Digital discovery: Online scavenger hunt for exploring amazing America
Wednesday, May 03, 2017
One of the great joys of being an English Language Fellow is working with Access students, "talented 13-20-year-olds from economically disadvantaged sectors" who earn scholarships to study English in "after-school and intensive sessions."
The English Access Microscholarship Program "gives participants English skills that may lead to better jobs and educational prospects. Participants also gain the ability to compete for and participate in future exchanges and study in the United States." The Access Program is worldwide; at the recent annual TESOL convention, I met those working with Access programs in India and Nicaragua.
I currently work with Access students in Moscow. Using the guidance of the regular Access teachers — who advised me that students are eager to learn about the U.S. and to demonstrate their knowledge — I developed a scavenger hunt to engage students who are accustomed to navigating online, to introduce them to reliable, unfamiliar online resources, to nurture their learning about information behind and beyond the headlines for a wider and broader understanding of America, and to encourage them to explore resources to continue their learning.
On April 18, 1997, President Bill Clinton issued a "Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies," the purpose of which "directed federal agencies to develop and share online educational resources for students, teachers and parents."
It is true that under the new presidential administration, reliable and credible information found on a number of government websites has been threatened. Such threats provide teachers using this activity an opportunity to conduct a concomitant lesson on assessing reliability and credibility. As Georgetown University's library website cautions, "Be very critical of any information you find on the Web and carefully examine each site. Web pages are susceptible to both accidental and deliberate alteration, and may move or disappear with no notice."
With that cautionary note, I relied on AmericasLibrary.gov, which is one of the many links at Kids.USA.gov and some of the many online resources developed as a result of Clinton's directive. After an introductory class, I gave students a scavenger hunt homework activity to gather information about states and four historical figures too often overlooked in general knowledge lessons about the U.S.
For Part 1, students used http://www.americaslibrary.gov/es/index.php to answer the questions:
- Which state is the "Garden State"? Why is it called that?
- Which state's name is from an Indian word meaning "thicket clearer"? What is a thicket? What does it mean to "clear a thicket"?
- Which state is known for the Rocky Mountains? How high are the mountains?
- Which state borders Canada and is known as the Green Mountain state?
- Which state is a group of islands?
- The first permanent English colony was found in 1607 in this state. Which state is it? Of the first five U.S. presidents, how many came from this state?
- This state is the smallest in area in the U.S., and its state flower is the violet. Which state is it?
- Which state has so many lakes that it known as "Land of 10,000 Lakes"?
- In 1867, which state did the USA buy from Russia for $7 million?
- This state was named after French King Louis XIV. Which state is it?
Students used the linked map or the dropdown menu, "Where would you like to go?" to find the answers.
For the second part of the activity, I directed them to http://www.americaslibrary.gov/aa/index.php, asked them to read about Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Helen Keller and Langston Hughes. Students had to identify one particularly compelling fact about each person, and to be prepared to share what they'd learned with the class during our next meeting.
In class, we began by playing a guessing game using the questions in Part 1. For Part 2, students shared what they learned about the historical figures, explained what they found most fascinating about each person, and explained why they found the fact intriguing.
Because I also use ASL, I demonstrated some signs and helped students "try their hand" at signing their names when we discussed Helen Keller. When we discussed George Washington Carver — the botanist and inventor known for the many uses he developed for the peanut — I gave students Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, a candy currently unavailable in Russia and which I brought back with me from the U.S. when I was there for TESOL 2017 in March.
A contact from the American Embassy headed to the commissary and bought me a jar of Skippy peanut butter and a box of Ritz crackers, and I demonstrated how to slather the crackers with the peanut butter. What a feast we enjoyed!
"I love you," an appreciative Access student gushed at me, her mouth full of peanut butter goodness. Two weeks after the class, the Access teacher sent me an email noting how the flavor of peanut butter cups lingers on her tongue and how she longs for more.
My original plan to have students create a piece of artwork illustrating one of the facts they learned — such as drawing a violet, a lake (or many lakes), mountains or a state map — did not come to pass because time passed much too quickly.
Because I am a proponent of including nonlinguistic approaches to demonstrating knowledge and understanding, I often include creating illustrations as a way for students to convey what they’ve learned, and I was disappointed that we missed the illustration part of the lesson. I decided that in our next class and before we begin our new topic, students will create the artwork they did not have a chance to create.
It will serve as a good review and recycling of knowledge. And I may just have more Reese's cups to share if I don't eat them all.
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