Would you believe me if I told you that my students have seen the Adélie penguin breeding grounds in Antarctica, experienced whale watching and mountain climbing at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, and navigated Yellowstone National Park guided by an expert park ranger?
It may seem impossible, but it’s true.
How is this possible? Virtual field trips.
Without ever leaving the school building, educators and students can navigate the globe via virtual field trips. Through the power of technology, my preschool–12th-grade students have traveled over 100,000 virtual miles witnessing everything from tidepools to tarpits at no extra cost to our district.
In addition to transporting students to far away locations, virtual field trips can connect students with experts in any particular field who can bring curriculum content standards to life. While many on-demand virtual presentations are available, the real adventure takes place when students can interact in real-time with professionals in their work environments. For example, my students enjoyed learning about how Newton’s laws of motion relate to the game of football when we met virtually with experts at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I have also watched the excitement in my student’s eyes as we navigated multiple national and state parks to talk with park rangers regarding animals, habitats, invasive species, geography, and much more.
Because they cost little to nothing, virtual field trips offer more equitable learning environments for all students from every socioeconomic background by eliminating the barriers that prevent student travel and bringing in expert guest speakers. A school only needs a computer, internet, a way to display the field trip to the students (often a large tv, smartboard, or projector and screen), and video conferencing software (such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet).
Are you ready to go on an educational adventure with your students?
Here is a list of some of my favorite free virtual field trips to help you get started:
- National Park Services Yellowstone National Park and Wind Cave National Park are my favorite (and the easiest to schedule) national parks’ virtual field trips. Their programs introduce park rangers, habitats, and ecosystems to students of all ages. The park rangers do a wonderful job aligning grade-level standards to their audience.
- Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students The state of California offers a number of phenomenal programs that teachers across the world can use in their classrooms. For example, students can travel to Redwood National Park, have an encounter with an elephant seal, explore estuaries in Southern California, and learn about many fascinating ecosystems.
- Empatico Empatico acts as a modern-day pen pal program by connecting students from various countries and cultures in order to foster meaningful understanding of peers from different parts of the world. Empatico uses the age level of the students and available times to match classrooms with each other.
- The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has created a safe habitat for elephants that have retired from zoos and circuses all over the United States. During a virtual visit, your students can see the elephants as well as learn from experts by asking knowledgeable elephant educators questions about Asian and African elephants.
- Buffalo Bill Center of the West The Buffalo Bill Center of the West provides opportunities for students to uncover the wonders of Yellowstone, explore the adventurous lives of mountain men, experience the rich cultures of the Plains Indians, examine animal adaptations, delve into the nuances of art, and much more. It also offers virtual professional development for educators.
Tips for planning a virtual field trip:
- Be ready to book in advance
- Keep track of the release dates for no-cost field trips because they fill up quickly
- Pay close attention to time zones
- Check to see if the organization offers free support materials that can be used to prepare the students with foundational knowledge upon which the field trip can build
Amanda Sears is the Technology Integration Specialist for Amherst Exempted Village Schools in Ohio. Her goals are to educate, enrich, and empower students, teachers, and the community with the power of innovative education technology.
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