Journeys of Discovery is a comprehensive interdisciplinary curriculum and approach to learning based on themes of world exploration and discovery. Although appropriate for inquirers at any age, the materials are designed for middle level/junior high classrooms. Each Journeys of Discovery lesson opens with an authentic “travelogue reading” taken from a primary resource associated with the Journey under study. These readings themselves constitute a vital part of our diverse cultural heritage and are outstanding literary selections in their own right. Moreover, the Journeys series is founded on the very basic assumption that students and teachers desire to search for ideas and insights—that we are all explorers at heart! This is not pedagogical naivete for, as Harvard scientist Edward Wilson points out, more remains yet to be discovered in our own terrestrial realm and beyond than has been since the dawn of time.
Geography represents a pivotal link in the Journeys curriculum as geography represents a pivotal link in the Journeys curriculum as geography’s essence is one of both human and physical dimensions. H. J. MacKinder writes that geography “postulates both scientific and human knowledge. If our aim is to give unity to the outlook of our pupils, and to stop that pigeon-holding of subjects in their minds which has prevailed in the past, then geography is admirably fitted as a correlation medium.” The epic exploration accounts featured in the Journeys of Discovery take learners directly to original journals, letters, and related records, freeing the imagination and allowing the quest for quality interdisciplinary learning to take place. Furthermore, reading attempt to draw attention to the valuable contributions made in the annals of epic discovery by teenagers—Sakakawea and George Shannon with Lewis & Clark, naturalist George Forster on board Captain Cook’s bark Resolution, and Marco Polo himself, as well as such women as Elizabeth I, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Jessie Fremont. Journeys of Discovery invite participants to become scientists, historians, mathematicians, artists, and builders in an attempt to transform learning into the active construction of lasting ideas and values, revealed with contemporary relevance.
The oral reading and discussing of these brief selections is the instructional opening to the day’s events and from them emerge myriad topics identified by students and prominently posted for the research and presentation choices that will constitute a significant part of that week’s instructional agenda. (“A World of Illustrated Journaling Possibilities” attached below outlines these options for students.) With “hands-on” activities derived from each of the daily readings, an intellectual renaissance becomes possible. The activities—whether projects, experiments, drama, or reports, are the basis of intellectual engagement. Because writing is among the most important expressions of student thought for purposes of evaluation, students are encouraged to follow the example of great explorers by journalizing each week throughout the year. Entries based on topics identified through travelogue readings, freely determined or as assigned, provide an enriching record of student learning.
Through literary engagements of their own design, students can develop writing skills in accordance with quality writing trait models while compiling unique portfolios of observations and discoveries along their own learning journeys. In addition to illustrated journal entries, students are free to offer editorials, poems, play scripts, interviews, and article and website reviews. When asked the inevitable question about “how much” constitutes an acceptable written contribution, one teacher pointed out to her students that James Cook wrote over one million words in the journals of his Pacific voyages without ever being required to do so. Of course the Earl of Sandwich was not expected to read and evaluate the quality of Cook’s prose as teachers do.
In what may constitute the most extensive field trip ever undertaken by an adolescent, Marco Polo’s travels across Asia in the thirteenth century demanded the development of knowledge and skills essential for success and survival. Stories of people and places so vividly described in his Travels reveal a mind challenged to read critically, communicate clearly, appreciate foreign cultures, and problem-solve. Whether determining directions by starts while traversing Central Asian deserts or presenting diplomatic reports at the court of the Kublai Khan, Marco’s life of exploration exemplified learning on a grand scale. Students in a seventh grade class en route with Marco Polo across northern India and Pakistan (travelogue reading 3.3: “A Region So Lofty”) identified the following topics for investigation: mountain climbing, Buddhism, bighorn sheep, nuclear proliferation, Indiana Jones, Mt. Everest, predicting the future, and cobras.
Students were free to work alone or in pairs to research these topics for presentations later during the week but were also required to complete a series of parallel Journeys sourcebook subject-area assignments, including an Arabian Nights story set in Central Asia, a mathematics lesson on mountain elevations, science activities related to medieval Asian astronomy, and an art project on Pakistani architecture. Similarly, travelogue selections from the journals of Lewis & Clark are correlated to significant writings and other records of prominent contemporaries who were deeply influenced by the Corps of Discovery’s accomplishments: government reports of Thomas Jefferson, short stories by Washington Irving, the scientific contributions of John James Audubon, and the art of George Catlin.
The Journeys approach is relevant to learning in any place and at any age. The curriculum travelogue modules cover from three to nine months of study and are presently developed and arranged to correspond to themes typically taught at the intermediate and middle grades, and to knowledge and skills specified for those levels in the national content standards. Thus The Travels of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta: Asian and African Journeys of Discovery relates well to seventh grade curriculum in many schools while The Expeditions of Lewis & Clark and Zebulon Pike: North American Journeys of Discovery may be more relevant for eighth graders. Other include Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Crusade of the Kings: A Medieval Journey of Discovery, and in progress, The Exploits of Columbus and the Conquistadors: New World Journeys of Discovery and The Explorations of James Cook and Alexander Mackenzie: Pacific Rim Journeys of Discovery.
Twelve Journeys representing notable eras of human history and encompassing the entire globe represent the core series. Daily readings serve as touchstones for innumerable natural connections to period and regional literature readings, science units, art projects, and myriad field trip, cooperative learning, and electronic media activities. Students and teachers travel together across the forty-five travelogue selections in each module reflecting itineraries that in reality often took years to complete. Journeys team teachers should be allowed the instructional freedom to take “sidetrips” of serendipity and special interest much like Lewis’s sojourn apart from the main party across western Montana. Perhaps a math unit on ratios and percents extends a week beyond Clark’s discourse on his St. Louis population census examined in social studies. The Journey pedagogical expedition is sometimes strung out along the trail but staff can regroup with weekly faculty “camp meetings.”
Student writing reflects a full range of achievement levels and comes from individuals with significant special needs to the highly capable. Samples have been drawn from a number of Journeys schools to illustrate experiences undertaken in urban, suburban, and rural settings. The examples demonstrate that for purposes of expansive learning, young people and mentoring adults can come together though learning and communication technologies to form communities that both transcend and celebrate the unique qualities of any school profile or region and culture.
The advance of civilizations is related to the expansion of the knowledge base and conditioned with the exercise of private and public virtue. The Journeys of Discovery curriculum seeks though direct instruction and independent research to propel students into contemplation of humanity’s past experiences and consideration of future possibilities. Posting such questions is a fundamental aspect of progress. Relevant to this enterprise is the designation of “Leading Questions of Discovery” to remind learners of this imperative for quality classroom discussions, presentation, and writing lest in the words of T. S. Eliot, we “have the experience but miss the meaning.” Placing these leading questions before students can elevate levels of understanding whether considering nomadic cultures and Asian literature or Byzantine mosaics and the periodic table.
A modified taxonomy of understanding offers sample questions about subject area facts and skills, comprehension questions that relate knowledge to experiences and concepts that pervade the discipline, and evaluation questions that involve judgments. Is this useful? Is this beautiful? Is this meaningful? Is this right? These are the ultimate questions with which we want students to grapple, and the Journeys of Discovery curriculum offers opportunity to do so as human experience through Time and Place is presented in a natural flow devoid of contrived connections and artificial separations.