AR Focus Statement
Budget cuts and time constraints resulting from standardized testing are both factors in the rapidly diminishing number of field trips that students take each year. The purpose of my action research is to solve this problem by creating meaningful virtual field trips that give students many of the same benefits as the missing trips.
The target audience is a general education class of twenty-two elementary students from a 4th/5th grade combination class. The students form an evenly mixed heterogeneous group in almost every way except for socio-economic status which is predominately very low. Most of the planned activity will take place in the school’s computer lab. The computers are set into small individual cubicles that are not ideal for small group collaboration but it does work.
Summary of Cycle 1
September 5th through September 11th, 2010
The first week of Cycle 1 found me running around in several directions. The students are not involved in the content creation or delivery portion of this virtual field trip (VFT). It was challenging to focus on one area of the first cycle, because everything was new and any number paths could be followed. However, with a little focus, I was able to achieve the following:
1. Selected St. Augustine, FL as the first VFT destination.
2. Found numerous web-based resources to include in this VFT, and began the task of bookmarking them in different folders.
3. Began talking with fellow teachers at my school about trading computer lab blocks. More than thirty classes share a single computer lab and this activity will take much longer than the forty minutes per week that each class is allotted. I am hoping to get three or four blocks set aside so we can take our time on the VFT without feeling rushed.
4. Started the Google Sites versus iWeb sites debate that raged internally for days. I am very familiar with Google Sites and comfortable with its limitations. The iWeb tool has many of the same limitation, but it has a sleeker look. I finally decided on iWeb because of sales reasons. I am really trying to sell this as a fun and exciting activity to my class.
5. Created the basic summative pre- and post-test questions for the St. Augustine VFT and started to create the rubric used to grade the students.
6. Sent home release forms (called field trip permission slips) for the parents and guardians to sign so that students could be filmed, recorded, and quoted.
7. Enlisted critical friends to help search for web-based content to use during the activity.
September 12th through September 18th, 2010
The second week of Cycle 1 found a lot more focus and started involving the students a bit more. Many of this week’s accomplishments were continuations of the previous week. As the media assets started to fill out and the website looked more inviting, I became more excited and had to restrain myself from talking about all of the neat components that I had located for the VFT. Since I didn’t give the summative pre-test until later in the week, I had to keep quiet so I didn’t skew the scores and affect their validity. During this week, I accomplished the following:
1. Built the web skeleton for our virtual field trip in iWeb and shared the foundation with my critical friends. Later in the week, I made adjustments based on their feedback and content that they contributed.
2. Made final changes to the pre- and post-test assessments and grading rubrics. Gave the pre-test on September 16.
3. Secured enough computer lab blocks to go ahead and announce the field trip date: September 21.
4. Collected the last of release forms.
5. For pre-trip activities our class read, The Ghost of St. Augustine, which an historical fiction.
6. On Friday, September 18, I used the SMART Board in our classroom to model navigation of our school’s website so that student’s would be able to get to our class website, and subsequently, the VFT link.
September 19th through September 25th, 2010
Understandably, the third week of Cycle 1 had the most energy. This was the week we went on our field trip, overcame scheduling challenges, and had our small group debriefing sessions. Here is a list of these activities and more:
1. Monday the 20th was a day full of preparations. Students were reminded to bring a bag lunch since we planned to eat outside. The classroom SMART Board was used again to model school website navigation. Students were assigned tour groups, or teams, that would meet between stops to discuss what had been discovered and work together after the fact gathering activities.
2. Tuesday the 21st was VFT day and it went almost as planned. The main surprise involved losing some computer lab time. The class functioned wonderfully, driven in large part by their excitement. It was very satisfying to see students who seldom get excited about anything at school, suddenly wake up and get involved and even show enthusiasm. http://web.me.com/tonto27/St._Augustine/Bus_Stop.html
3. Students used the Field Trip Journal to record facts from four different “bus stops” and to illustrate a point of interest for each one.
4. Found a way to let absent students make-up the missed field trip, by using the class computers during non-instructional times.
5. Collected feedback from critical friends and VFT participants thanks to the SurveyMonkey.com assessment embedded in the VFT website.
6. Graded the Field Trip Journals and returned them to the students so they could be used in class.
7. Tour Groups met the day after the VFT to discuss the overall trip and share their illustrations and “Cool Facts to Share.”
8. Individual students made a poster with their favorite “Cool Fact to Share” and illustration that they found from the day of the trip.
