Intelligence in Motion: Hyattsville teacher founds camp
BY PHILLIP SUITTS — by Phillip Suitts After teaching in West Africa and Eastern Europe, Hyattsville resident Peter Sabath wanted to keep traveling. So when he returned to the U.S., he flirted with the idea of riding around the country on a retrofitted school bus, homeschooling his two kids.
That plan never materialized for Sabath, who teaches at Northwestern, but the idea of combining travel and education was planted. In graduate school at the University of Maryland, when a final project for an Instructional Technology class required a business plan, Sabath revived the idea of a traveling school.
In July, Sabath and his friend Chris Gardy, program coordinator for Northwestern’s Evening High School, will lead the pilot trip for Intelligence in Motion, a two-week program for high-school kids that fuses nature, technology and education. The trip’s focus: the environmental impact of coal mining in West Virginia.
“The whole idea behind Intelligence in Motion is to break down barriers and work with public, private and homeschool groups to create cutting-edge field trips.” says Sabath, who has been frustrated by the general decrease in public-school field trips. “It’s harder and harder to get out the front door of a school because of all the ligation and legal issues.”
This summer, the trip starts with guest speakers from Charleston who now live in Hyattsville, where the teenagers will get an overview of coal mining in West Virginia. Sabath and Gardy will then drive the teenagers and two to three teaching interns down to West Virginia in minivans. The experiential learning program will include camping and discussions on coal mining with locals, rather than learning through lectures and textbooks.
Intelligence in Motion markets itself as “one-of-a-kind” college prep program that offers below-market prices: $700 to $950 per week, including all meals and accommodations. Sabath and Gardy have launched an Indiegogo site, that includes a detailed project budget, in the hopes of raising funds that will allow them to offer some scholarships.
“I would love to say, ‘Hey, this is all strictly not-for-profit,’ but the reality is [that] I need to pay my bills.”
In 2013, Sabath conducted a “concept trip” with local middle-school students, including his children and their friends. Gardy said that trip allowed them to find out the costs similar trips would incur.
“I wasn’t sure exactly how much food they’re going to eat, the kind of equipment we’re going to need,” Gardy said. “The experiences of doing a test run helped to get the basics of the logistics.” Gardy, who comes from a family of small-business owners, created the business model, a hybrid LLC.
“I’m kind of the visionary and he’s the nuts-and-bolts,” Sabath said. “So we complement each other pretty well.”
Maby Palmisano, who chaperoned last summer’s trip, believes experiential learning is more effective than traditional methods and describes it as “a fun way to learn.” She said her son and others on the trip to the West Virginia portion of the Appalachian Trail retained more material because of the firsthand experience of the program.
While the teaching methods are unusual, the core educational goals are not. Intelligence in Motion requires students to write — this summer, students will pair up to write a 20-30 page research paper — while also focusing on improving technology skills.
“Literally half of my students struggle to send an e-mail attachment, but they’re immersed in technology,” said Sabath, who believes that both technology literacy and technology utilization are necessary skills.
To help fix teenagers’ technology gaps, Intelligence in Motion provides cutting-edge technology, like iPads and Macs that students use to shoot and cut video, creating multimedia presentations and videographics to showcase what they learn. Last summer, the middle schoolers made YouTube videos on specific Civil War battle sites, like Antietam and Harper’s Ferry, alternating between filming and narrating.
Without TV or video games, teenagers interact more and develop deeper friendships, Palmisano said. And, Gardy adds, it exposes teenagers to new experiences and new parts of the country.
While there will be no school bus this summer, Sabath said plans are ongoing to retrofit a school bus and turn it into a digital classroom that suits the on-the-road learning environment.
“I think what we’re doing is the future,” Gardy said. “I think eventually every student is going to take that classroom with them anywhere they go. I think what we are creating is a good model: Taking what we know from traditional education and combining what we know with educational technology.”
To learn more about the trip or register on-line, visit www.schoolsinmotion.net.