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From Classroom Teachers to Global Adventurers:
Accra, Ghana -- "Walking through the forest in the dark is both amazing and unnerving. There are all kinds of creatures calling but you can't see anything except the path in front of you. At one point we stopped on the trail for a moment and three of us starting shouting in pain while hopping all around. We had stopped right in the middle of a column of soldier ants." (Excerpt from the Virtual Explorers Ghana Expedition, December 2001.)
The Real Explorers Behind Virtual Explorers
As the two prepared to join McGuire in her research, they realized that they could share their journey and the scientific data they collected online with students all over the world. The result is Virtual Explorers, a non-profit organization and web site for students and teachers that promotes and supports scientific education in project-based learning via the Internet.
Using VirtualExpedition.org in the Classroom
"We wanted to ask big provocative questions," says Reid, "questions without simple answers. How do you create a conservation plan that protects the dolphins and secures the livelihood of the people who live along the river?"
The raw data offers a unique opportunity for teachers to access real results for use in practicing the scientific inquiry process. However, not many visitors have tapped into the data files. Luke and Reid believe that they need more support for teachers to use the data. They plan to partner with a teaching college and science education professionals to develop classroom activities, lessons, and activity sheets that will make the site an easier fit for classroom teachers.
Promoting Science to Girls
They gauge their audience by the emails that come through the site. Most response comes from girls from around the world who are interested in the research or in pursuing science careers. Many adults interested in wildlife conservation or technology adventures also use the site. They both recognize that they need to add more "scaffolding" to the site to provide teachers with more ways to use the information effectively in the classroom.
"We use DreamWeaver to create the pages and transmit them via satellite phone from the jungle or the river," says Luke. "We use solar panels and batteries for power. AlphaSmart keyboards allow us to type up our stories without using as much power as a full-blown laptop."
Their advice for classroom teachers using technology
In her work, Luke sees that teachers need to take technology learning one step at a time. "You can't wait to know everything," she advises. "No one knows everything. I start from the curriculum and then add technology. I work with teachers in the classroom or they learn while I teach the students." A student-centered teaching style lends itself more readily to technology integration in her experience.
Reid has two suggestions for teachers. She says: "Set one goal for yourself: this year I'm going to learn about databases or how to create an iMovie. Pick one thing and get good at it." She also recommends ISTE as a good starting place for teachers to learn more about the research related to technology use in education.
The Worldwide Classroom