Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My Virtual Summer Vacation: Bringing the World to the Classroom

By EdTechManiac, Darin Anderson

Some kids are raised in huge metropolitan cities full of sights to see and countless "things" to do. Others are brought up in Everytown, USA in places that represent what the American way of life is all about - not too big, not too small.

I had the wonderful fortune of growing up in the mountains of Idaho near a small town named Mackay, a classic example of the smallest of the small. A few days ago, I was able to visit my hometown for a family reunion. The results, in part, are seen below...
Now that I live on the high plains of Wyoming (still considered small, but Rock Springs is actually 48 times bigger than Mackay) I tell people about what it was like growing up on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Certainly many folks in Wyoming can relate to the remoteness of towns like Mackay, but the truth is, most people cannot fathom what it is like to live in such a place.

Much like me visiting the concrete-laden locales of Philadelphia or New York City, until a person sets feet on the ground of any particular location, he or she cannot really "know" what it is like.

Enter, education.

Teaching students - no matter what age they are - is largely about exposing them to material and content and then letting them create their own experiences.

It has long been the desire of educators to take their students on field trips and give them authentic contact with landmarks and locations rich with learning opportunities.

While we cannot climb aboard with Ms. Frizzle and transport our kids directly to places of interest, we can, with technology we have available to us, do the next best thing.

Here are a few ideas to help all teachers bring the world to their kids:

1. If your school is fortunate enough to have a pair or two of Google Goggles, making any location come alive is as easy as looking around. Available for both ios and Android devices, the Goggles app allows kids entrance to anywhere from Yellowstone National Park to the inside of an operating room. The possibilities are endless.

2. Another app for virtual reality is Google Camera, which lets users create their own photo spheres and panoramic landscapes. Capturing 360 degree views is a snap with this free app. Photos automatically upload to one's Google Drive account and are thus sharable with the world.

3. Newer smartphones have similar capabilities as Google Camera. As always, new mobile products offer a wide variety of photo options that are easy to share with others via multimedia messages or social media outlets.

Using either camera option, teachers can take their own shots to share with their students or request family and friends of other locations to do the same. Going on a late summer trip? Take sphere photos of the beach, the mountains, or the world's largest ball of twine.

4. Speaking of Google Maps, it is not only a great place to find still and panoramic pictures of popular attractions, but users can also upload their own photos of places maybe not so well known. It is a fairly easy way to see the world from the relative comfort of a school desk.

5. Along with 360 degree photography, self-made videos are also an effective way to show off your own neighborhood, as well as sights along the road to, say, Macon, GA. Shooting videos and posting them to YouTube is almost an instinct among today's youth. Taking advantage of that "ingrained" habit would serve a teacher well when trying to engage her students in unfamiliar locations and cultures.

6. It is no secret that social media is a viable learning tool. Using the same philosophy that we did decades ago - pen pals - sharing all of the above with students in various locations with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc makes for an authentic and engaging experience.  Under a hashtag like #FrontYardSphere, kids can reach out to peers from across the globe to simply step outside and sphere their neighborhood. What a great way to make connections and learn about other places and cultures.
Students of this generation have a desire to be recognized that was unfathomable a decade or so ago. Andy Warhol talks about 15 minutes of fame, but with all of the technology they have at their disposal today, kids not only can achieve a certain notoriety with their posts and musings - they almost expect it.

Connecting our kids with folks around the world via engaging, interesting, and quality tasks makes an already small world become even smaller.

If you cannot take your kids to the world...bring it to them.

Join in the fun and post your own #FrontYardSphere on Twitter. Can we go worldwide??

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