8,000 miles. 36 days. Four kids. And one RV. Eighth-grade science teacher Trey Joyner said it really came down to a rational decision. Joyner was one of 31 Chattanooga teachers who received a portion of nearly $100,000 in summer learning grants from the national organization Fund for Teachers. Joyner spent five weeks logging some serious mileage across the country to film a series of videos he calls “science shorts” with his wife and kids, 11, 9, 2, and 1, all in tow.
As many educators know well, the family of a teacher sacrifices much time throughout the year, and Joyner said he couldn’t ask his family to give up any more. So, instead of retracing Darwin’s steps on the Galapagos Islands or traveling to another exotic scientific location, he found the ultimate vehicle for his family to bond.
Joyner says his wheels, an RV borrowed from a family member, had everything they needed for the cross-country trek, even ultimately turning into a mobile video production lab. Joyner’s two oldest children spent much of their time uploading video on the road, or getting familiar with the three action GoPro cameras on loan from a friend in Chattanooga.
While Joyner became an expert in driving a RV, what really drove this adventure was his content. The goal of Joyner’s grant was to capture footage at locations across the country, all relating to topics he teaches in eighth-grade science: biodiversity change, chemistry, physical science, and psychics. The grant paid for some significant costs, but Joyner also supplemented the funds with an additional grant and some out of pocket expenses to cover the costs of traveling with his family.
The family started by testing water quality on Tybee Island in Savannah, Georgia. They toured the swamps of the bayou in Morgan City, Louisiana, counting alligators and eating frog legs, with a Cajun guide named Jesse (now a family friend). They went rock climbing in Washington (they ALL went rock climbing in Washington). They mined for gold. And, Joyner jumped out of a plane to film a science short on gravity. We asked why and he told us with a deadpan expression, “Well, I teach gravity. It just made sense.”
Now with multiple hard drives brimming with video, Joyner is sifting through hours of footage.
“I have enough video to last me years, so each semester I can incorporate more and more footage into my curriculum,” said Joyner.
In fact, he hopes that his own science shorts will be a model for students as they produce their own videos (except for the jumping out of an airplane part). As Joyner wrote in a blog post on Fund for Teachers, “an engaged student learns.”
Ironically, Joyner said he is the one who has learned the most from this journey.
“This was an amazing experience, but the next time I do anything like this the final product will be so much better. I am not a reporter, so everything we did had to be learned. We practiced with cameras before we left, but nothing prepares you like doing it in the field.”
An unexpected star emerged on the cross-county content adventure. Joyner says his 11 year-old daughter captured some of the best shots, and brought a new level of curiosity to his work.
“If I had to do it over again, I would have used my daughter to conduct interviews. It was great to see how people reacted and responded to her,” he said.
He describes the experience as an incredible opportunity for his family and his class.
Educators can also apply for a summer learning grant through Fund for Teachers. The 2017 application cycle opens on October 1, 2016. Applications will be due January 31, 2017. While Joyner recalls spending as many as 40 hours planning the trip, he says the intensive application process and detailed planning was worth it.
“The only way this could be any better was if all my students could all go with me,” said Joyner.
Read more about Joyner’s adventure this summer on his blog.
While the Fund for Teachers grant is open to all Tennessee teachers for the first time ever, teachers in Hamilton County, Bradley County, and Cleveland City Schools can receive additional insight through the Public Education Foundation (PEF) in Chattanooga. PEF has managed the application and selection process since the grant began in Tennessee. They have worked with 58 Chattanooga educators to help distribute nearly $200,000 for adventures in summer professional development. This year, PEF will continue to serve as the major Tennessee partner with Fund for Teachers. If you have additional questions about the application process, please check out the PEF website for their contact information.