Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
April 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 7

Crossroads to the World

Using their imaginations and the power of technology, teachers can develop an authentic curriculum that takes their students on exciting journeys of learning.

Imagine taking 23 sixth graders on a trip across Canada for several months. An arduous undertaking by any stretch of the imagination, but this is what I did last year. With the help of telecommunications, my students and I were transported thousands of miles—without physically leaving Altoona, Pennsylvania.
With Crossroads to the World, an authentic learning experience, students have the means to experience and appreciate the world's cultural, historical, and geographical differences and similarities. Basic to the project is an integration of technology and the use of an extended real-life simulation. Students simulate a trip and are involved in every aspect of the journey from planning itineraries and budgets to documenting their travels.
In addition to the Canadian trip, I have traveled with some of my 7th graders to France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, and other countries. Some teachers in my district have taken their students on journeys through Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Maryland.

Journeys of the Imagination

Crossroads to the World came into being because I, like many other teachers, saw a problem and wanted to give my students more relevant, enjoyable experiences in learning. After teaching 6th grade social studies for a number of years, I noticed that my students were disinterested in the content; even many “good students” did not remember much of the material. Because they saw little relation between the text and their own lives, my students were not motivated to explore the ideas presented. The combination of many facts to read (the social studies textbook was huge!) and little relevancy resulted in poor retention and synthesis of the content—despite the various instructional strategies that I tried.
So, with the help of my students and Connie Letscher, a colleague, Crossroads to the World was born. Crossroads is an interdisciplinary, technology-based project that involves constructive or generative learning and which can be adapted to most any social studies curriculum. The project begins with literary models—such as excerpts from Walt Whitman's “Song of the Open Road” and The Wild Children by Felice Holman—to stimulate students' thinking about traveling. Students then use simulation software such as Oregon Trail (MECC), Cross-Country Canada (Didatech), and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (Broderbund) to generate ideas for their own simulations.
With a small grant from the Altoona Area School District Foundation and the Pleasant Valley Elementary School's association, I installed a phone line in my classroom and subscribed to WorldClassroom, a curriculum-based educational telecommunications network. Soon my students and I were communicating with people all over the world.
Important to Crossroads is the fact that we can gain “firsthand” information from our faraway friends about their communities, states, or countries. This year as well as last, my students have also accessed the Internet as a resource.
Of course, the age-old method of letter writing is still good as gold; with word processors, however, students can write more easily to numerous locations for travel information. Students send both personal and business letters to other schools, chambers of commerce, tourist bureaus, and embassies.
Excitement and enthusiasm soar as students choose their travel destinations and begin to gather information about them. While collecting data, students learn about the world-opening possibilities of telecommunications, the use of databases as organizational tools, and the wonders of CD-ROM and laserdisc technology.

Bon Voyage!

After gathering some basic information, students begin to plan their itinerary—keeping in mind that funds are not unlimited. In preparing the budget, they use a spreadsheet. During the first year of the project, my 6th graders earned money by doing class jobs or by winning games that we played to review for tests.
Planning is a crucial aspect of this project, as it would be in real life. My students consult newspapers, TV, and other media for details about weather, current events, or natural disasters. Problem solving is also important. Real-life predicaments are faced as challenges, but also as opportunities to apply skills and knowledge.
Can party planning be one such challenge? Yes, but also a wonderful opportunity. Before their journey, my 6th graders planned a fantastic bon voyage party for themselves, complete with invitations to friends and family created using Print Shop (graphics software from Broderbund), an agenda, refreshments, decorations, and entertainment—including a demonstration of the technology-based simulation models.
The fact that my students and I were very involved in this real-life simulation was brought home when two of my young students, Jessica and Mandi, asked me about bringing their mothers along on the trip. “No problem,” I said, “as long as you can `earn' the money to pay for them!”
During their actual “travel,” students continue to gather information about destinations and travel routes. Telecommunications can be invaluable at this time, particularly if there is good interaction between the travelers and their friends at the destination. Because this is not always possible, however, students also rely on CD-ROM, laserdiscs, and more traditional resources.
I ask my students to document their travels in several ways. First, they keep a daily log. My 6th graders recorded their entries in notebooks; last year, however, several 7th graders suggested keeping their logs on audiotape. It was fun for me to listen to some of the logs instead of reading all of them. This alternative is super, depending on the objectives and rationale for the log.
Students also document their travels with two types of scrapbooks: a traditional scrapbook and a HyperScrapbook, which includes not only text but also graphics, animation, and sound. Using HyperCard on the computer and a laserdisc player, we accessed “Regard for the Planet,” which includes 50,000 photographs by Marc Garanger. This laserdisc provided us with some beautiful scenery of the countryside during our journey to Halifax, Nova Scotia. We also saw New York City and more.
Next year my hope is for students to include their own “home movies” using the QuickTime Starter Kit, which includes QuickTime (a Macintosh software extension), as well as programs that allow them to play, edit, and create movies on the computer from a video source, such as a video camera.

Technology's Promise and Power

With Crossroads to the World, my students are still learning the same information as in their textbooks—but in a more engaging way. They are involved, they are planning, they are creating. The promise of technology is so powerful! It is part of an authentic learning experience because it is part of real life, now!
Next year I will again travel and learn with another group of students, and because the world is different today than it was last year, we will face new challenges and new learning opportunities. Crossroads will continue to evolve.
My colleague and I developed Crossroads to the World to mirror real life and to bring students closer to one another and the world around them, thus increasing their chances for understanding and providing the way to a better future. This is one of the powers of technology.

Dawn L. Morden has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

Learn More

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
From our issue
Product cover image 194049.jpg
Realizing the Promise of Technology
Go To Publication