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Field Trip Goes High Tech on National Mall


Washington is a favorite field-trip destination for schools, but few excursions provide the kind of tech-enhanced view of the monuments and museums that a group of NECC attendees got last night.

A few dozen teachers and ed-tech coordinators, armed with iPhones and other hand-held devices, trekked around the National Mall for a demonstration of how Web 2.0 tools can be used outside of the classroom to engage students in content.

The group was treated to a traditional guided tour from a retired Maryland teacher who regaled the four dozen educators with a history lesson, presidential trivia, and political legend from the past and present of the nation's capital city. All the while the participants could tap into a repository of documents and other materials accessible over the Internet using their portable electronics and answer trivia questions posted to the site.

At the Washington Monument, for example, the teachers were directed to several Web addresses with historical information, descriptions of its architecture, and a timeline of its planning and construction. The tour, sponsored by Nettrekker for members of its online educator community, NetTrekker Village, included a lot of presidential history as the group walked from the Washington Monument, looked out over the Jefferson Memorial and the White House, and watched the sunset over the Lincoln Memorial.

For Rachel Yurk, a teacher in New Berlin, Wis., using hand-held devices on field trips like this is an effective way to ensure that students come away from museums and landmark sites with some substantive lessons.

"These tools are an awesome way to get your students engaged and focused on the educational content you're trying to highlight on a field trip," said Yurk, who has given her students GPS devices on museum visits so they can participate in virtual scavenger hunts, finding historical facts and learning the context of exhibits on the Web.

But while the sites on a clear summer evening here certainly met or exceeded expectations, the technology did not. As many teachers have learned, tech tools are not always reliable. Many of the participants could not access a wireless Internet signal, so they couldn't view the background materials or search online for the trivia answers.

"This is a perfect example of why you always have to have a backup plan," when using technology, one of the organizers told the group.

The tech-savvy teachers on the tour know this, of course, and they were ready to adapt. Those who could get Internet access paired up with those who could not. Once they got the gist of the demonstration, and an idea or two about how they could use such tools with their own students, many simply turned on the camera features on their phones and took pictures of the sites for later viewing.


I love how everyone is busy looking at their PDAs while standing RIGHT IN FRONT of the monument.

Having received my American citizenship last year, I look forward to my first visit to Washington. However, I remain unconvinced that technology, in its current modality, would particularly enrich the experience. Although I am not a Luddite, I feel that it may even diminish it somewhat.

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