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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Class Trip

Just after I passed on the information about the local history museum that turned its tour into a phone app, the Times published this article:
Seems every cultural institution realizes the potential for this kind of do-it-yourself tour, but — as the article shows — what the museums are actually offering is (so far) OK, indifferent, or hard to use. Well thinking about that, and the NPS project I’ve shown you, suggested to me that schools might think about class trips in a new way. Lets say — even in the days of testing and budget cuts — a certain percentage of middle school kids are still taken to local sites such as Ellis Island in New York, or the Lincoln Home in Springfield, or San Francisco Maritime park. What if the AP or honors history class was asked to create an app — using digital archival sources — for the trip the middle schoolers would take? Then, after the trip, the class would add its own notes and comments (leaving out, or leaving some different space for, class gossip and Hi Mom comments). The following year, the school would have the revised, annotated app to use, or to further modify.

The idea would be that older kids who have a better sense of history and better computer skills would select materials for younger kids to experience, but the resulting app would be an evolving tool used by the school. That way, the class trip would be constantly active, recreated, re-envisioned, through the skills of both sets of kids. Then some sites might have annual contests for the best apps, or have a websote where a series of annual winners would be available to be downloaded by any school or visitor.

This is a cross between a scrapbook, a historical tour, and a kind of school-by-school Zagats designed to make historical places come alive. Schools would be building pathways into the past by using modern devices and digital resources. What do you think?

Vicky brings up the question of resources and access and for the moment that is clearly a question. In some wealthy schools teachers can assume every middle or high school kid has smart phones and many kinds of iPads and laptops available. In poor schools students may only see computers in the library. Now I do think there is some grant money available to help schools get technology. So the divide is not absolute and not entiirely random — there are steps schools can take. But for the moment I think some schools will have to be the experimenter, while others wait for technology to become cheaper, or some school version of these devices is created that allows schools to give out tools that are not worth much outside of the classroom but give students the capacity to join in this new kind of learning while in school.


  1. I’ve done something along these lines with my fourth graders, an online Lower East Side Walking Tour Guide Book (, focusing on the area around The Lower East Side Tenement Museum. We’ve done the walking tour for years and so this online site is great for our kids as they consider where they might want to go (and most of all — eat lunch:). Last year, unfortunately, we had tech problems and the site was sadly not updated (kids wrote great stuff, but were unable to input it in to the site). This year, if this site is still problematic, we will move it elsewhere. (We tried and gave up on Google Maps as it was glitchy, but may try it again this year.) I love it as it is by 4th graders for other 4th graders, (but think it might work for tourists to the area with kids).

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    neat — exactly the kind of thing I have in mind — and imagine layers of historical artifacts, images, resources — so your kids could, for example, see photos of the streets they are walking as those same blocks were in 1900, and then click on the photos of doors of the houses and get more information about the folks who lived there.

  3. Hehe. You can dream:)

    Years ago I spoke to Tenement Museum researchers in search of a circa 1900 map of the area that had buildings on it so the kids could see what was there and what was no longer there. Not to be had, unfortunately. Wanted to use it as part of a lesson I did having the kids take photos at the corner of Essex and Hester and compare them to two from 1904 and 1974 that I found in the book NEW YORK THEN AND NOW: 83 MANHATTAN SITES PHOTOGRAPHED IN THE PAST AND PRESENT…and also to a few in my book (the primary source one SEEKING HISTORY) — they noticed the same SUV parked over several years of photographs as well as changes in street furniture and lots more.

    As for the idea of knowing the folks in the homes…. given the years the Museum spends researching the inhabitants of one building that might be far, far off still. But dreams are always good.

  4. Marc Aronson says:

    I did not necessarily mean the individual residents — but more a generic portrait of the kinds of peoples who lived in those homes