UPDATED: Oct 19, 2019
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Technological advancements like the internet and smart devices have proven beneficial for people in various aspects of life. Not surprisingly, they are also a welcome tool used by educators to make learning more fun and efficient.
One particularly great use for these new technologies is the use of virtual and online field trips, which are a cheaper and more convenient alternative to real-life field trips. These trips can range from a tour to a museum, a visit to national monuments, or even an exploration of faraway countries.
Pre-K – Kindergarten
It can be difficult to organize an out of the classroom trip for younger students. You would have to coordinate with a lot of people and parents to make it happen. Sometimes the school might not have enough budget allotted for an educational trip. With a virtual field trip, none of this should prevent the children in your class from learning through exploration.
As an alternative, you can take your preschool or kindergarten students on fun yet informational virtual trips to a zoo or aquarium. For example, there are places such as the San Diego Zoo and the Monterey Bay Aquarium which provide virtual tours for classes of students interested in learning about a wide array of animals and aquatic life.
- Waterford: 3 great virtual field trips for early learners
- Kid Vision Pre-K: Virtual field trips
- University of Minnesota Duluth: Virtual field trips
Grades 1 – 2
Kids in this age range are not really known for their great attention spans. To make your lesson plan more appealing and conducive to interactive learning, consider signing your class up for a video conference lesson. Through a video conference program, students are treated to a live tour of a location including educational and fun activities conducted by an expert.
Many video conferencing tours still cost a small amount. To skip the cost entirely, explore your options. If you are teaching subjects like social studies or science, various museums and factories offer free materials you can use to facilitate your own virtual field trip in the classroom. If you have an interest in a particular location, check their website. They may surprise you by already having a virtual tour or educational virtual field trip of their facility.
- Roosevelt Elementary School: Fun Fridays/Free time
- ISTE: Tap your community for virtual field trip experiences
Grades 3 – 5
A lot of museums have their own apps through which people can take a tour of their permanent and temporary exhibits using a smart device. Some are free while some ask for a small fee. Take advantage of this wealth of information and allot a session of your class to explore a museum with your students.
You can find the link to an app list below for museums like the 9/11 Museum and the National Archives for history class, MetKids for art class, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for science class, and many more.
- Read Write Think: Take a virtual field trip
- Common Sense Education: Best museum apps and websites for students
Grades 6 – 8
Universities and other institutions of higher learning also offer virtual tours for middle school students. For example, some conduct tours for students who want to learn more about anything from science to ancient civilizations with the guidance of professionals and professors in the field.
If you are looking for something that does not require scheduling, the University of Arizona Center for Middle Eastern Studies has a free ready-made module for a virtual tour of the country Oman designed for middle schoolers. It also includes a pre-written lesson plan to guide teachers in conducting the tour themselves, so they have full control of when and how they will do the tour depending on when it fits into their lesson plan.
- University of Arizona: Take a virtual field trip to Oman
- National Museum of American History: Skip the school bus: Our tips for planning a virtual field trip
Grades 9 – 12
It can be challenging to engage and keep high school students interested in school lessons when they have a lot going on in their social lives. A good way to make otherwise boring subjects like history and science more palatable for them is through the use of good visual aids. This is where virtual tours come in.
If you are looking for a place to start, the Koshland Science Museum offers a different kind of virtual tour with their ‘Infectious Disease: Evolving Challenges to Human Health’ and ‘Putting DNA to Work’ virtual field trips. They also offer accompanying worksheets with their online exhibitions to help high school students learn about diseases and DNA. Take a look at their materials in the resources below.
Resources for Educators
Of course, the success of any virtual field trip will rely on how you, the parent or teacher, prepare and handle the educational journey.
Here are some ways to get the most out of a virtual field trip and to make sure that your students stay interested and involved:
- Find a venue outside of the classroom. Pick another place within the school for the trip to give students a different learning environment and a sense of getting up and moving around to explore new ideas.
- Get multiple classes to take the same trip and have the students interact to widen their experiences beyond the members of their own classes.
- Make sure the technology works ahead of time. Coordinate with other school staff to ensure that everything you need (internet connection, a visual display, speakers, cords, etc.) are working well before it is time to start your journey.
- Give them a goal. Explain the purpose of the virtual field trip to your students and give them a specific goal to achieve (such as a question to answer) by the end of the session.
For more helpful tips and virtual field trip ideas, check out the links below.
- Online Learning Consortium: Virtual field trips: An online learning experience
- NASA: Learning technologies
- School Improvement in Maryland: Virtual field trips
- National Park Service: Virtual tour