Blazing a trail into the classroom

Originally published in MOREnetworking Vol. 2 No. 4, Sept. 2005

Tim Gore, Scott Mandrell and Jim Sturm might never compare themselves to the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and yet their educational Web and videoconferencing project makes them pioneers in their own rights.

In 2002 the three teachers at Wydon Middle School in the School District of Clayton began developing Lewis and Clark Then and Now: Linking the Trail to America’s Students. The idea was to follow the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, a non-profit entity of boat builders, re-enactors and scholars retracing the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, developing from that journey a series of unique, interactive educational resources allowing students to relive and learn history from their classrooms.

A grant from the National Park Service Challenge Cost Share Program allowed them, among other things, to purchase a portable satellite Internet access system with one-half T1 upload speed. Gore, Mandrell and Sturm have offered over 100 webcasts or interactive videoconferences from the Lewis and Clark Trail since 2003, allowing students to experience Lewis and Clark’s expedition in ways they never could from only printed materials.

Over 125 schools from 18 different states have participated in the project’s 33 videoconferences, and Sturm said they know their reach has extended even further. “We’ve received e-mail from every state and even some foreign countries, including Germany, Thailand and the Philippines,” he said.

Educational Director Gore writes lesson plans and is the host for the distance learning sessions that move along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Technical Director Sturm pilots a recreational vehicle along the Trail and handles the technical aspects of getting re-enactors and other Lewis and Clark experts on camera and hooked up with classrooms. Mandrell is Historical Director and portrays Meriwether Lewis for the reenactment.

The experts taking part in webcasts and videoconferences include Lewis and Clark scholars, members of the Discovery Expedition who have extensively researched Lewis and Clark, National Park Service rangers from Corps II and other recognized authorities along the trail. Missouri collaborators for the project include the Missouri Historical Society, Cooperating School Districts of St. Louis and MOREnet.

And don’t make the mistake that the project is only about history lessons. The project is truly interdisciplinary, with broadcasts focused on a wide range of curricula, including social studies, history, science, mathematics, fine arts, language arts, practical arts, health and foreign language—reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the original expedition. The three directors can draw from a broad range of teaching experience, including history, speech, drama, technology, mathematics and science. The learning activities are tied to national standards in curriculum.

For example, “Math and the Expedition II” offered students the chance to learn how to find the flow of the river by calculating the area of an irregular shape and using stream speed tests. “We used measurements from the U.S. Geological Survey taken at an actual location on the Missouri River and gave students the chance to interpret and graph this data,” Sturm said. “Students were able to compare William Clark’s method of determining stream flow to the modern methods of the USGS, and we determined that both methods produced very similar results.”

Sturm first approached MOREnet in 2000 to discuss transmitting remotely from sites along the Missouri River during the re-enactment. MOREnet put Sturm in touch with Ohio State University after viewing a demonstration of a portable satellite Internet access system built by OARnet, an Ohio-based ISP, and the Ohio State Office of the CIO.

The trailer carries a small (1.2 meter diameter) dish antenna, plus all related electronics and can be pulled by any vehicle with a trailer hitch. The system, which is totally self-contained and designed so one person can set up and operate it, includes local wireless capability and can run for more than 24 hours unattended.

The satellite transmissions are sent to Tachyon, Inc., a broadband satellite communications provider in California, and then connected to MOREnet, which provides the interconnectivity to the various receive sites using a mix of video technologies.

“We could never have done this without our heroes in MOREnet Video and Tech Support,” Sturm said.

To learn more about Lewis and Then and Now, including archived broadcasts and information about how to participate, visit

shoryl | Thursday, September 1, 2005 | |


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