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Getting Out and Into the World to Learn

by Allison Hogan
 | Jan 28, 2015

Four years ago I came across Drive by Daniel Pink. This professional reading continues to empower my teaching practice. Drive focuses on how to avoid meaningless work by engaging in work for a purpose. Pink’s writing focuses on three specific characteristics of work: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. He describes autonomy as the urge to direct our own course, mastery as the drive to improve, and purpose as the reasoning behind what we do.

Still today I take to heart what Pink wrote. Not only do I apply it to my personal life, I also implement it in my classroom. I have found it is difficult to have students work towards a larger purpose by asking them to hang their work outside the classroom. Instead, I look for ways to learn outside of the classroom while asking the students to work with a purpose. We then harness Twitter, Skype, and other technological vehicles to connect the student’s work with other classes, organizations, and businesses to ensure students are working for a purpose.

This year my students participated in the National Association of Independent Schools Challenge 20/20 program. This program is an Internet-based program teaming three classes to find solutions top global problems. To start, we connected with our partner schools in Rochester, NY, and Vitoria, Spain, to work on global biodiversity. Each class pursued a project covering one problem in their area. Our projects had the same enduring understandings of empathy, compassion, and collaboration. While working globally, we also connected locally with programs including The Dallas Zoo’s program about conservation and The Dallas World Aquarium’s shark program. These programs heightened my student’s passion for the subjects and allowed us to tie in other studies such as art, Spanish fluency, and literacy. We researched the geographic locations of shark habitats using Google Earth and learned about a global demand for shark fins driven partially by a cultural desire for shark fin soup.

The students then researched how we, as young learners, could solve this problem. This lead us to an organization called Sharks 4 Kids. One of the major components of Sharks 4 Kids is to educate and help kids learn to advocate for sharks. My students took this to heart and decided to collaborate on a book, All About Sharks, which we will share with the other classes in the Challenge. We are in the process of recording our book in both English and Spanish to post on YouTube to share globally.

The students ate up the shark research so much I tied in reading and writing nonfiction. I scheduled a field trip to The Dallas World Aquarium and each student picked an animal to research. They wrote four chapters with different chapter titles such as “Where Boas Live,” “What Boas Eat,” “Boa Babies,” and “Fun Facts.” I told students they would take photos of their researched animal during our trip. The reason was two-fold: first, students will have a purpose on the trip, second, for copyright issues. My librarian and I collaborated on our digital citizenship goals. Our goal included students citing sources and at this point in the school year this can be a bit daunting. While brainstorming solutions, one was for students to take pictures of the animals themselves.  We will also have students illustrate pictures in addition to using the Book Creator app.

My favorite moment so far this school year unfolded when we arrived at the aquarium. The sight mesmerized the students. As we forged ahead to the first exhibit, I heard squeaks and squeals of “Hey Marshall, look at your animal the three-toed sloth.” The students not only knew the facts about their animal, they knew their peers’ animals. They took their learning and owned it!

To keep the excitement going after these trips, I have planned Skype sessions with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) to hear the story of a rescued penguin named Beakie, Digital Explorers to hear about coral reefs, and Yoga Foster to participate in an ocean yoga lesson.

I know this can sound like a lot. I want to urge educators to start small. Take one question from a child or one topic and go with it. Make a list of local and virtual ideas. My favorite virtual ideas are Skype in the Classroom and Twitter. Talk with colleagues and ask for help. Our Spanish teacher helped me with the aquarium field trip by tracking animals using Google Maps and the students learned animal names in Spanish. They are also writing a sentence in Spanish about their animal for their book. The art teacher at my school tied in photography. She taught students how to take photos and the importance of light when taking photos on the trip.  

Once you start you will be simply amazed at how the learning extends outside of your classroom. Hold on tight and get ready to be amazed.

Allison Hogan is a primer teacher at The Episcopal School of Dallas in Texas where she teaches kindergarten and first grade. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from the University of North Florida and a graduate degree in education from Southern Methodist University where she specialized in reading and English as a Second Language. She has been recognized as a Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development Emerging Leader and a National Association of Independent Schools Teacher of the Future. She can be found on Twitter at @AllisonHoganESD or @PrimerESD.

 
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