by Tammy Dunbar
Expert Educator Columnist, USA
Outdoor School (aka Science Camp) is an amazing experience for students in the fifth and sixth grades: hiking along redwood trails with banana slugs or tide pools with colorful sea anemones, learning about precious ecosystems, practicing teamwork in cabin groups and singing joyful campfire songs for five whole days.
But the hardest part about convincing parents their students should participate in this incredible life-changing experience is the fact their students are gone for five whole days.
One great solution to making parents comfortable enough to allow their students to attend Outdoor School is for the teacher going with the students to blog from camp. Most Outdoor Schools have wireless internet available (at least in the administration cabin), so all a teacher has to do is bring a camera and a computer (or just a smart phone) and spend a little time after lights out to post their blog and pictures.
We just returned from five incredible days at San Joaquin Outdoor School in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains of California. All four schools that attended last week’s camp were from Manteca Unified School District, where the #goingdigital2015 project is in full swing. Since all teachers in our district have been training for more than a year on digital devices and their use, all teachers who attended Outdoor School last week were comfortable enough to try blogging.
Before leaving, some of my fellow teachers created a Facebook page or event to which all families were invited. Then, from the moment the trip began, they used their smart phones to take pictures and post them when we could get to the administration cabin. Worried parents were extremely pleased to see photos of students discovering cool creatures and smiling in wonder as well as participating in all the other engaging activities that happen at Outdoor School. Nothing relieves parent worries better than actually seeing that their student is safe, happy and learning when so far away from home. My fellow teachers loved reading the parent comments and seeing all the “likes” their page was getting!
Having blogged from Outdoor for several years, I used my class website (which all my families are familiar with) to create a page for Outdoor School 2015. On the day we left, I was handing out mini flyers to let parents know where they could go to check up on their students’ activities. I blogged every night using Microsoft Sway to create photo albums of each day’s events (the Sway app on my smart phone worked best). I was also able to take some of the pictures my fellow teachers had posted on their Facebook page (since they had invited me) and use them in my daily Sways also. Next year, I’m going to do my entire blog using Sway and embed the entire thing on my website. I found Sway the easiest to use and upload to as well as the most elegant-looking presentation of our pictures and content.
Our blogs and pictures received nothing but positive feedback from our families when we returned at the end of the week. After parents and family members hugged their students, they all thanked us for chronicling the week at Outdoor School so they felt reassured their students were all right.
The added bonus is that we now have a digital document that we can use when we are trying to convince next year’s parents that their students should go on this amazing adventure.
One more benefit of blogging from Outdoor School is that the students who have to stay back at school can follow what’s going on at camp and write to you to ask questions. When they ask, “What does a banana slug really look like?” you can take a picture (as soon as you find one of those banana slugs) and post it up on your website so they can join in the fun, too.
Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M. teaches 5th grade in Manteca Unified School District and Pre-Service Technology at Teachers College of San Joaquin (Stockton, CA). She will be presenting at ISTE 2015, CUE 2015 and CTA Good Teaching North 2015. Tammy has presented for CTA Good Teaching North (2014), Cap CUE (2014), all three California Subject Matters Project Conferences, Capitol Area Science Education Leaders, and several San Joaquin County Office of Education events as well as others. She won the 2010 eInstruction $75,000 Classroom Makeover Video Contest, wrote a successful Enhancing Education Through Technology grant for Manteca Unified School District in 2008, and was Teacher of the Year in MUSD in 2006. She is on the MUSD Superintendent’s Technology Committee as the district embarks on their “Going Digital 2015” project.