Discover and Create Your Own Field Trips
by Stephanie Stevenson, Science—6th Grade, Ft. Caroline Middle SchoolJacksonville, Florida
MultiMedia Schools  • September 2001 
When I did a Google Search of "Virtual Field Trips" I got 82 pages of virtual field trip links.
The Internet expands your classroom like the "Big Bang"—shattering the walls in a shower of information and new opportunities for your teacher's toolkit. When the dust settles, one question remains: "How do you incorporate the abundance of resources that the Internet brings?" The answers are as plentiful as the stars in the cosmos. But one way you can use the Internet is to take your students on a virtual field trip.

Introducing the Internet doesn't mean you must forget everything you already know. Originally, the idea of field trips was as controversial as the Internet is now. Everything kids need to know is in the textbook, right? Hardly! Over the years, the idea of using field trips to provide opportunities for extending learning through firsthand experience has become commonly accepted. The traditional field trip requires planning and preparation, participation, and follow-up, all needing a great deal of time and energy.

Well, so does a virtual field trip! However, the expanded range of experiences extends to the limits of your imagination, and sometimes beyond!
 

Putting Costs in Perspective
On a traditional field trip, permission slips must be sent out and collected to cover liability problems that a trip can raise, such as accidents, injuries, etc. Funds to cover the costs of transportation, entrance fees, and meals must also be collected and deposited. A school bus in my district in Florida costs $45 for the first 3 hours, then $5.15 for each additional hour. After 50 miles an additional 80 cents per mile is assessed. An average bus holds about 65 students. If you planned to go on a daylong (6-hour) field trip to your local museum, the beginning cost for a bus would be $60.45, about $2 per pupil in a 30-pupil classroom. On top of the transportation costs you must add the entry fee to the museum, as well as any food or refreshments necessary for the trip. The total for the trip would be approximately $10 to $15 per student. It's not that it isn't worth it, it's that there is another way to offer similar experiences for your students without traveling!

Virtual field trips are computer-generated environments that offer media-rich interactions with a particular location, such as laboratories, museums, parks, zoos, even other countries. The components of a virtual field trip include content background information, images/animations, QuickTime movies and VR, sound/music, video, online forums, additional links, educational materials, and more. The experience enables students to make learning connections that extend the content into a context. Virtual field trips are often free, but some do require subscription rates for multiple trips. But the best part is interaction! 

Virtual field trips can be incorporated into your curriculum in four distinct ways. They can be used as:

  • an instructional tool when a site visit is out of the question
  • a focus activity prior to a class taking an actual field trip
  • a reporting and reflecting follow-up activity for students after they have been on a field trip
  • a presentation tool for you to share your own travels


So What's Out There?
When I did a Google Search of "Virtual Field Trips," I got 82 pages of virtual field trip links! Of course, quite a few were repetitive, but the surprise was that most were not. Just as a "real" field trip is an event—time away from the everyday learning of the classroom—all of these sites represent an event, a step outside the self-contained classroom into the classroom without walls. The old phrase "a classroom without walls" has now come to include a rich array of experiences that show the inter-relatedness of the inhabitants of our planet.

Just look at a few of the virtual field trips you can take on the Internet:

  • Virtual Sea Kayak Expedition: BigChalk's Virtual Sea Kayak Expedition provides firsthand accounts of real-life sea-kayaking adventurers exploring Central American oceans, rivers, canals, and jungles.

  • Congo Gorilla Forest: Congo Gorilla Forest, also from BigChalk, brings the Bronx Zoo's exciting rainforest exhibit to an online audience, exposing students to life science (biology, ecosystems, biomes), animal behavior, the experiences of research scientists, conservation issues, life in the rainforest (for both people and animals), and much more. 

  • "A Day in the Life" of Colonial Williamsburg: Another from BigChalk, A Day in the Life presents the experiences of six social classes in 18th century Colonial Williamsburg, highlighting issues of social class, work, economy, politics, slavery, domestic life, education, and entertainment through the eyes of individual people.

  • Sounds of History: This trip—the final one mentioned here from BigChalk—answers the question, "What does America's past sound like?" Explore and connect to 10 eras of America's past through the "sounds of history"—music, literary readings, excerpts from political speeches, everyday noises, nature sounds, etc.— from the Smithsonian "Folkways" collections.

