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How to Plan a Virtual Field Trip

Meghan Mathis

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Virtual“Enjoy your field trip to the state park. Due to the budget, there won’t be any field trips at all next year," my principal said to us during our team meeting last week.

Budget cuts, the need for an ever-increasing number of chaperones 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?  Virtual field trips can give students a bit of the “field trip experience” without the need for funding, permission slips, and chaperones.

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Here are some quick pointers on how to make virtual field trips an exciting and useful part of your lesson plans.

Do Your Research

A quick Google search of “virtual field trips” will give you over 2 million hits (no lie – I checked!). Planning one is definitely going to take some forethought. Your first step should be to tailor your virtual field trip to match it to your curriculum.

For instance, if you’re studying the Civil War, check out the National Park Service site for the Gettysburg Battlefields satellite broadcast tours that come with associated lesson plans.  If you're learning about biomes, you can take your students on a tour of each one. Students can learn about the plants and animals that live there all from a computer.

Keep Them Accountable
Just like 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 into you at the end.  Let them know you’ll be grading it.  That way, you’ll know they’re paying attention, and if they don’t, there will be a consequence for it.

Like the Gettysburg virtual field trip, many come with prepared activities and/or worksheets.

If your virtual field trip doesn't, one simple suggestion is having students write down ten new facts they learned that they didn’t know before the field trip on a piece of notebook paper.  As a more complex project, have students write multiple pages of follow-along notes that require the them to research information on the virtual field trip website to complete. 

The bottom line is:  For best results, make sure that your students are required to show you what they have learned.

Plan for Success

When things go wrong, your entire lesson goes down the drain so make sure you are ready to go technology-wise before your students arrive.  If you want students to have their own computer, arrange in advance to go to the computer lab.  Be sure all the computers are able to visit the site(s) you want the students to look at.  If a Smartboard or a projector  is needed then 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.

Indulge in Creativity

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. 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 your class. 

For instance, if your art teacher is studying famous painters, take advantage. Why not have your math classes take a virtual field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art ?

As an assignment, have your students create their own word problems using famous works of art. For instance, the number of people in Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jette” increased by the number of haystacks in Monet’s “Haystacks.”  Have students challenge their classmates to use the website to find their answers. 

Helpful Resources

Here are a few resources that will help you jump start your virtual fieldtrips.

The Utah Education Network 

This great site breaks down virtual field trip ideas by subject. 

The Teacher’s Guide to Virtual Field Trips

This site is full of many links links with great virtual tours like an ancient roman villa, a butterfly conservatory, the American Museum of Natural History, and more!

The Holocaust Museum

Many school’s do units on the Holocaust 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.

Internet 4 Classrooms – Virtual Tours

This website contains a nice group of tours which are organized by topic.

Using Skype in the Classroom

Ideas for using Skype for guest speakers, presenters or interviews.

Virtual Field Trips with Google Maps
See the pyramids and Great Wall of China via satellite, take a video tour of the Eiffel Tower or walk the streets anywhere in the world.

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 have a great time.

What are your suggestions for virtual field trips? Share with us in the comments section!

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