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 2
October 3rd through October 9th, 2010
The first week of Cycle 2 was very different from the first week of Cycle 1. Since the first cycle has been run, there is a solid template to build on and make improvements to. The students were not directly involved in the content creation or delivery portion of this virtual field trip (VFT). During week one, I was able to achieve the following:
1. Selected Washington DC 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. Started to tackle the challenge of finding enough technology to carry out the VFT for a class of 22 students.
4. Took the skeleton from the first field trip and started to rebuild it for the new destination.
5. Created the basic summative pre- and post-test questions for the Washington DC VFT and started to create the rubric used to grade the students.
6. Enlisted critical friends to help search for web-based content to use during the activity.
October 10th through October 16th, 2010
The second week of Cycle 2 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, once again, 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. Completed the virtual field trip in iWeb and shared the site 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 October 14th.
3. Secured enough computer lab blocks to go ahead and announce the field trip date: October 19th.
4. Sent home a letter to the parents requesting supplies, snacks and volunteers to “chaperone” the trip.
5. For pre-trip activities our class read, The Congressman’s Daughter, which an historical fiction.
6. On Friday, October 15th, 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. Students demonstrated that they remembered how to find the link.
October 17th through October 23rd, 2010
Once again, the third week of Cycle 1 had the most energy. This was the week we went on our field trip and had our small group debriefing sessions. Here is a list of these activities and more:
1. Monday the 18th was a day full of preparations. Students were reminded to bring a bag lunch since we planned to eat outside. Students were assigned to new Tour Groups, or teams, that met between stops to discuss what had been discovered and work together after the fact gathering activities.
2. Students learned about our new VFT procedure. We started our trip in the computer lab, as a whole group. After completing the first two ‘stops’ we adjourned for lunch and recess. Finally, we spent the next two days taking turns on the classroom computers visiting the final two ‘stops.’
3. Tuesday the 19th was VFT day: http://web.me.com/tonto27/WashingtonDC/Bus_Stop.html
4. Students used the Field Trip Journal to record facts from four different “bus stops” and to illustrate a point of interest for each one.
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.
October 24th through October 30th, 2010
This was a very busy wrap-up week. 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 the Lincoln Memorial, sketched the White House, and wrote pretend original source documents from children in Washington DC during the War of 1812.
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.
With the first cycle complete, the formation of the educational media component was complete and it had already undergone monumental changes. This time was different. It is a system adjustment description I have used many times in the past when referring to systems that need minor changes to be complete; I say that it is the difference between overhauling and tweaking. Overhauling requires vast amounts of changes while tweaking only needs, in this case, minor adjustments to streamline the activity. The media assets that make up the final virtual field trip are primarily functional and ready for unveiling. However, there are a few areas that need adjusting. The formative data that I have collected from the Survey Monkey website and from talking with my critical friends indicates that some minor changes need to me made, but overall, the foundation and main structures are fine.
I did collect 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 more honest this time and I am proud that my students are becoming more honest when dealing with these types of surveys. It would help everyone if they would be honest about their feelings and opinions.
I also received feedback from my critical friends that helped form the project:
Dr. Gillett- helped by doing a line-by-line check for errors and bad links, and she had the idea to invite parents to come in and ‘chaperone.’
Mr. Lehtola- emailed the news that iWeb was unavailable several times in the last few weeks… he would check the site, find it down, and then frantically email me, no problems now, but it was nice to have someone looking out for me!
Dr. Butchard- looked over the written portion of the AR Project and helped locate and fix several issues
Mrs. Gillett- spent hours watching and re-watching video content for the VFT, and played the part of tireless sounding board like a professional psychologist
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 27% to 88%. This is a yet another 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 83% on this assessment.
I would like to think that a virtual field trip to Washington DC is what caused the students in my class to have such a sharp increase in trip specific knowledge. The students knew virtually nothing about the White House and even less about the Smithsonian. The guided virtual field trips gave them a chance to explore these monuments and museums at their own pace and really get a good flavor for what life was like.
I have also come to the realization that a project like this is never complete. Even now, weeks later, I find myself wandering over to the website and looking for ways to improve it or add more meaningful content. Just today I had a student point out an area that was neglected that could hold all kinds of surprises. The chance meeting occurred in the school’s cafeteria. A student whose teacher had “taken her on the trip” stopped me to tell me that she had been to the Washington Zoo in DC and thought that it should have been part of the VFT. Adding zoos and animals to VFTs is a way to excite animal-loving students and add content for students that Dr. Howard Gardner would label naturalists.
I often think about the draw of computers and technology have over students. I think the same is true of the teacher’s energy level. If the teacher is excited and engaged, the students will follow suit.
The unexpected portion of this VFT came from the augmented delivery schedule. When the whole class was in the computer lab se were sharing an experience together. However, this time half of the activity was completed in the classroom. There was a very slight decrease in student achievement this cycle. I can’t help but blame our delivery method. Instead of working a unit in the same location at the same time, we are stuck changing learning venues several times; from the computer lab, to the classroom computers, to the SMART Board. It could be that after 5 more cycles, students will be accustomed to moving around and this would be a non-issue.
Now that the pattern has been established, I can see making several more virtual field trips like this one. I have already created most of a trip to NY, NY:
As I continue to create these VFT, I can begin to hone my skills as trip creator. Since I have become adept at running my students through this activity in small group centers, I can make it more and more a part of my school week.
Another future extension of this activity will be to have students create their own VFT using the Google Sites application. I like using project based cooperative learning in the class, and I think students would benefit vastly from the chance to duplicate and improve on what has been done in this AR Project.
Additionally, there are about seven classes waiting for me to release the links to them for their students. The number of participants is about to drastically increase.
Evaluate and Reflect
With the cycles behind me I can see a pattern of success emerging. During both cycles the participants made substantial gains in their knowledge and understanding of the field trip destination. Additionally, the motivation level we attained is helping to fuel many ancillary projects that the students have undertaken. We covered every content area as we experienced the virtual field trips and each of those content areas is more exciting for the students. Student motivation was not a specific goal of this action research project but it certainly is a valuable side effect.