Virtual Explorers' web site is organized around scientific research being conducted by wildlife biologists in the field. During expeditions, events and scientific data are uploaded to this web site allowing teachers and students to participate in the expeditions as they take place. Teachers and students are able to exchange electronic mail with expedition participants and researchers.
In addition, information about the country and its people of the expedition site are posting to the web site
Each expedition is organized into the following broad sections on the web site to support the defined instructional goals: the expedition itinerary, getting ready for the expedition, the research, information about the country and its people, and a daily journal of events while in the field.
Student-centered, project-based instruction is essential for learning to occur. Students of all ages need to relate new information to their own experiences and existing knowledge, and they need to be actively engaged in constructing new knowledge. Units of study should be cross-curricular and teaching methodologies should address students' varied learning styles. In this model of instruction, topics are presented in such a way as to stimulate the learner's innate curiosity and are designed to reflect real-life experiences as much as possible. Assessment serves to provide learners with insight into their own learning processes and seeks to help them identify areas for future growth.
To facilitate this type of learning, each section of Virtual Explorers' web site is organized around essential, open-ended questions that teachers and students can answer for themselves based upon the information and resources provided on the web site, their own research, and other available local resources. At the conclusion of the unit, students are encouraged to apply their new knowledge to projects of their own design.
What does it take to get ready for an expedition in an unfamiliar and sometimes harsh environment?
"Getting Ready" explores the personal characteristics and personality traits of people who venture into the unknown by focusing on the expedition team members and researchers. Many of these people are interviewed prior to the trip and their responses are presented on the web site in a personal "diary" format. Photos pertaining to getting ready for the journey, excerpts from journals, packing lists, required vaccinations, etc. are included. Special focus is placed on the wildlife biologists and their careers.
The Country and its People
Who are the people of the research country? What influences have shaped their culture? What are the issues they face as they attempt to protect species and their habitats?
The geography, culture, language and people of the expedition country are the focus of this section. Included are profiles of people encountered along the way. Each profile follows a common template of information (to include a day in the life of, personal goals, educational experiences and parent and/or cultural expectations). There is background information on the geography, economy and various cultural groups of the country allowing for students using the web site to compare and contrast their own experiences and environments. Special focus is given to those people living in the research areas.
The Research Expedition
What are the conservation needs of animals living in the wild? This is the essential question the researchers we work with are asking. We attempt to organize their research in meaningful and accessible ways for students. Information is posted about what is known about the research species, what information is being sought, and what tools and methodologies are being used. Additionally, we provide information about the scientist and her background.
By posting to our web site a description of each day's events and data collection, a model of scientific inquiry and methodology is provided to students and their teachers. Students and teachers are able to observe how scientists formulate questions, collect and analyze data and draw appropriate conclusions.
There are scientists working in related fields who are available to answer students' emails on questions pertaining to the research project or other areas of interest.
How can one person make a difference in the world? In his or her own community?
The participants' and scientists' thoughts and feelings about their experiences while on the expedition are included on the web site. Participants and scientists are asked how their expectations concerning the expedition have been met, if they have gained new knowledge and/or insights because of the expedition, and if the experiences they have had during the expedition will in any way change their future behaviors.
Students are encouraged to locate someone in their own community who has made a positive difference and interview that person, if possible. There are suggestions and resources available to encourage students to become active in a project of their choosing, either locally or globally.
Additional resources (books, URLs, articles) are posted to the web site for teachers.