Getting from “what” to “so what”: Reflecting on Travel Experiences

It’s time for another blog post, since I had my students post to their blogs last week. Their posts were a reflection on our class trip to Arkansas, where we spent 48 hours in a poverty simulation at Heifer Ranch. Processing this experience was important, yet we did not have class until ten days after our return, as our week-long Thanksgiving Break occurred in the interim. Last Monday, the students arrived to my class expecting to work on a blog post. But I had other plans first.

We met in my classroom–not the computer lab–and no laptops, tablets, or other technology was in view. I had moved the desks to the outskirts of the classroom and left just 8 desk in the center, with three chairs around each one. As the students arrived, they drew a slip of paper from a cup and sat at the desk with that color. We did a microlab protocol¬†in those groups of three, with three questions.

  1. What was your favorite part about the trip?
  2. What was your least favorite part?
  3. What was your best “AHA” moment or powerful learning experience?

Only the third question was really important, but the first two were designed to get kids talking, and to get certain topics out of the way. Then I asked them to write down their powerful learning experience on a piece of paper. Finally, I introduced their next mini-project, with an example I had created myself in 2014.

In my project, I included text of a standard from our Graduate Profile, which is a list of performance outcomes we hope to see in all students by the time they graduate. I asked students to look at their own papers and decide which of three performance outcomes best matched their work, then they went and stood next to the part of the classroom where that standard was posted. They told their story to the others in that section to confirm that they were in the correct part of the room. I made a mistake then. I should have read every single story to make sure they were on the right track. But the bell rang and the next day they started work.

Choosing photos to create their narrated slide show was time-consuming. Ideally, I would have shown them the photos in advance, or assigned this step for homework, but I had not yet received all the photos from the photographers. I told students to write a script, but I did not grade or read the scripts. Another mistake. I could have corrected the few students who went off in the wrong direction had I read their scripts. On the other hand, it would have slowed down the process significantly. Since every student went through the same travel experience, it was important to focus this project on what they had learned–the “so what”–rather than merely what they did–the “what.”

On day 3, students completed their work and had time to make comments on each other’s work. Google Classroom was handy for sharing links so classmates could comment. One frequently asked question¬†was how long to make the whole thing (there were no requirements, but perhaps suggesting 10-15 seconds per slide–excluding comments from others–might be useful in the future).

As I graded the work, I was slightly disappointed. Many students neglected sections of the rubric. However, I did not emphasize the rubric as I have in past projects; I pointed it out, but did not go through it step by step. Several students did a stellar job, though, and with their permission, I have linked to their work below. Please enjoy.


Andrew Heifer Ranch: The School of Appreciation
Anya Heifer Refugee vs. Reality
Dana Private Consumption vs. Population
Ella Heifer’s Culture Cuisine
Elias The Relationship of Friends, Family, and Food
Katy Food Insecurity in Zambia
Parker Hungry and Impoverished
Pierrette We’re All In This Together
Sophie Swiper No Swiping
William Our Own Friend’s Hunger