Tips to help students get the best possible experience from their virtual field trips
I have many great memories from elementary school, but my favorite memories revolve around field trips. The special packed lunch, the bus ride, the opportunity to pair up with a “field trip buddy” for the day all helped make those journeys unforgettable.
While traditional field trips continue to offer opportunities to create memorable learning environments for students of all ages, a new wave of technologies have created new, virtual field trip (VFT) experiences. Through a VFT, an educator leverages digital content and educational technologies to take educators and students beyond their classroom walls to meet people and see places they might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience.
Personally, I believe the most exciting virtual field trips are event-based. Event-based virtual field trips create a single point in time where classrooms from around the world connect to form a unique and diverse community that takes a deep-dive on a particular topic or moment in history.
One example of an event-based virtual field trip is the VFT I conducted last year to mark the 150th Anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. During this unique event, participating students toured Ford’s Theatre, the site of the assassination, and heard from the Theatre’s teaching artists about American history at the time of the event. Incredibly, attendees to this event saw parts of the theatre that are closed to the public and even closed to the park rangers that provide in-person tours. Students enjoyed real time interaction with experts, and learned alongside students from around the world by discussing the impacts Lincoln had on history.
VFTs can offer students an unparalleled learning experience when integrated effectively into classroom instruction. Here are five tips to make these fantastic experiences meaningful for all students.
Like any lesson plan, consider how you can prepare your students. First, don’t forget the standards, curriculum and content you are helping your students uncover. By connecting these virtual field trip experiences to content that you want students to learn, you can ensure students come to the event ready to participate. Also look for pre-event activities your students can participate in. Not only do these activities promote student thinking about what might happen during the virtual field trip, they also allow you to create connections to the specific content you wish to cover.
Engage and connect
During the event, make sure that you take advantage of any virtual connections that are possible, such as submitting questions for panelists before or during the event, or participating in Twitter backchannel conversations as the VFT unfolds. Your participation helps guide live panelists and provides your students the opportunity to be recognized! There’s not too much more exciting then hearing your class’s name and question read aloud during a live virtual field trip.
Don’t forget to model your learning for your students. Take pictures of what is happening in the classroom and document everything going on. In order to maximize virtual field trips, integrate teaching strategies with the content that is shared. You might consider the A-E-I-O-U strategy during the event; showing students how to capture what they learned. (A- an adjective or two that describes what they learned, E – emotion describing how it made them feel, I – something they found interesting, O – something that made them say “Oh!”, U – write a question that you want to learn more about). For more examples of free strategies to use with digital media, take a look here.
During the event, identify the talking points and imagery that provides the most direct launching point into your curriculum. Plan to revisit these segments in the future. Consider what resonated with your students. How can you make this more than an isolated lesson? Often, these events pique students’ interest and spark many questions. Use this opportunity to have students record their thinking. Don’t expect to provide answers. Rather, put the learning opportunity back on your students to discover their answers as you work together towards mastering your unit of instruction.
The most important step is sharing what you’ve learned! Teachers that use virtual field trips regularly ask students to create artifacts that represent their learning. In addition to a written reflection, consider visual projects like photo journals, digital stories, and blog posts. As you bring more virtual field trips into your classroom, students can compare them and identify which they like the best. Parents, administrators and your community will love seeing the places you’ve visited and will begin to follow along on your journey. Consider sharing your participation via your classroom newsletter or website, and also let the organization conducting the VFT know how you participated. They will appreciate the feedback, and may offer additional opportunities to recognize your classroom.
If the idea of participating in VFTs is new to you, don’t be overwhelmed. Take small steps such as watching one of these events on your own. Some teachers use virtual field trips as an activator into a unit. They don’t replace the need-to-see content, but rather provide a foundational experience to ask questions and prepare for the unit of study.