  • AmazonQuest, from Classroom Connect. Explore deforestation (an area the size of Belgium disappeared last year), mining, biopiracy, and endangered species among other things to better understand how events and activities in the Amazon region affect life in the U.S. and vice versa. 

  • CyberTrips, from Classroom Connect. CyberTrips Egypt walks students through the world of pyramids and the people of Egypt. CyberTrips Washington, DC, guides students on a tour of our country's government. CyberTrips Mt. Everest and the Himalayas takes students to one of Earth's most interesting geographic features and helps them learn about the people of the Himalayas. CyberTrips Kenya summons students to a safari to experience the diverse cultures and wildlife of this exotic land. CyberTrips Paris invites students into the food, history, art, and lives of the French people. Each trip addresses mapping, customs, language, music, and religion of each area studied.

  • Global Nomads Group: Trips provide K-12 students a fully interactive exploration (live audio and video two-way discussions are possible) of the lives, cultures, traditions, and challenges facing their contemporaries around the world.

  • Learnz2001 Island Odyssey: This year focuses on islands and compares New Zealand with its smaller "offshore" islands. It focuses on endangered species, introduced species, and connections between people and the environment.

  • NASA Quest: Meet the people of NASA and look over their shoulders as they make NASA's goals a reality. Whether in the area of aerospace design or training for space walks, NASA Quest is a rich resource for educators, kids, and space enthusiasts who are interested in meeting and learning about NASA people and the national space program.

  • Riverdeep's Xcursion Central: Xcursion Central offers a collection of Internet field trips that addresses a wide variety of content in multiple subject areas for multiple age groups and provides tools and resources for all levels of experience. From simply taking an Xcursion to using the Xcursion authoring tool to create your own, there's something for everyone. Assessment is based on Gardener's Multiple Intelligences.

  • Exploratorium: CERN: This one's an exploration into the particle accelerators and the people, place, tools, and ideas of CERN (The European Center for Nuclear Research).
So, grab the chart I've created (below) as your guide and hop on board! How are you going to effectively use a virtual field trip in your classroom?
 
The Who, What, and Where for 11 Virtual Field Trip Sites
Click images for full-size, printable versions [PDF format]
Resources and Other Places to Go!

Creating a Virtual Field Trip
http://curry.edschool.virginia.edu/go/workshop98/sessions/trip/

Virtual Field Trips: Take, Create, and Visit
http://www.uen.org/utahlink/tours/

Integrating the World of Online Adventures
http://www.macul.org/conferences/2001/handouts/MACULHan/online_adventures_MACUL.htm

Classroom management for creating your own virtual field trips
http://www.geographyjim.org/virtual.htm

Virtual Fieldtrip (PowerPoint Presentation): Scoring Rubric
http://members.aol.com/mistercheung3/virtual.htm

CARE's Virtual FieldTrips
http://www.care.org/virtual_trip/

List of virtual field trips... not all links work
http://www.d131.kane.k12.il.us/virfield.htm

Field Trips site
http://www.field-trips.org/

Versailles
http://www.chateauversailles.fr/en/

Virtual Tour and Field Trip sites
http://faculty.acu.edu/~armstrongl/geography/virt.html

Virtual Museums and Field Trips
http://intra.smsd.org/connections/niemanel/KGTC/virtual.htm

Virtual Field Trips by Subject
http://www.fresno.k12.ca.us/schools/s101/ed/fieldtrp.htm

Chicago's Field Museum Online Exhibits
http://www.fmnh.org./exhibits/online_exhib.htm

Virtual Field Trips Site...field trips on topics made with TourMaker software
http://www.field-guides.com/about.htm

Virtual Tours page... not all links work
http://www.fayette.k12.ky.us/instructtech/trt5/links/tours.htm
 

 
Communications can be addressed to the author Stephanie Stevenson, Science—6th Grade, Ft. Caroline Middle School, Jacksonville, FL 32277; phone: 904/762-9307; cell: 904/699-7491; fax: 904/745-4937; e-mail: scstevenson@mindspring.com.

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