9. Administered the post-test and entered the data that was collected.
September 26th through October 2nd, 2010
This was a very busy wrap-up week. When I expected to be winding the cycle down, the students insisted on ramping it up! Among the achievements for the week:
1. Collected and synthesized summative data from the pre- and post-tests.
2. Collected and synthesized formative data from the embedded survey and email/phone/text conversations with my critical friends.
3. Started the extension activities: built a model of Castillo de San Marcos, sketched Fort Matanzas, and wrote pretend original source documents from soldiers in Fort Mose.
4. Met with Tour Groups individually to gather informal data about the experience and what was learned during it. I noted that some students were able to verbalize the experience better than they had written it on the post-test.
5. Shared the quantitative and qualitative data with critical friends.
6. Shared a kid friendly version of quantitative and qualitative data with students so they could see growth and understand the behind the scenes work that goes into creating educational content.
The first cycle was creation from the ground up. Since it was an original creation, there was plenty of formative data collected. Most of it was qualitative and came in the form of personal observations made by myself, members of my critical friends team, or by one of the many volunteer critical friends I adopted on the faculty where I teach. It is hard to describe the amount of forming and reforming that took place during the creation of this virtual field trip, and most of it came from off-hand comments while passing in the halls or over the shoulder suggestions in the teachers lounge.
However, I collected some quantitative data using the SurveyMonkey.com website, that can be found aggregated below. I asked several questions about the format and delivery of the VFT. The feedback was helpful, but bland. I do not think that 4th and 5th graders understand how anonymous surveys work. The data collected shows that the VFT worked very well and made everyone happy and content, but I fear that it may be the student’s kindness that I see in the data. That, I believe, is the issue with surveys. Some people are unable to be as brutally honest as they are expected to be. Critical friends however, are a different story; one that will be told later in this report.
I also received feedback from my critical friends that helped form the project:
Dr. Gillett- caught most of my spelling and formatting errors, emailed links for content, helped me catch a disastrous copyright error using Screenflow video of Google Maps
Mr. Lehtola- texted several suggestions, the most helpful being the suggestion to put the Field Trip Journal as a printable document on the website for anyone to print and use
Dr. Butchard- suggested that there should be a way to close the trip out, a kind of farewell to participants that completed the journey
Mrs. Gillett- spent hours watching and re-watching video content for the VFT, helped smooth my ruffled feathers after the Google vs. Screenflow fiasco, and played the part of tireless sounding board like a professional
Since both of my learning objectives require an 80% or better in the cognitive and psychomotor domains, I created two assessments to test these objectives.
Firstly, I created and used a rubric graded pre- and post-test that assessed prior knowledge and charted student growth after the VFT. The class average on tested content increased from 15% to 83%. This is a staggering increase in knowledge.
Secondly, I created and used a rubric graded Field Trip Journal as a fact gathering tool to allow students a chance to sharpen their focus during the virtual field trip. The class earned an average 91% on this assessment.
I would like to think that a virtual field trip to St. Augustine is what caused the students in my class to have such a sharp increase in trip specific knowledge. The students knew virtually nothing about Fort Matanzas and even less about Fort Mose.
I have also come to the realization that a project like this is never done. Even now, weeks later, I find myself wandering over to the website and looking for ways to improve it or add more meaningful content.
The biggest surprise was that 50% of my media had to be scrapped and rebuilt when it was discovered that Google does not allow Screenflow capture of their Maps application. This was a devastating blow and caused the same feeling of dread and frustration that comes from losing giant documents the night they are due.
Another surprise occurred on field trip day. I had several hours of computer lab time sectioned off, but the assistant principal at my school took more than an hour of my time away. The reason is unimportant now, but the ability to be flexible was my greatest asset on that day. I moved my students to the classroom and used the SMART Board and the four classroom computers to complete the last leg of the trip.
The unexpected portion of this VFT came after the actual field trip. The students were so excited by the activity, and probably my own excitement, that the extension activities became a highlight. The short-lived VFT grew into a passion for many of the students.
Based on the success that I have seen from this first cycle, I do not plan on making any overhauls of the project. Instead, I plan on duplicating the first cycle and making the minor adjustments that my students, critical friends, or I thought to make. For instance I added the ‘Final Stop’ link to the VFT so students could hear their farewell message and take their participant survey at the same place, as suggested by Dr. Butchard.
Evaluate and Reflect
After completing the cycle and successfully dodging the computer lab scheduling fiasco I feel very good about the final product. The pattern is an easy one to duplicate and the students enjoyed it so luch that think making several more VFTs is a distinct possibility.