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Column: Digital field trips excite district students, staff

District 518

WORTHINGTON -- Imagine a classroom field trip in which the teacher does not have to find volunteers to assist with students and busses that will not be needed. This is possible for the Worthington middle school and high school through something called a digital field trip.

Recently, a fifth-grade class at the Worthington middle school interacted digitally with the Minnesota Zoo to discuss habitats. The students were able to sit in their own chairs while viewing how the zoo staff cleaned and cared for the moose along with an interactive lesson on habitat. How was this all possible?

The Worthington middle school and high school recently purchased ITV (interactive television) equipment through a grant from the Blandin Foundation. The equipment includes a television, camera, laptop computer and microphone. The equipment is situated on a cart that can be moved from room to room.

When this equipment is connected to a wall jack, the classroom and teacher have access to many new opportunities across the United States and world. To make this possible, the Worthington schools also purchased a membership through a company, Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC), that contracts with 230 content providers offering more than 1,800 programs. The average cost of the programs range anywhere from $75 to $200.

The same fifth-grade class attended another program offered through CILC from a museum in New York. A curator shared with students the art of cutting ice from the lake and a brief history lesson on how it was used in the 1800s. The focus of the lesson, though, was on calculating volume. Students were able to interact with the curator by sharing answers they calculated from the dimensions of ice blocks that were given to them. How exciting for them to see the volumes of ice they just calculated being lifted out of the water! The cost for both field trips was around $300, but imagine what it would have cost the school to send those children to the Minnesota Zoo and the museum in New York.

The use of ITV technology is not new by any means. It has been around since the 1980s, but it has advanced tremendously. In the '80s, ITV technology was not easy to use, signals were frequently lost and the equipment had to be housed in a classroom. This new technology gives the feeling that you are really there. It is amazing how easy it is to move the system to a classroom, hook up and learn. The students are entranced when it is used, and many are eager to converse and learn.

Worthington schools have also used the equipment to meet professional development needs. Just this month, a group of English-language teachers were able to attend a conference put on by the University of Minnesota. Special education has been able to meet with other schools twice this year, saving a trip to Marshall. Money has been saved because substitutes were not needed for a whole day and there were no transportation fees.

As the Media Specialist for Worthington's middle school, high school and Area Learning Center, I am excited about the possibilities that this new equipment has to offer both our students and staff in addition to what we are already offering.