Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Getting Out Of The Classroom

I had the pleasure today to participate in a walking tour of Morristown, New Jersey.  The tour was for students in our Latin American Studies course.  Over the course of one hour, we were able to stop at several different locations within the town, interview residents and visit local businesses.  At various points during the tour the group stopped to share insights and to discuss town geography. 

The Latin American Studies course dedicates time to investigating the Latino history in Morristown.  It aspires to build a historical picture of the Latino community in Morristown and engage students in examining present day circumstances.  As part of the investigation for both the past and present, students take a critical look at how people from very different backgrounds interact in the town. 

As students walked through the town they had to reflect on the architectural design of specific buildings, the use of commercial and residential space and designation of public spaces, particularly parks, in the town.  Students had with them an iPad or phone and were encouraged  to take pictures.  They could further reflect on the tour through their pictures at home.  Also, students were encouraged to interview residents and in a few instances, planned stops were arranged with owners of local businesses.

Being able to walk through the town provided a different lens for students.  I'm sure our two Latin American Studies teachers could reference a familiar structure during a class discussion.  However, it is a far different experience when stakeholders are walking around a structure, freely taking pictures and speaking to local residents.  You could witness during the walking tour our students were considering different perspectives.  A previously held opinion might not have changed but all those who participated were compelled to reflect, analyze information, assess new possibilities and formulate an informed response. 

Being able to experience a topic in the physical world raised the level of discourse between classroom stakeholders.  The ideas exchanged during the walking tour and what hopefully will continue to transpire in the next days and weeks was only possible through getting out of the classroom.  I truly hope that in a world where student growth objectives influence evaluation systems and standardized tests determine a school's report card grade "field trips" will not slowly become something we used to do.