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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Widening Their View

For me, July means the Tour de France, the greatest and arguably the toughest sporting event in the world . In my lifespan, I have followed this three-week bike race for a longer period of time than I have not followed it. It is a beautiful race to be sure, sometimes cruel in it's relentlessness, but always intriguing. The personalities and races within the race for sprinting, climbing, and team classifications provide a glorious three weeks of drama each year. It never fails to give me goosebumps or cause me to yell out loud at the drama that unfolds in front of me.

When I first started following the Tour, there was no local TV news and very little newspaper coverage of the daily races, as our national sport of baseball took up most of the daily ink. The limited TV coverage was provided with quick recap coverage and highlight shows and only shown on the weekend.  Thank goodness for ABC's Wide World of Sports, which gave U.S. spectators glimpses of sports out side of the big four, football, baseball, basketball, and for some, hockey.  Pre-ESPN and pre-internet, a devoted fan would have to seek out alternative outlets for information as to what was happening in a country that seemed very far away. I remember going to the larger downtown library to hunt down French newspapers to review results from midweek stage results. The results were a couple of days old, but they would get me through the week.

Nowadays, I can watch live TV coverage for about 3-4 hours a day with live internet commentating in full swing an hour or so before that. Multiple sources can provide the devoted fan Tour content via blogs, smartphones, twitter, and video delivered to your choice of hardware. However, my experience is virtual, I'm not really in France running alongside the riders as they try and make their way up steep 10% grades for kilometers on end. (Yes, I would almost certainly be that guy) It doesn't diminish my experience though, I am still participating, still interacting with my world at large. The technologies allow me to widen my world view, and enrich my life by taking part in something that I might not ever get to do in person. I learn about French history, food, architecture, customs, art and more, and my world view gets just a little bit wider.

I taught at a neighborhood school last year, meaning that there were no bus' that delivered the students to the door, as they either walked or were dropped off by their parents. Sadly, many of the student's world view were limited to the streets surrounding their home. In a class full of kids that were in pain (psychological - another post, another time), one of the saddest comments I had relayed to me was "Mr Johnson, I've never been to a zoo." I extended the conversation with the student to learn that he never had been to a museum, a parade, concerts, pro (local-team) baseball game, or similar. Unfortunately, this fourth grader's experience was not unique in this class. Revealed in subsequent class discussions was the fact that a number of these kids were not exposed to diverse experiences that can help them lead richer lives.

Similar to the vocabulary gap that forms in early child development between children who are read to and those who are not, I was concerned that these kids were at risk of a cultural gap. My small solution was to dedicate learning time each week, both independent and complimentary to regular curriculum, to something that they had never seen, nor likely to experience firsthand. We would take virtual tours of great museums, art galleries, view thought provoking or intriguing pictures from cultural celebrations from around the world. Our class would then either talk about or compose responses to what we had just seen. Once in a while we would create our own images, create building floor plans, or imagine a celebration for something that was meaningful to them. We used technology to bring the world closer and open it up.

I was very pleased, and consistently amazed at the students observations and comments. They would offer insights and opinions that were generally respectful to strange (to them) scenes and customs. (e.g. India's festival of Colors or Holi MSNBC Week in Pictures or CBS News ). The learning activity spurred more learning and was soon an anticipated part of class. As usual, I learned more from them than I what I was able to impart. I felt that by the end of the year, we were able to close the gap a little more.

Here are some of the places we visited and things we saw:
MSNBC's week in pictures - One of my favorites, with terrific consistency. Great pictures every week from around the world. Sorted by topic, Explore, Science, Hot Topics, Special, News, Entertainment and not to be missed Animal Tracks.

Virtual Tours - U.S. Government A seemingly endless index listing of photographic and video virtual tours of United States Government sites, including National Parks, Museums, The White House, etc. Wonderful. Also check out PBS' Virtual White House Tour, which can help students understand some of the history of the building.

North American Bear Center: We adopted Lily a two-year old Black Bear and watched her hibernation and birth of her first cub. Somewhat by happenstance a den cam was placed into the den of this bear and it was later discovered that she was going to have a cub at some point during the long cold Minnesota winter. We checked in almost daily. We were captivated, as were a lot of others, when the first shrieks of "Hope" -the cub- were heard. Students brought in their own research on bears and subsequently other animals to share with their classmates.

The Hermitage is one of the world's great museums. Located in St Petersburg, Russia. The State Hermitage houses more than 3 million artifacts and this Hot Media site powered by IBM is a simply marvelous way to bring these items to your classroom. The 360 degree and zoomable views allow students to key in on what they would like to see. The Chidren and Education Section contains activities and extension learning resources. The boys in my class really liked the "Time of Knights" stories.

Eye Revolution allows virtual peeks of some very cool varieties of landmarks and objects, ranging from a bunch of London sites to Shanghai to Chicago's skyline. The company sells these 360 degree services, but their demonstration projects are worth sharing with your class.

If you have some sites to share, leave a link in the comment section. Thanks

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