When I went to school (a thousand years ago), I can remember the field trips that we got to go on several times a year each year. Growing up in a wealthy district outside a big city, I was fortunate enough to go with my classmates to the symphony, the zoo, multiple museums, cultural celebrations, parades, and many more wondrous events. All of these helped to further a love of learning that has lasted me my whole life.
Today, however, school districts usually do not have the funding to provide more than one field trip per year to their students. And many can’t afford to offer any at all. Students thus miss out on critical new experiences that can expose to them the possibilities of a better life, can help them see the joy of learning, and can ensure that school is powerful both in and outside the building boundaries. Luckily, there are ways to compensate for this lack.
Virtual Field Trips
Enter technology and virtual field trips. Admittedly, seeing the Mona Lisa on the screen is not the same experience as being in front of it at a museum. But it is still an amazing occurrence that can broaden a student’s perspective. (And let’s be honest, very few of us will actually be able to physically visit the Mona Lisa!). Virtual field trips can show us the world, can make us think, can help us to both question and understand others. And because there is little to no cost and no travel time required, our students can experience many more of them than they could in the old-fashioned way.
In addition, virtual field trips allow us to visit places that are impossible without the technology. Want to meet George Washington, walk across a glacier, follow a monarch butterfly migration, or see stops along the Silk Road? All easy to do with technology.
Some Places to Find Virtual Field Trips
There are lots of trips available these days. Here are just a few, most of which are free:
- 250 Virtual Field Trips
- Skype in the Classroom Virtual Field Trips
- Virtual Tours: Travel Around the World
- Discovery Education Virtual Field Trips
- A Teacher’s Ultimate Destination for Virtual Field Trips
- Google Expeditions
Ensuring the Trip Is Successful
Before embarking on a virtual class trip, here are some important points to keep in mind:
- Align the trip to the content being studied. Although there are times when a just-for-fun field trip can be great (like visiting with Santa Claus at Christmas with TCEA or touring the Spy Museum), most of them should be tied to the curriculum to provide enrichment and depth to student learning. Share the learning objectives with the students so that they are clear on the trip’s objectives.
- Engage them with pre-trip activities. Just as we ourselves might do some research before going on a trip overseas, plan activities that get the students thinking about who and what they will be meeting on their virtual experience. Have them jigsaw the answers to some questions that the students pose about the trip.
- Use a map to show students where they have been and where they will be going. Challenge them (and yourself) to see how many different states or countries they can visit this year.
- Schedule them frequently as they fit the content. One field trip a year doesn’t really broaden a student’s perspective. Instead, take time to set up a calendar with a virtual trip every month or six weeks at a minimum.
- Test your connection. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting excited about a trip and then having a technology glitch. Make sure your equipment is working before the trip.
- Include discussion and reflection after the trip. To cement the learning from their voyage, make sure you have students discuss what they experienced with each other. Give them specific but open-ended questions to discuss in small groups and then ask them to write a short reflection on what they learned. (Possible questions include: What have you learned today? What surprised you about today’s trip? How are you and the people in the trip the same? How are you different? What other questions do you have after the trip?) Perhaps have them keep a field trip journal that might include a map of each place they visit along with how it impacted them.
There are no excuses any more for not opening the world up to your students regardless of the subject or the grade you teach. Maybe if more of us took part in virtual field trips around our amazing Earth, we would find it easier to see something of ourselves in other people and find value in both our commonalities and our differences.