstances, see the beauty in front of me, because if I allow myself to get bogged down in pain, hardship, frustration, then I will miss it completely. I think about that when I think about raising my own children. There are so many pieces of life where this philosophy holds true.
Many lessons were learned on this trip. The biggest takeaway though, for me anyway, was to go with my gut. I knew my student's backpack would give out. I knew it, yet I let him bring it. Your gut is probably right most of the time. I have learned that the hard way, and after too many times. Thankfully we all survived it and learned a great deal from the experience.
4) "What if he has to get his foot amputated on my watch?"
- Hawaii, 2017
I took a group of students to Hawaii in 2017 to study environmental science. Earlier the year before, a student of mine did a project on Hawaiian monk seals. It spiraled into a variety of other interests like the Pacific Plastics Patch and climate change, both heavily impacting Hawaii. This student decided she wanted to help coordinate a trip to the Big Island, and so we did (a lot of fundraising and detailed planning later). I lived and worked in Hawaii a decade ago for the endangered palila project with USGS. The organization arranged within the first week of my arrival a mandatory seminar on the dangers of Hawaii. I was 22 at the time, frontal lobe not entirely developed yet, and of course thought I was immune to any significant danger. Turns out at the time I was immune. Thankfully nothing dire happened to me while I lived there, but looking back I realize I made a lot of reckless choices. Anytime I bring students to Hawaii I think of that seminar I had to go to - shark attacks, getting caught in the rip tide, falling through lava rock, stubbing your toe or falling on lava rock, getting sucked into an underwater lava tube, severe sun burn, drowning, falling through the cone of a volcano. Yes. He talked about that. The Big Island of Hawaii at the time had, and still does have an active volcano, so hiking to one of many pu'u's (volcanic cones) to take a look at the action is not unheard of. In fact, some of my colleagues at the time did hike right up to the cones of Pu'u O'o. I opted out. It was a life-changing experience for them I'm sure, but not a safe one.
Back to the students. So when I decided I would take students to Hawaii, I had all of these risks in mind. Hawaii has this beauty and power over me that I haven't experienced anywhere else in the world. I knew that a trip like this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of my students, and life-changing for all of them. I also had matured since I'd last been there, knew the island well, as I lived there, and would take every precaution I could to keep students safe, without taking away the experience. Generally, that all worked out. Everyone is alive. But one student in particular experienced or came close to experiencing almost every hazard mentioned above.
Let's start from the top. We went kayaking the very first day. This student proceeded to get the worst sun burn I have ever seen, on any individual, my entire life - the worst of it was on his feet. Note, Hawaii is all outdoor activity. You don't spend time inside, and when you are out, you need to be able to walk to see anything cool. The best sites are those off the beaten path. At first his feet were just red. Peeling a little here and there. Slowly but surely his feet started to swell, a little more every hour it seemed. He continued to keep up with the group, and I kid you not, didn't complain once. So I really thought he was fine. He could just put some aloe on it, and the swelling would slowly go down.
I mentioned earlier that lava rock is brutal. It's like millions of teeny tiny shards of glass clumped together. If you fall on a rock in Minnesota, you get a scrape on your knee. If you fall on lava rock your knee is pretty much gone, especially if you were wearing shorts! We went swimming in a river one day, and this same student cut his foot on a lava rock in the water. When he got out of the water, I looked at the cut on the bottom of his foot, and it, in combination with his sun burn was crazy gnarly looking. It was a long gash, but not that deep so I thought we could just bandage it up and move on. We did that. He didn't complain, and continued to quietly participate in whatever plans we had the rest of the day.
When we got back to the house where we were staying, I pulled out some aloe and fresh bandages for his foot. He pulled off his sock, and I just about passed out right there. Not only was his foot still bright red and swollen from the sunburn, but it was now starting to turn purplish/blackish/bluish/greenish - every color that your foot is not supposed to be - and the colors were in tracks. It looked like a splatter painting of the most grotesque colors of the rainbow. My stomach already turning, I asked him to take the band aid off the cut he got earlier from the lava rock. As he peeled the band aid back, a huge patch of skin came with it. The gash it turned out was long, not deep, but it was also much wider than I thought. This lava rock basically took a silver dollar sized chunk out of his foot. I turned to my sister and said, "We need to get him to a hospital. I think he has gang green." I was certain that there was going to be an amputation before we left Hawaii.
He didn't have gang green. He didn't have anything amputated. Again, totally irrational thinking, but when children are under your care, and parents are expecting to get their kids home with all of their limbs, your mind goes places. I'm not sure what the lesson was here truthfully. It still amazes me that this particular student got home all in one piece. He is accident prone, but again, minor injuries are part of life in Hawaii. What really blows my mind is that this student still had a great time. He still learned a lot. He didn't complain, and loved every second of it. He was a total mess, but was determined to get everything he could out of a trip he may never have a chance at again. Maybe that's the lesson? Carpe diem. It's so cliche and I'm not always certain that it's great advice. But that this student made it through this trip AND took advantage of every opportunity to grow and learn, is really inspiring. It was to me and I think it was inspiring to the other students on the trip as well.
I think that'll be all for now. I have many more stories on student travel mishaps. I'll share them next week in part 2!
If I haven't scared you away from school travel experiences, check out this template for planning a school trip. It's free, and makes a good PBL project for students - How to Plan a School Travel Experience: Student-Directed PBL Project.
You can also take a look at Project-Based Learning: Plan a Trip Around the World - a hypothetical plan for a trip around the world.
Follow me on Pinterest (Experiential Learning Depot) for more education resources.
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.