Internet Allows Globe-Trotting Travelers To Bring Students Along for the Ride
Plunging through a moderate southeastern swell, the 43-foot sailboat Makulu II was plying the waters off the northern coast of Australia last week, heading west for Darwin, and beyond that the Indian Ocean.
In Center Valley, Pa., at about the same time, teacher Walt Tremer was testing the satellite e-mail service that his school will use this year to communicate with the vessel.
Students at Southern Lehigh High School, where Mr. Tremer is the director of gifted and international programs, and five New York City schools will trade e-mails with Makulu II's six-person crew until June, when the vessel is expected to complete a circumnavigation of the globe that began last January in Key West, Fla. Crew members will share information on the various cultures, arts, and languages they encounter; scientific facts about oceans; and what it's like to live on a boat.
Reach the World, as the project is called, is small compared with the annual JASON Project, which typically has scientists operating deep-sea probes while thousands of students watch on-line. But the almost home-grown effort might be a sign of things to come, as the Internet and ever-cheaper satellite communications allow a greater number of entrepreneurs and adventurers to offer globe-trotting services to schools.
Window to the World: The educational mission was in the original plan for Reach the World, skipper Heather Halstead, who spent a summer teaching in the New Orleans public school, said in a phone interview last month. She spoke from New York City, where she was taking a short break from her trip to give a teacher workshop.
But the voyage also has the air of a postcollegiate travel adventure, which indeed it is for Ms. Halstead, 24, the owner of the boat, who graduated from Dartmouth College in June 1997, and co-captain Marc Gustafson, who graduated from Elon College at the same time.
Ms. Halstead's mother, Carol, who is helping run the project, admits as much. "It started originally more as an exciting see-the-world adventure. The balance is shifting. Once they got out to the South Pacific and were interviewing people, and seeing the culture and the land and flora and fauna, the educational role has captured their imagination," she said.
The crew will transmit text, video, and still images directly to the schools and to the project's World Wide Web site, at www.reachtheworld.org. The classrooms will send back their questions and requests.
No matter the scale of the project, the challenge remains the same for the classroom teacher: to integrate the adventure with the curricular content that students need to cover, said Joshua H. Riebel, the associate director of the Institute for Learning Technologies, a research and development group supported by Columbia University and Teachers College there.
The institute plans to introduce the Makulu II voyage project to at least five schools in its 70-school Eiffel project, which aims at integrating "new media" technologies into K-12 schools.
"The lion's share of the schools we work with are in Harlem or Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx," Mr. Riebel said. "All of these schools are kind of provincial communities. The idea of having a window on the globe for children who never get down to 86th Street is very compelling."
Mr. Riebel said the Makulu II expedition "is not necessarily a model for how to do a virtual expedition, but a model of how to think about taking cross-cultural activities and bring it to the classroom." The institute is providing some training to participating teachers in how to use the project effectively, financed by a $30,000 gift from Ms. Halstead's parents.
Stronger Curriculum: One admitted shortcoming of the project--a skimpy curriculum--is being addressed. The Halstead family hired Southern Lehigh's Mr. Tremer to beef it up.
"Notes on the sleeve just won't do it," said Mr. Tremer, who has overseen student archaeological and exchange projects in Belarus since 1987. He said the new curriculum would be available on the project's Web site beginning in October and would be flexible and useful for schools that have fewer resources than his high-tech school.
Messages from Makulu II, and the curricular and other materials, are available at the Web site. For a direct e-mail connection with Makulu II, a school must purchase service from Stratos Mobile Network, a satellite communications company, based in St. Johns, Newfoundland.
Vol. 18, Issue 4, Page 10