Really great field trips can change a kid’s life. The question that we are always asked is: “Where are we going to use this?” For me, I like the field trips where you can confidently say back, “Right here.”
That occurred for us last week when we took a trip the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Home of the Badgers. The UW is ranked as one of the best schools for research in the world in many different fields including engineering, biotechnology, and nanotechnology and every two years they open it up to the public to see it all. The UW Engineering Expo goes on for 3 days and highlights hundreds of topics for students of all ages.
For us, this is a big trip. Madison is three hours away by bus so the trip lasted nearly twelve hours, from the time we got them on the bus at 7:00AM to the time they were picked up at 6:30 that evening. To make the trip more interesting (as if detecting radioactive Beanie Babies with a Geiger counter and riding on top of an electric snowmobile were not interesting enough), I wanted to make this a reporting activity.
Most field trips end with the teacher asking the students to write about something they saw on the trip. I decided to take it a step further and have the kids report while we were on the trip. I did this by setting up a blog on Blogger.com dedicated to the trip. Then I set it up for mobile posting, meaning any kid with a cell phone could text updates to the blog from anywhere. I passed out digital cameras for each group and gave them instructions to record everything they could.
I had wanted to have a wireless hotspot for the bus, but sadly none of our local carriers stepped up to the plate and lent us one for the day. Instead we had one student who borrowed his mother’s smartphone (which I coveted), a few iPod Touches (including mine, which was loaded with the fantastic BlogPress software), and my netbook which managed to save all the kid’s posts as drafts until we could find a wireless hotspot.
At first, things went fine. We were posting live from the bus and we even had people from the school and the community following our trip. Posts like, “We just passed Wisconsin Dells!” and “Mr. Briggs hates sing-alongs” were big hits back home.
But at some point we must have upset the robot hive-mind of Google’s servers and suddenly all mobile and email posting was stopped without warning or comment. I have yet to find out exactly why, which is bad form from Google. If you suspect something is up, you could at least send me an email; really, Google. I still managed to get lots of posts made to my classroom blog from the trip. And the next day all of the students who had missed the chance to post on the bus managed to show everyone on the internet what they had seen from school.
Was this a win or loss for my original plan? Well, I would say that if my goal was to find a new way to share what we had seen with the community and the school, then yes, I met it. Just not as quickly and instantly as I would have liked. Next time, I’m sticking with WordPress and ponying up the $10 for their mobile posting option.