We live in an age where the world can be brought into your classroom. I loved using virtual field trips as a way of taking my students to see the world without leaving their seats. Students usually aren’t able to travel around the world, and some students haven’t even been out of their hometowns. So it is important for teachers to give students a world view and that can be done very effectively through virtual field trips.
There are several types of virtual field trips. Some are just photographs with captions that walk you through a specific area. But, when I am talking about virtual field trips, I am talking about trips that place students in a location and give them 360 degree views as if they are standing there in person.
One reason to use virtual field trips is to give students a more realistic sense of geography. No other tool does this better than Google Earth. It is perfect to use when studying National Parks. You can zoom in and look up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon as if you were on a boat on the river. And you can “fly” through the canyon to view more than you would be able to in person!
In fact, Google Earth and other virtual field trip sites such as http://www.fullscreen360.com allow educators to take students on field trips they couldn’t actually take– such as allowing students view underwater terrains, mountain top vistas, and the out of this world surfaces of the moon and Mars. (NOTE: On this site, The Red Light District of Amsterdam is included as one of the 360 tours.)
Teachers can also create “Where Am I?” geography games using Google Earth. Zoom in to a location and have the students look around at the street view and try and guess where they are standing. Teachers can zoom out to give them a different frame of reference or can give them clues to help them guess the location.
There are some nice 360 field trips specific to particular sites such as this one for the Great Wall of China: http://www.thebeijingguide.com/great_wall_of_china/index.html
Traveling to virtual locations also helps students to gain a sense of scale. It is hard to describe how vast the Grand Canyon is. But flying through it on a virtual tour can give a better sense of size than a photograph in their textbook. Students have a hard time picturing how tall 1,063 feet is, but if you place them at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower looking up, it paints a more accurate picture.
Another reason to use virtual field trips is to bring history to life. Taking students virtually to a historical location allows them to see details they may not notice in still photographs. It also can help to dispel misconceptions. For example, some of my students thought all Civil War battlefields took place on an open plain because that is all they had seen in films or re-enactments.
A few examples of historical field trips include:
Virtual field trips are an interesting way to explore other cultures. In Google Earth, street views allow you to drop your students right in the middle of Tokyo or London so they can witness first-hand the differences in street signs, cars, buildings, and clothing worn by people on the street.
Virtual trips are fantastic ways to expose students to great works of art. It is a different perspective to see the Mona Lisa in a book versus virtually standing in front of the small painting. http://www.googleartproject.com has amazing museum views where students can walk through exhibits as if they were in the museum.
Virtual field trips are also very applicable to science. The Museum of Natural History has fantastic virtual tours of its exhibits that are very helpful to establish background knowledge or to allow students to observe nature up close. I love the Mendenhall Glacier tour on fullscreen360.com
Virtual field trips can be a great way for students to answer their own inquiry questions. Instead of looking up on the internet how the Grand Canyon was formed, they can visit the Grand Canyon, see the river at the bottom and combine this with their knowledge of erosion to deduce how the canyon was formed. (Sometimes this will obviously have to be guided by a teacher—more so in the beginning of the year.)
In the beginning, it is important for to teachers to guide the field trip by asking lots of questions so students get out of the experience what the teacher intends and so they stay involved in the experience. There are many opportunities for prediction questions before the trip, observation and inference questions during the trip, and compare and contrast and summary questions after the trip.
For example, have students write a descriptive paragraph about what they think a location will look like before the field trip. After the field trip, have the students write a paragraph comparing and contrasting the actual location with their pre-visit paragraph predictions.
One of the criticisms of interactive whiteboards is that they are very teacher-centric, so it is important for teachers to also allow students to also guide field trips. They can choose the Where Am I geography locations and write clues. They can embed 360 locations in presentations of their knowledge about a subject. They can use a virtual field trip location to prove a hypothesis or to generate additional questions for further investigation.
But wait…before you are off on your next virtual field trip adventure…please take a moment to let us know below how you are using virtual field trips in your classroom!