Inspiring Student Exploration, One Sled Dog, Giraffe or Rhino at a Time

Many of today’s students are so familiar with digital screens and the ability to find whatever they’re looking for in an instant, that one might expect they’d be unimpressed by an on-screen experience at their school. But, use technology to make that experience interactive, mix in a live discussion with a real explorer and a team of sled dogs, and you’ll find you can captivate a classroom full of fifth graders in an instant.
Florida students meeting dog sleds and mushers via Skype

This weekend, you can join students from Lithia Springs Elementary School in Valrico, FL on a virtual field trip that won’t quickly be forgotten. During Saturday’s airing of Born to Explore on ABC TV (check your local listings), these Florida students took on the challenge of locating show host Richard Wiese during a Mystery Skype session that transported them from their sunny hometown to snowy Lake Placid, NY complete with introductions to a team of real sled dogs.



“If you can take a group of Florida 5th graders to New York in the dead of winter for a genuine dog sledding experience, there is no limit to the experiences we can facilitate in our classrooms,” said Maria Turner, information technology coordinator at Hillsborough County Public Schools and Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Expert. ”And it didn’t end when the production ended.  The students continued to ask questions, explore more on their own and share what they had experienced with their parents and other classes.”

Born to Explore’s Richard Wiese has traveled all seven continents and was the youngest president of The Explorers Club.  He discovered 29 new life forms on Mt. Kilimanjaro, which he climbed 14 times and skied to the North Pole with the support of several sled dog teams.  “Technology has been a game changer both in exploration and education,” said Wiese. “Every week, we hope to inspire TV audiences to discover new cultures and help to conserve wildlife.  But the ability to interact with students one-on-one in the classroom via Skype in the Classroom and Bing has been a very powerful experience.  Kids are naturally curious and their enthusiasm for learning is infectious.  Technology helps to fuel the imagination.”

Earlier this month, students at Tuckerton Elementary School in New Jersey had their own Born to Explore close encounter with giraffes and rhinos. Teacher Karl Ubelhoer’s students were amazed by experience.

“Despite being a screen and a several hundred miles away, my students were awestruck by the rhinos and the giraffes, said Ubelhoer.  “The intimacy of the 1:1 session with Richard changed the experience from passive learning, say, while watching TV, to a personalized experience that invited them to all-but-touch the animals they were seeing up close and personal. “

Tuckerton School District Technology Coordinator and MIE Expert Kyle Calderwood agrees. “It was great to see students thinking outside the box and also to experience a lesson from an entirely different perspective. Rather than learning strictly from a textbook, they were able to utilize Skype to really “experience” the lesson versus passively learning. They were truly engaged and were not even distracted by the cameras.”

Technology is transforming how teachers manage their classrooms, and it’s also giving a new voice to students. “Students are beginning to see the impact, the difference they can make, in their classroom, school and beyond,” said Turner. “They see their voice being heard and appreciated in truly personalized learning experiences.  It is very exciting to witness and experience this passionate exploration.”

Exploring and learning from others, near or far, becomes even easier with technology. “The Born to Explore experience increased our awareness of the opportunities we have to learn from others via Skype, and our next Skype lesson is already in the works,” said Melissa Forsythe, Lithia Springs Elementary School teacher.

Teachers can bring their students along on the virtual field trip, too, with related Bing lesson plans and other great resources from Microsoft. They can also learn how to plan their own Mystery Skype adventure with another classroom from around the globe…or right next door. Whether it be sled dogs, giraffes or a classroom full of middle-schoolers, with a little help from technology, exciting new opportunities for exploration may be closer than you think.

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