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Home Education Magazine

November-December 1997 - Articles

The Value of Virtual Expeditions

Judy Aron

Every homeschooler knows what a wonderful learning opportunity travel is for kids. They learn mathematics (conversion rates in currency, distances traveled), history, social studies, geography, art, writing skills... you name it, because travel is a real life experience.

For homeschoolers who have access to the Internet, virtual expeditions are also an incredible resource. There are many web sites which can "take you away" to a particular place, but a virtual expedition is different: it's more interactive and is added to on a daily basis. These daily unfolding experiences are almost like a real trip.

My children are ages 5, 10 and 13, and through the Internet they have been traveling around the world. This past Spring, thanks to the efforts of GlobaLearn, they were able to join a Trans-Asia Expedition which retraced the steps of Marco Polo and the Silk Route. GlobaLearn is a non-profit company which has built an award winning on-line educational program featuring live expeditions all over the world. Using laptop computers, digital cameras and recorders, their team of explorers recorded their discoveries daily and sent them via a satellite uplink to the server computer in Connecticut.

The photography displayed on this web site captured the spirit and excitement of seeing new places and people. The explorers documented the trip so well that it was the next best thing to spending thousands of dollars and sending my kids on a trip from Venice to Hong Kong!

We initially found out about this project when the kids were investigating explorers, and Marco Polo in particular. When we heard about this web site, we decided to check it out. My kids were so excited to be a part of a virtual expedition, and quite naturally much of this virtual field trip satisfied many aspects of their not-so-formal studies. This particular web site covered every aspect of the explorers' experiences including reports on the area's culture and traditions, history, commerce, and environment as well as individual logs and diaries of the travelers, and their impressions and feelings. These observations were part of the reality of travel, the reason that seeing new places and being there is such a valuable learning experience.

GlobaLearn also supplied some interesting project sheets which my children used to discuss topics about our own community, with some map related activities and writing projects to document our own daily activities. With all of this available online, parents can easily incorporate this into any homeschooling style whether it be structured or unstructured. By the end of the "trip" we had compiled a full binder of my children's expedition with GlobaLearn and presented it as part of our annual portfolio review and a wonderful testament to their learning.

This type of virtual expedition is ideal for homeschool use, as it really allows children to experience many facets of travel and exploration on their own terms and in their own time. My children began to ask questions about the things that are real and meaningful to them in their own lives and to investigate various aspects of everyday life in the world.

There was the constant comparison of how we live and how others live. What is it like in Venice? Do they really travel in gondolas? What is the food like in Romania? Do the kids there ever go to McDonalds? What do people do there for a living? Do they ever go on vacation? Do they own cars? They were also very interested in the religious and cultural practices of the many people they "visited". They would say things like, "Gee, that holiday is very much like the way we celebrate our New Year." We got into some good discussions about how governments and laws can affect the way people live, and how important economies are. They found out that people in other countries recycle too, and that they experience some of the same problems that we do here, like how to make enough money to raise a family. Overall, I think that they got a sense of how their lives are the same - yet different.

This "Online Expedition" allowed my children to see first hand what various places of the world looked like, sounded like, and, if you cooked some of the recipes that were sent back, what they smelled like, too! It helped them become more globally aware. It made some of the international news that they hear about on TV or read about in the paper more real to them. It allowed them to see that things like earthquakes and floods and government conflicts are not just news, but that they affect families and communities. They began to see that the concept of family and community is an important one all over the world.

With the historical postings the kids were able to time travel as well. They placed themselves in Marco Polo's time throughout Europe and Asia, and also saw what the areas have evolved into since his time. They were able to see modern people living with age old traditions. They made the connection that we too live with some old traditions in our fast paced, high technological environment. (Think about that the next time you spill some salt and then throw it over your shoulder at the dinner table!) It was fun for them to consider our own traditions and customs, how they are important to us, and how they shape us into who we are.

GlobaLearn's team was hosted by a local child in each stopping place along the way. The children that mine met along this expedition, through the posted information on the web site, offered a personal introduction to their life and local community and customs. My children really gained a lot of knowledge and insight into how people, mostly children like themselves, are basically the same all over the world. They share the same interests, and concerns about the world. We "visited" with children from Venice to Hong Kong and found it so interesting to see how they live and spend their days.

Since we were asked to pair up with other participants from around the world to discuss the program, my children also acquired online "net-pals" from places such as England, Turkey and South Africa. Strangers became friends.

My kids are looking forward to the next expedition to begin: a six week, 4,000 mile journey through the major cities and small towns of coastal Brazil. Future planned expeditions include South America for Spring, 1998. There are many virtual field trips on the web, but this one was outstanding, and my kids didn't even get car sick! Better yet, I didn't once hear "Are we there yet?

1997 Judy Aron

....(articles list) | columns list)

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