Field Trip of a Lifetime

orange educatorTerry Smith is a teacher educator who helps future teachers go beyond the classroom walls and be creative with the resources of the world. Read about his first global project, which brought him and ten 4th graders to Taiwan!

Terry Smith visiting Taiwan. Photograph by Mary Eby
Terry Smith visiting Taiwan. Photograph by Mary Eby

I was forever changed by this experience, filled with the spirit of world travel, world relations, and world awe. Watching the incredible, engaging impact on my 4th graders unfold, spoke to me as a teacher and informed my methodology for the future.

If teachers can seek out and integrate aspects of other cultures, geography, languages, economic systems, and history, into their lessons, then they are on their way to fulfilling the need for global educators in the 21st century. Global collaborative projects can help any of us do this and when talking to other teachers about these, I always say that unpredictable experiences can result from joining one!

My first global experience came while teaching 4th grade in Hannibal, Missouri. While running the World Problems Project, e-mail pen pals with a Taiwanese class, our class was invited to visit Asia! This sounded exciting and wonderful, but I was teaching in a school with few resources to spare. To our amazement, the Taiwanese school offered to fund the bulk of the cost for ten students and two adults.  ­­­­

The reality slowly settled in, and I realized that I would actually be taking my 4th graders to Taipei. This meant choosing a group of students who could go, making sure they had passports, proper inoculations to travel, and of course family permissions. To choose the student group, I proposed the following criteria: (1) kids who show respect to teachers and work hard in school; (2) kids who are responsible, caring, and have good manners; (3) kids who are conversational and enjoy making new friends; (5) kids willing to try new foods; (6) kids brave enough to stay with a Taiwanese family; (7) kids willing to learn basic Chinese phrases; and (8) kids who will represent our school and the United States with pride. From interviews and essays, I selected ten students who best fit these criteria.

Kids are kids wherever they are in the world – basically nonjudgmental and ready to “play” and experience their surroundings.

I did my best to prepare the students by teaching them basic phrases in Mandarin (hello, goodbye, my name is, where is the bathroom), which they would use when they stayed in the homes of their email pen pals and attended classes at the Taiwanese school. The 22-hour jumbo jet flight via St. Louis, Detroit, Osaka and into Taipei was yet another life-changing part of the trip for most of them; only one had ever been on an airplane before.

Kids are kids wherever they are in the world – basically nonjudgmental and ready to “play” and experience their surroundings, and they demonstrated this attitude upon arrival in Taiwan. We arrived in Taipei late at night and were greeted like celebrities by the crowd of warm, smiling Taiwanese parents looking to find their homestay friends.

Here is a look at the students greeting their new friends in Taipei:

Click here to see more photos of Terry’s students in Taiwan.

Over the next ten days, the students lived in a land of magic with new sounds and sensations, eating variations of fish, rice, soy, unknown vegetables, and drinking concoctions such as cold sweet gourd milk. At school they participated in art classes, cloth dying, pen and ink calligraphy, swimming relays, model boat building, and hiking on the steep mountain trails in 100 degree temperatures. In the evenings, they were accepted as family members in homes and high rise apartments of Taipei.

Taiwanese and American students work together in the  Science garden near the school. Photograph by Terry Smith
Taiwanese and American students work together in the Science garden near the school. Photograph by Terry Smith

Connecting these kids with friends from another culture had provided more powerful learning than any classroom approach I could hope to offer using traditional methods. Although world travel with my students would not be the norm, using projects like this, and technology to change the nature of the classroom experience is how I will teach from this point onward.

Terry Smith is a teacher educator at Radford University in Radford, VA. Prior to higher education, Terry spent 14 years in elementary education and completed a doctorate in educational technology, focusing on virtual learning environments. He also runs the Global Monster Project and is a member of the Geo-Educator Steering Committee. To learn more about Terry’s work, visit his website.


Read about Terry Smith’s Global Monster Project.

View National Geographic’s Google+ Hangout on Global Collaborative Projects.

Visit our Gooru Library on Global Collaborative Projects.

Read about exciting teaching activities from our Geo-Educator of the Week series.

Learn how you can get your students excited about studying abroad through the Institute for International Education’s Generation Study Abroad initiative.

Do you know an educator with a great activity or story to tell? Nominate a colleague or yourself as an Educator of the Week! 

orange nominateThe Educator of the Week series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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