How Virtual Field Trips Can Take Your Students Anywhere!
By: Meghan Mathis
Meghan Mathis' TPT store
By: Meghan Mathis
Meghan Mathis' TPT store
“Enjoy your field trip to the state park,” my principal said to us during our team meeting last week,“ due to the budget there won’t be any field trips at all next year.” Budget cuts, the need for an ever-increasing number of chaperons per student, and about a million other obstacles educators face every day are making class field trips a thing of the past. It’s a shame, because allowing our students to discover and explore in an environment outside of the classroom can be an amazing way to inspire a love of learning that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
We can whine and complain about not being able to take field trips, but once we’re done with that, what’s next? How can we give our students a bit of the “field trip experience” without the need for funding, permission slips, and chaperons? This article will give you some quick pointers on how you can make virtual field trips an exciting and useful part of your lesson plans.
1. Do Your Research: A quick Google search of “virtual field trips” will give you over 2 million hits (no lie – I checked!), so planning one is definitely going to take some forethought. Make sure you match it to your curriculum. If you’re studying the Civil War, check out the National Park Service site for the Gettysburg Battlefields. Learning about biomes? Take your students on a tour of each one, learning about the plants and animals that live there.
2. Keep Them Accountable: Just like with real field trips, if you aren’t careful, students are going to goof off. Make sure that your students are following along with your virtual field trip by giving them something that they are required to complete and turn in to you at the end. Let them know you’ll be grading it. That way, you’ll know they’re paying attention. Assignments can range from students writing down 10 things they learned that they didn’t know beforehand, to a project based on the experience, to multiple pages of follow-along handouts that require the students to research information on the virtual field trip website(s) in order to complete the assignment. The bottom line is: For best results, make sure that your students are required to show you what they have learned.
3. Plan for Success: This is sort of an obvious one, but when things go wrong your entire lesson goes down the drain, so make sure you are ready to go with your technology before your students arrive. Are you going to the computer lab so they can each have their own computer? Make sure it’s signed out and that all the computers are able to visit the site(s) you want the students to look at. Check to make sure that key features of the site will work with your computer configuration. For instance, do you need to have Adobe Flash installed? Also try putting several of the workstations on the site at the same time. Sometimes performance will be a problem once many computers are on the site together. Check with your technology team to make sure your plans are within the policies for your school or district. As an example, some school policies would require you to download videos in advance rather than streaming them. Are you going to be using your Smart Board or a projector in the classroom? Make sure it’s all in working order. Students love using technology in the classroom, but their attention begins to wane quickly when you have technological difficulties.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative: If a virtual field trip doesn’t exactly fit into your curriculum, don’t despair! Try looking for cross-curricular ideas that you can use in class. Is your art teacher studying famous painters? Why not have your math classes take a virtual field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Have your students create their own word problems using famous works of art – The number of people in Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jette” increased by the number of haystacks in Monet’s “Haystacks” – and then challenge their classmates to use the website to find the answers. There are tons of ways to allow your students to experience something totally different while making it relevant to your curriculum – all it takes is a little creativity.
As the year winds down, it is a perfect time to try something new, to get some ideas for next year, and to do something fun with this class of students before they leave your classroom for the last time. I encourage you to give virtual field trips a try – I think you’ll find that you AND your students will have a great time.
Helpful links to get you started:
- The Utah Education Network: This is a great site that breaks down virtual field trip ideas by subject.
- The Teacher’s Guide to Virtual Field Trips: Here you'll find links to lots of sites with great virtual tours, like an ancient Roman villa, a butterfly conservatory, the American Museum of Natural History, and more!
- The Holocaust Museum: A lot of schools do units on the Holocaust at this time of year. A virtual tour can help your students really grasp the horror of this event – but make sure you preview this tour first to choose what you want your students to see. It doesn't hurt to get administrative and parent permission as well.
- Internet4Classrooms – Virtual Tours: Internet4Classrooms provides another nice group of tours, organized topically.
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