Virtual Electronic Field Trips
by National Hall of Fame teacher Alan Haskvitz

Thing back to your school days and the chances are that besides a lost love it was a field trip that you recall vividly. Whether that class visit was to a museum, park, or historical place the learning and enjoyment standout. Today, with modern electronics, budgeting concerns, lawsuit avoidance, curriculum standards, and high value testing results, field trips are a rarity, if not extinct.

Sad, yes, but what is even more disheartening is the fact that students won’t have the opportunity to go somewhere that they could later in life share with their family. Even when a grant has been secured to help pay for the transportation and entrance costs you need to impose on other teachers to have that student miss their class. A small favor to ask, but nonetheless a day of learning missed for that subject area.

There is also the time consuming of tasks of trolling for parents to supervise, arranging the time for buses to arrive, medications, making sure no child is without an emergency number, and that the students understand the time schedule. There may be need for substitute plans and it is recommended that you take a picture of the group on the day of the trip so that if one is missing he or she is easier to identify by officials. This is a lot to ask from a teacher and certainly not a requirement for their position.

But all the above are practical matters. What is missing is the spontaneous learning opportunity across curriculum areas and the diversity of learning opportunities. For example, before the students get on the bus they must calculate the mileage, make an estimate of the miles per hour, study a map to see what other significant places are along the road, and study a layout of the facility noting where they are to report, restrooms, and other places they need to know. The combines both geography and math and map reading. Add to that mix the directions the bus will travel and estimated time of arrival and you have a great learning experience before the trip begins. Having the students make their own note taking book using inexpensive note pads and self-made marbled paper using printers ink and library or book binding tape and you have an art lesson. Using technology, students can even use global positioning information to track the trip and note the various streets taken to make them more aware of the importance of knowing where they are when traveling.

There is always the value of debriefing once the trip is finished and having the students share a study guide for the trip about such items as types of occupations noted, most unusual fact, names of docents, and a list of items observed and the addresses of those who need thank you notes and, perhaps, art work.

The learning that can be linked to a field trip makes if memorable, but just as importantly, enables them to learn on their own, something that electronic field trips to do not currently offer. It is not that electronic field trips are bad, far from it, what better way to visit places far behind the immediate area. What they lack is the spirit of adventure, the learning with friends on their own, to learn from others and, above all, the excitement to actually tell their family about and share the learning and motivate a future excursion.

Fortunately, when I was attending school legal matters were not the main concern. Learning was. We stood in the back of a truck on the way to a historical park, walked miles across town to visit a museum, went to a zoo and were simply told to report back at a certain time, not to mention trips to airfields, ships, museums, and significant buildings. The fact that I can recall these and don’ t remember the teacher’s name is not an indictment of the school system, but a reflection that perhaps we need to rethink what I call “seated learning” as the only way to inculcate facts.

Due to legal and financial constraints perhaps it is time to take a longer look at electronic or Internet field trips.

First, to make this lesson as real life as possible it would be good to have a map of the location, and, if it is a building or park, a map of that as well. In this way the student has a sense of where the images are coming from. Furthermore, if it is a location, such as a museum, the students can be given math problems on time and distance to help them understand the expenses of such travel. This also ties in with Common Core questions as well.

Before the trip is taken the students should read about the place, be prepared to compare it to others, and be given time to write what they might learn or would like to learn. These can be used at the end of the lesson as the bases for a compare and contrast essay. Obviously, the lesson also ties in with technology and science lessons as well.

The students need to take notes on the field trip including the webpage and what was shown. I would recommend that the trip take place during class time to keep the group on task and eliminate students going off-topic.

The teacher needs to review the site first, make an agenda of what is going to be shown and in what order, and create a list of questions for the students to answer as the lesson progresses.

It should be remembered that field trips may not be the same as once thought. There are now field trips that show how to make bread, ride a horse, and more. So be selective and make sure they meet your objectives.

Virtual Field Trips
Ten of the Best Virtual Field Trips

Huge List of Electronic Field Trips

Apps for field trips from Edutopia
Rather limited, but varied.