Each May, our fifth grade students go Walkabout. No, we don’t send them into the Australian Outback, but we send them into the city to find writing inspiration.
Planning a real-life field trip is a project that requires students to research online, explore the geography of the city using Google maps, collaborate in small groups, plan for and use public transportation, create reasonable timetables, organize itineraries on a spreadsheet, budget, and communicate with parents.
While on the field trip, student groups make stops at places where they write for 20 minutes and take pictures. Most writing is descriptive, but we ask that students draft at least one haiku.
When they return to school, students revise, edit, and publish their haikus. Pictures and descriptive writing are turned into narratives, photoessays, and more.
Brainstorming Places to See
The class begins by exploring some of Hong Kong’s great tourist attractions and looking through virtual tours. Individual students list places that trigger fond memories as well as places they’ve always wanted to visit. Individuals then identify at least three places they believe will inspire good writing.
Individuals with similar lists are paired up or grouped together to plan a joint trip. Pairs and groups are then matched with parent chaperones.
Learning the Geography of the City
Many of my students have lived in Hong Kong for years but do not know the geographic locations within the city. Which attractions are on which island (after all, there are 260+ islands in the Special Administrative Region)?
In order to visit as many places as possible, students need to identify the most efficient order of destinations. More than a few groups begin with itineraries that cross Victoria Harbour numerous times or double-back across Hong Kong Island. When asked to point out their destinations on a map, the “Ohhhhh“s and “A-ha“s are audible.
Plan the Route
Once students have identified locations on a map, they must plan how to get from place to place. They ride the school bus to the Central part of Hong Kong Island. Then, they are released to follow their itineraries throughout the city.
We ask students to use public transportation rather than private vehicles (no drivers, no taxis, no private cars). They compare the length of time it would take them to get to a destination using the MTR (subway), using buses, and walking.
Google maps allow students to make those comparisons.
Create a Detailed, Feasible Itinerary
The goal is that students get to all their destinations, write for at least 20 minutes in each location, and return to the school bus by 1:15 in the afternoon. Groups used the Google spreadsheet to collaborate.
When students began entering times, some timeframes were very general. When conferencing with groups, I’d hear them say We’ll be here be [this time] and there by [that time].
“What time wil you leave x-place to ensure you are in y-place at your designated time?” I’d ask. Many planned to arrived at a location, stay for 20 minutes, then leave. They didn’t allow room for exploration or photography.
Other students looked at the Google routes and gave themselves the exact time indicated on the “Directions” locator. They would catch the bus at 10:42 and arrive at their destination at 10:54. When I asked how they could be so certain about the times, groups said Google maps say that the bus ride is 12 minutes long. I had to explain that a 12 minute bus ride began once the students were on the bus and the bus was moving. The time does not account for walk time to the bus stop, wait time at the stop, and possible traffic delays. Students had to prove their timetables were feasible.
Itineraries include lunch at a location chosen by students and a budgeted amount of money.
Below is an example of an itinerary.
While on the field trip, students were expected to write for 20 minutes in at least three locations. Since we’re in the midst of a poetry unit, students were asked to draft at least one poem and one Haiku.
Students were also encouraged to take pictures and write detailed descriptions of locations, including sounds, smells, and sights in each location.
Using ideas put forth by Richard Byrne at Free Technology for Teachers, students posted pictures and Haikus around a Google map of Hong Kong.
Click on the image below to view the final project:
A detailed explanation of teaching Haiku and putting together the final projects can be found on Expat Educator.
Cities vary in terms of safety and ease of public transportation. Also, schools have different liability concerns. That said, students could use maps to plan itineraries within smaller areas such as zoos, National Parks, and historical areas such as Gettysburg.
Students might be able to walk around small cities with parents, stopping to write about parks, rivers, or fire stations. Alternately, a Walkabout trip might be an extension activity for parents and students to do together on the weekend.
What are your ideas for project using Google maps?