Friday, September 26, 2008

Geo Education's Alaska Trip Diary - Conclusion

Looking Back, Moving On

On Saturday morning, we gathered our belongings and headed to the Nome Airport for our flight back to Anchorage. Our load was somewhat lighter, since we'd given each high school a Gigapan camera kit so that they could add their own panoramic images to Google Earth. We'd gathered a few souvenir coffee cups, t-shirts, and postcards along the way, plus a colorful certificate I plan to frame and display proudly in my office: We now belong to the Arctic Circle Club, Point Barrow, Alaska (71° 17" North 156 ° 47" West) and are fully accredited, lifetime members of the club, "having crossed the Arctic Circle in the Great State of Alaska."

Our week in Alaska is now a blur of friendly faces, vast expanses of mustard-colored tundra, golden trees, snow-capped mountain peaks, sharp winds, crowded airports, and high school classrooms buzzing with activity. Three towns, 30 teachers, and about 600 students—we all worked hard. As teachers, the team from Google and University of Alaska Fairbanks probably gained as much or more knowledge than our students. Primary lessons learned include:

  • Keep it simple. All of us ended up revising our original lesson plans, paring down the information to focus on the essentials and drive home one or two main concepts and skills.
  • Make it relevant. Students responded best when we dealt with familiar places and data that related to their town or homes. They were thrilled to see the gold dredge in Nome waters, the rooftop of their house, the dog tracks at their family's subsistence camp. The Rumsey Historical map of Alaska in 1867, when the US purchased the territory from Russia, was even more interesting when we zoomed in on their town to see what was known about the geography at that time (topology was very accurate), and which places were already in existence with small settlements (Point Barrow is clearly listed; Nome is missing since it wasn't founded until the 1901 Gold Rush).
  • Keep moving! It's hard to sit still, be quiet, and pay attention for 45 minutes. Our lessons needed to include a variety of activities and to actively involve the students with tasks to perform using Google Earth.
  • Be ready to change and adapt on-the-fly. By Day Three, we were measurably more effective in the classroom than we'd been on Day One. We'd all gone back to the drawing board and revamped our presentations according to events of the first day. Every student and every class had different needs, personalities, and skill levels. Although many of us had prior teaching experience, this week enforced our admiration and respect for the classroom teacher.

I think we've returned to Google with even more enthusiasm for our mission to help teachers bring Google Earth into the classroom. Some of the areas we plan to focus on in the near future are

  • Lessons plans - We want to expand our current work and post new lesson plans on our Geo Education website.
  • Teacher training - We'd like to create additional training modules for teachers and present in-service sessions.
  • Strengthening alliances with leaders in K-12 geography education - This trip was organized jointly with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Department of Geography. UAF plans to conduct follow-up surveys with the high schools we visited, which will help us evaluate the trip and plan future efforts in the field.

For now, we're all short on sleep, knee-deep in unread email, and very eager to post our photos in Picasa and Panoramio (check out a few of our favorite shots from Anchorage below). In the days ahead, we'll be checking back with our schools in Barrow, Kotzebue, and Nome. And we're eager to see the content our students post in the form of Gigapan images, Panoramio photos, and My Maps. Thank you, Alaska!

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