From time to time instructional leaders in a school system will stumble upon a real problem and attempt to constructively address it. The most recent example of this in my instructional neck of the woods was a perceived problem related to geographical awareness, or the lack thereof . To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what metrics led to the this conclusion, but you wouldn’t have too much trouble at any grade level getting a teacher to verify their perception that most kids don’t know much about geography, especially once they get to high school where their previous school experience in global studies should better prepare the for the rigors of world studies or world geography.
Apparently, not so much.
So, in an effort to address this problem, my school division decided that geographical studies are important and that we really needed to develop a better curriculum in support of improving student outcomes. Typically this involves a group of teachers working tirelessly for a week or two in the summer to find resources and package them in a useful way for their colleagues who also will be asked to improve student performance in the realm of geographical knowledge. That’s exactly what was done in our case for our fifth grade teachers and students, and that’s the situation I found when I returned from my summer travels.
I was more that gratified to find one of my teachers inquiring about the possibility of using Google Earth as a cool application to support the new initiative. The teacher had some great ideas, but because most teachers haven’t designed Google Earth lessons for students, the implementation needed some informed support. Simply wanting students to use the tool is only the first step in preparing them to use it effectively for lessons or projects.
Google Earth isn’t a paper worksheet to color and it requires a good bit of technical expertise on the part of the teacher who wants students to use it and student preparation to make it work. It’s a “no brainer” as an appropriate tool, but any teacher who wants to leverage the tool really needs to analyze the task(s) and prepare their students for success. It’s a process not an end point.
After listening to my colleagues ideas, I knew she was on to something good, but also knew she was naive about what 5th graders know about using this particular technology. Its my job to get her and the students to the point where they can fully understand how to manipulate the virtual globe and add their own content to it………….. and save it for assessment! Assessment is the big thing , and saving work in KMZ files is a fairly complicated concept for 5th graders. Indeed, in working with about 70 kids who where tasked with putting a polygon on the South Eastern United States, only about 20 of them successfully completed the task the first time. Their problems ranged from awkwardness with the polygon tool to an unfamiliarity with the general process of saving work. They are perfectly capable kids, but they have little experience doing these things.
I hope we develop the perseverance to keep on working at it! These kinds of skills are increasingly important. These kids are more than likely going to encounter jobs or practical uses for such technologies and I know from own children’s experience that there is a payoff for knowing how to use these tools. It’s harder than a worksheet, but nobody in academia or the job market is making worksheets the focus of their mission.