The World Wide Web has given a whole new meaning to the term "field trip." Today, your class can take a virtual trek through China and the Middle East. Students can learn about Hawaiian volcanoes from scientific experts on-site, or interact with children from the teeming streets of India and the remote mountains of Kenya.
Indeed, it seems as if the entire world and all its wonders are ripe for classroom exploration, thanks to a new generation of educational computer-based programs. The four we've profiled on the following pages are especially good examples of the genre; they are packed with interactive features, vivid graphics, and practical teaching guides, all to help students virtually-and truly-broaden their horizons. Best of all, malaria shots are not required!
The Jason Project
This innovative program was founded in 1987 by Robert Ballard, the charismatic oceanographer who discovered the wreckage of RMS Titanic. Named for the explorer in Greek mythology who sought the Golden Fleece, Jason offers a full school year's worth of learning activities based on a specific area of scientific inquiry, capped by exciting live, online broadcasts from a site related to the subject.
Last year Jason XI, "Going to Extremes," followed modern-day explorers mapping the depths of the oceans as well as the expanses of outer space. Along the way, kids created virtual ecosystems as they learned how to design a scientific experiment and form a research team. The program culminated with two weeks of live, interactive broadcasts from NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas, and the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory off Key Largo, Florida. Students communicated with scientists at these two research stations to share their work and to learn about the latest discoveries in two very different realms.
At Altholton Elementary School, in Columbia, Maryland, teacher Mellie Lewis has participated in the program for eight years. During Jason XI, her second, fourth, and fifth graders learned how to make a Hawaiian star compass-an elaborately calibrated instrument that teaches much about local geography and mythology Their work also extended a study of the Chesapeake Bay watershed started by Jason Project scientists. "Jason fits easily into my curriculum and both school district and state standards," Lewis notes. "It saves me a tremendous amount of time. My students have participated in advanced-level curricula while using technology at its finest, and they've had the opportunity to do real research with real scientists, then share their work with other participating schools."
Jason XII, "Hawaii: A Living Laboratory," starts this fall.
Jason Project Quick Facts www.jason.org
Focus: science and geography (cross-curricular extensions)
Program length: one full school year
Grade level: targeted at 4–9
Teacher support: a variety of well-organized materials and activities; optional workshop training
Standards: correlated to national standards in science and geography
Cost for one class and teacher: $199
Classroom Connect Quest Series
Africa, Asia, the Galapagos Islands-these are some of the locales to which Classroom Connect has introduced young people as part of its west series. In each expedition (there are two per year, one in fall and one in spring), a team of experts leads participating classes through an itinerary covering the geography, ecology, history, and people of a land. Information is presented in a lighthearted and kid-friendly manner, with an emphasis on scientific discovery. The Quest Web site posts games and photos that change as the team progresses on its journey Especially exciting is the students' role in "driving" the Quest by sending daily emails with questions and requests to the expedition team.
Rhonda Miller, who teaches grades 6–8 at Linkhorne Middle School, in Lynchburg, Virginia, is a three-year Quest veteran. "The programs give the students a feeling of ownership and control of their learning," she says, "The interaction with the Quest team requires the children to use higher levels of thinking, to transfer knowledge to new situations, and to research all angles of a problem."
Last spring, the IslandQuest adventure enabled students to follow a multinational group — including a biologist, an archaeologist, an anthropologist, a teacher, and an interpreter — as it explored the Japanese island of Okinawa to try to find out why the residents have the longest human life expectancy on Earth. Coming in October. an Australia-Quest through the Outback, focusing on Aboriginal communities and how environmental problems threaten the fragile balance between the people and the land.
Quest series Quick Facts www.classroom.com
Focus: general science, social studies, math
Program length: six weeks of live, daily updates
Grade level: K–8
Teacher support: multimedia curriculum package
Standards: Correlated to national standards in social studies, science, math, and language arts
Cost for one class and teacher: $109.95
This unique outfit is nonprofit, founded by educators, and focused on service learning. Through its World Trek and US Trek programs, students are not just exposed to the world — they are encouraged to care about its problems and learn how to seek solutions. US Trek debuts in September and will run throughout the school year. (Although World Trek ended this summer, all the materials for the two-year project will remain on-line.) The program features teams of adventurers — scientists, teachers, experts in various fields — who lead young people through new realms of knowledge based on experience.
During last June's journey to India, students read postings from an Indian teen participating in a rally commemorating the 15th anniversary of the catastrophic gas leak in Bhopal. They were also able to engage in a live on-line chat with other young people at the event. This fall's trek will focus on American history through the Civil War, bringing it to life through the team's cross-country journey to visit historical sites, introduce historical figures, and interview experts.
The Odyssey Quick Facts www.ustrek.org
Focus: service learning; culture, history, science, math
Program length: one year of twice-weekly updates.
Grade level: K–12
Teacher support: on-line teaching guides
Standards: correlated to McREL standards in all subject areas (www.McREl.org)
Cost for one class and teacher: free for everyone