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Building a School Field Trip App for Tablet Computers

Experienced Social Studies Teacher Tackles App Development for First Time

What if we harnessed tablet computers to design activities that allow students to explore independently?

It starts with an idea.  As teachers we always start with ideas.  Planning units, lessons, field trips, assemblies, activities or parties all start with inspiration and then the hard work of actually making it all happen.  Sometimes we know how to make them happen but in those instances when we don’t sometimes we get stuck much like our students.

I’ve been teaching for the past 14 years and I always have made a point to plan and run engaging and academically rigorous field trips.  But I had an idea.  What if we harnessed tablet computers to design activities that allow students to explore independently?  I know that the best days in my classroom were when I set up experiential simulations and cooperative learning that facilitated student-centered learning. So why not create that on field trips too?

I experimented with scavenger hunts and digital cameras for years with great success.  Field trips that inspired students to explore on their own were always more enjoyable for everyone.  But now with tablets, I really think we could blow the lid off of creating experiential field trips.

So I started thinking that I needed to get into the app development business.  But my passion is working with kids not writing code.  I realized that I needed to get tapped into the app development world.  I joined the DCTECH meetup and started going to the monthly meetings.  It was there that I heard about Startup Weekend which enabled dreamers like me connect to coders and put together a tech business in a weekend.  I pitched my field trip app idea but nobody bit.  I heard that it was a good concept but hard to pull off as an individual teacher.

So I decided that if I was really serious about creating a viable field trip app using tablet computers I needed to find a job that was outside the classroom.  I have to say that it was a combination of my doggedness and sheer luck that I landed the job of Instructional Specialist at Live It Learn It.  LILI is a small nonprofit that designs and runs rigorous academic field trips for students in high poverty elementary schools in DC.  We have 30 different trips that connect over 1,600 students in grades 4-6 to the area’s world class museums and National Parks.  In fact, I am drafting this post on a school bus en route to Mount Vernon.  But I still have my eyes set on building the field trip app.

Since I was involved with the tech community I received an email about an app pitch contest.  I decided to give it another try.  This time I was acting as a representative of LILI and this helped me win the pitch!  We won $3000 of app development support from MavenLIFT.  I am excited because it is really coming together.  We are now scheduled to roll out the prototype of Textcursions this spring.  The only thing left to do is figure out the best tablets to use for our purposes.

I will keep you posted on major developments throughout this process.  In the meantime if you have advice on hardware choices please let me know. I am interested in a tablet that easily converts to a laptop.  We work with students in grades 4-6 which means the tablets need to be sturdy. So now I am less stuck and making headway on a project I still don’t know the outcome. Proving once again that experiential learning is messy and valuable.

If you want to learn more about the app check out www.textcursions.com

About Chris

Chris Magnuson is currently the Instructional Specialist at Live It Learn It which is a non-profit that designs academically rigorous field trips for Title I elementary schools in Washington, D.C. He taught social studies at Paul Public Charter School for the past ten years and created several programs which enabled teachers and students to experience field trips in highly engaging ways. His dream is to build a program where DC students lead academic trips for students who are visiting Washington on school trips. Chris lives in DC with his wife, son and daughter on the way. His favorite past time is sleeping since he doesn't get to do too much of it. Google

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