Students Direct Exploration of Mayan Ruins In Unique Online Adventure Over Prodigy

In an adventure that began on January 28, 1995, a team of bi-cyclists will spend the next three months exploring ancient Mayan sites in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras. What is unique, however, is who will be guiding them and how. Students will direct the team on where to go, which experts to visit and which artifacts to study -- all by the modern magic of telecommunications. Called MayaQuest, the en- deavor serves as the basis for a Learning Adventure on Classroom Prodigy, and it marks the first, student-directed online virtual field trip. This unique adventure delves into the mystery of how and why the Mayan civilization collapsed. How It Works Dan Buettner, president of Earthtreks, Inc., leads the team of bicyclists, which includes an archeologist and a photographer. Telecommunications, achieved by use of a Rockwell EXEC-SAT satellite modem, links the team in real-time to students. The device handles fax, photograph, data and voice transmission. Signals go from the team in the jungle to a satellite, to a Land Earth Station in Connecticut, then to Hamline University by phone line. Hamline d'es some editing and corrections, then sends the information out to Prodigy and the Internet. Opportunity to Learn & Lead Students use this state-of-the-art connection to interact in real-time with team members and the experts they visit. Students learn how to decipher hieroglyphs, view photos of Mayan ruins and artifacts, ask questions and more. Indeed, via Classroom Prodigy's voting capability, students actually determine the team's route, diet and which clues to uncover. The archeologists are counting on the students -- for their library research skills and fresh insights into old mysteries -- to help them make new discoveries. This is not a gimmick; it is a serious quest by professionals for answers. Other activities open to students include reading Dan's diary and contributing to the MayaQuest online bulletin boards, games, quizzes and contests. Learning Support Materials Teachers receive a free study guide that includes a map, clues for the quest, ten sample lesson plans, background on the team and their equipment, a timeline of Mayan history and other background material. This supplemental guide is designed for placement in a three-ring binder. As the expedition progresses, lessons, maps and other content can be downloaded from Classroom Prodigy or the Internet and gathered from other sources to create a unique, working Maya-Quest learning package. This will serve to enhance the learning experiences of future classes, after the trip is over. Prodigy's Pivotal Role The MayaQuest expedition is a unique interdisciplinary learning opportunity. It can teach about ancient history, math, science, geography, art, architecture and the links between the Maya and present-day civilizations. Indeed, the teacher-support materials are expressly designed for cross- disciplinary use. While the trek can be tracked various ways -- weekly reports on cable TV's CNN Newsroom, a toll-free hotline, faxes from MayaQuest headquarters or a forum on the Internet -- Classroom Prodigy's role is unique. It is the only one to offer live interaction with the team and voting capability. Since the expedition lasts three months, there is still plenty of time to get involved. Those with Classroom Prodigy accounts should Jump: mayaquest. Others can sign up to the service by calling (800) 776-3449, ext. 176. Classroom Prodigy membership includes access software for the three most common platforms -- DOS, Windows and Macintosh; and costs for membership kits start at $99 for the school year. Those without telecommunications capability can register via the trek's headquarters at MayaQuest, 529 S. 7th St., Suite 310, Minneapolis, MN 55415, (612) 349-6606.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.

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