Field trips. They are quite possibly the bain of a teacher’s existence. Not only do you have to choose the perfect field trip venue, but then you need to plan the day moment by moment, right down to recruiting chaperones, which at times can feel like playing a game of chance. If we’re being honest here, field trips can be stressful and not fun, for teachers that is. However, research has shown the importance of hands-on-experiences for learners of all ages, and what better way than the elusive field trip.
So what is a “virtual” field trip? A virtual field trip is one of the greatest inventions ever created to save the sanity of teachers everywhere. If you have technology in your school, some time to research a trip, and a tech specialist that can help troubleshoot if needed, you, my friend, are in business.
Why Should I Take a Virtual Field Trip?
I want to begin by putting this statement out there. Virtual field trips are NOT the easy way out! Yes, they provide the luxury of visiting a location from the comfort of your classroom, but they also require planning and preparation.
I say this, because I know someone reading this is thinking, “Score! We’re going on a field trip tomorrow!” Sure, you could throw something together quickly, but is it really going to fit the true purpose of a field trip? Newsflash! A field trip is supposed to fit an educational purpose and should be tied to the academic standards or curriculum.
A virtual field trip is a fantastic option for schools that have both extremely limited funding, as well as time constraints that make trips difficult to plan during the school day.
How Does a Virtual Field Trip Work?
Like I said earlier, a virtual field trip is not an “easy” way out of going to a specific destination. It is however a great way to expose students to an authentic experience that will deepen their understanding of content that has been covered.
If you go to Google and search for “virtual field trip options”,you will receive approximately 32,000,000 hits related to virtual field trips. While this is a great way to see what options are out there, it can also cause a lot of confusion, because if you’re like me, or most teachers, you are going to see things that look so cool! Remember a “cool looking” field trip is great, but does it fit the purpose?
Once you have chosen the field trip you would like to go on, you must “take” the trip first. On a virtual field trip, there will be several options for questions and activities you would like the students to take part in. There won’t be time to complete all options, and quite honestly, you likely wouldn’t want to.
Once you have gone through the field trip to formulate a game plan, you need to make sure you have all the necessary supplies for the students, such as worksheets, notebooks, etc. It is also a good idea to time the field trip.
When the activities are planned, timing is nailed down and supplies are ready– you are ready to embark on your virtual field trip.
How Long is the Average Virtual Field Trip?
The great thing about virtual field trips is the time it takes to enjoy one. You are literally in the driver’s seat for the entire field trip, so you determine the length. As a primary teacher, I would recommend you take shorter trips with your students because of their “focus factor”.
As an intermediate teacher, I took my fourth graders on a 2-hour virtual field trip with a shark expert. They wanted to be on the trip longer! In regards to trip length, you must really know your students, their interest level and ability to focus for any length of time.
If you find a field trip that is on the longer side, perhaps you can break it into small parts over a series of days. Ultimately, it’s up to you, but you do want to make sure it’s beneficial to your students.
Where Can I Find a List of Trips?
While a quick search will provide many options, there are also specific sites that have a library of virtual field trips. Some of the sites listed have free options, while others require a subscription to access the field trips.
- Discovery Education
- Google Expeditions
- Nearpod VR – You can access these without VR goggles
- Field Trip Zoom
These are just a few of the strongest sites I’ve come across in my searches; but there are many, many others to explore. Some of the sites are easier to navigate than others as well. Take time and look around to find the best virtual field trip for your students.
Do I Need to Send Permission Slips?
One benefit of virtual field trips is the ease of planning. Because you aren’t leaving the classroom, you don’t need to worry about sending home permission slips unless this is something your administrator would like you to do.
What Technology do I Need?
Lucky for you, most schools are equipped with the technology needed to take a successful virtual field trip. Most of the field trips are online and require an internet connection with video play capability. Because some field trips offer interactive features, a Smartboard could be very helpful.
Some field trips also offer the option of using virtual reality equipment, that while amazing, is not completely necessary.
If your students have 1:1 technology, they can easily access the virtual field trip on their device and complete the interactive components independently. I would not recommend this method for primary students though, as they may struggle to focus on the task. In truth, a whole group virtual field trip would likely be best for this age.
Can You Meet with Experts in Real Time?
One thing that makes field trips so appealing is the ability to meet with and learn from experts. A lot of virtual field trips are set up to follow a specific patten, which may include video recorded interviews from experts.
While recorded interviews are great and can give a lot of information to the students, the ability to ask questions is very limited.
If you prefer to take a virtual field trip in real time, you may want to check out Skype. There are many experts you can set up a class time with. My students absolutely loved meeting with a shark expert based in Florida. The expert was able to share information about sharks as well as the unique research project he and his colleagues were working on.
Tips for Taking a Virtual Field Trip
If you have finally decided it is time to take a virtual field trip, here are some tips to help you out:
- Have an idea for the field trip.
- Make sure it fits with what you are teaching.
- Determine what you want the students to learn from the field trip.
- Take the field trip yourself to be sure your technology will support the trip.
- Gather the documents and work you would like your students to complete.
- It’s okay to have older students take notes to aid in discussion
- If you are meeting with a live expert, have the students prepare questions ahead of time.
- Questions will come up during the presentation and that’s okay too.
The most important thing you can do when planning for a virtual field trip is to make sure it is relevant to what you are learning and not to plan a virtual field trip all the time. Like anything, it will lose its luster if you overdo it.
Take time to research some virtual field trips and determine if they are right for you and your students!
This new land of virtual school thrust me head first into the fire that awaits me next school year: a hybrid position split evenly between classroom teaching and teacher support. I cannot pretend to be an expert in virtual school, but I can share some wisdom from the front lines.
If you’d have told me in January 2020 that just a few short months later, I’d be saying farewell to teaching my students physically, I’d have thought you were crazy. But that was early 2020, and as January progressed to February and March, the COVID-19 situation escalated far faster than I could have imagined.
Teaching a class from home has a very specific set of challenges that many educators are now facing daily. Some of the most common challenges are a proper network set-up, a reliable and safe platform to use, making sure students can connect, engagement and a quiet location to teach from.