Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Jennifer Crutchfield teaches a group of children at the Brainerd Youth and Family Development Center in July.

Sitting inside Zarzour's restaurant recently, Jennifer Crutchfield could hardly sit still, brimming with excitement as she described the Chattanooga Adventure Series.

The learning program for eighth-graders combines children working in teams to solve challenges, worksheets with QR codes that can be read by smartphones, augmented reality technology and field trips all designed to either take children to local historical spots or to bring the spots to them, albeit virtually.

Like almost everyone in the 103-year-old restaurant, she reveled in the history of the place and the fact that she seemed to know everybody. A Chattanooga native, she loves the city and the people, and it's part of why she is excited about the project she first conceived a decade ago.

"I'm ready to blow these kids' minds," she said. "They will be learning about Chattanooga using technology and then they will turn around and create their own [augmented reality] experience. Plus, they get to go on a boat. I'm not sure how many even realize the river is part of their neighborhood or have been on a boat."

During a tour on the Southern Belle on Tuesday, the students will be separated into two groups and will at times break up into teams, with teachers or chaperones assigned to each. Crutchfield and the ship's captain will rotate between the two groups. The captain's lesson will emphasize waterways and the Tennessee River, while Crutchfield will focus on activities and discussions that connect some of the social studies elements they are learning in school and the landmarks they will be passing. Among the topics will be:

— Indigenous history.

— The American Revolution.

— The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears.

— The new nation, railroad, westward expansion and communication.

— The Underground Railroad.

— The expansion and division of a nation.

— The Civil War.

— Revitalization: the Chattanooga way.

Crutchfield has worked with numerous community organizations such as WTCI-TV 45, the Wayne-O-Rama art project led by artist Wayne White and Barking Legs Theater. For this project, she has partnered with local non-profit Mark Making, which is helping fund it.

Frances McDonald is executive director of Mark Making and said Chattanooga Adventure Series "is another way to accomplish our goal of transforming a community and empowering individuals."

She also likes the combination of teaching young people technical skills and local history.

The augmented reality technology will allow Crutchfield and students to engage in activities like touring a museum, park or battlefield from their living rooms.

Crutchfield designed and piloted the Chattanooga Adventure Series this past summer in partnership with Chattanooga's city recreation centers. It was based on addressing several challenges among low-income students. Among them are a lack of access and ability to visit local cultural and historical attractions; a lack of availability and access to new technology and a limited connection made between national social studies curriculum and local historical and cultural sites, rendering the information less interesting and less memorable. Roughly 1,200 students were served over an eight-week period.

The outing on Tuesday is designed to get the students and perhaps their families engaged in learning, and Crutchfield hopes the Chattanooga Adventure Series will expand to reach an estimated 3,200 students this school year, both after and during school hours.

The goal is to use the national social studies curriculum for middle and high school students and use technology, as well as field trips, to connect historical and cultural events to locations in the Chattanooga area. She hopes families will sign up for the monthly gatherings where they will either travel to a historic or significant location such as the Chickamauga Battlefield around town or visit virtually.

"The underpinning in all of this is that we emphasize 'trusted sources' such as scholarly databases, original documents, newspapers, especially digitized historic newspapers, the library and credible online sources.

"Even when the students create their own reports, they will be using trusted sources," she said.

"I think you can tell I'm pretty excited about this, and it is finally happening."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfree or 423-757-6354.