Virtual field trips - the future is now
Virtual field trips - the future is now
Posted on 03/22/2018

Students at Shaw Road Elementary in Nicole Sykes class had the opportunity to learn about geology, mountains, and volcanoes from an expert in her field- all while in their own classroom. On the afternoon of February 27 students got the chance to learn more about Mount Rainier.

The Park Ranger, Annie Kilby, started off by introducing herself. Then she began asking students what they have already learned about volcanos. After gauging their knowledge, she started telling them about volcanoes such as Mount Rainier and others. This incredibly interactive lesson was all done through a Skype field trip. Coordinated by Microsoft, this was the first “virtual field trip” to take place in Puyallup Schools.

Ranger Kilby was on the screen in front of the class, and the students could be seen by the park ranger as well from the web camera on the teacher’s tablet. When students had questions, the Ranger Kilby could see the students with hands in the air, call upon them to ask them their questions as well as provide real-time answers. Due to inclement weather on the mountain, Ranger Kilby was inside the ranger station during the interactive lesson.

Instructional Coach for Technology, Nancy Nelson explained, “I was interested to see if the students would react to the presentation like they would a movie shown in class, but the engagement ended up being incredible! It was cool to see the ranger asking students questions to adjust the lesson to where they were in their curriculum. Definitely something a movie or YouTube clip couldn’t do.”

Shaw Road students interacting with Ranger Kilby
(Students learning geology from Ranger Kilby through virtual field trip)

The students, deeply engaged in the activity, took part in special demonstrations with the ranger. Through the activities, they learned stages of a volcano eruption. They even got to play a game where they had to decide whether to evacuate during a mock volcano eruption.

These virtual field trips are free to take advantage of through teacher’s Microsoft Education account. Many options are available that could fit into curriculums and lessons throughout the school year.

These virtual field trips open opportunities for more classrooms to experience places and cultures that would otherwise not be possible. Students can go on a virtual field trip to see a museum in New York or play 20 questions with another class on the other side of the globe.

Field trips can be difficult for teachers to arrange due to there being so many factors. Transportation, funding, arranging chaperones, and ensuring student safety is not an easy task to align for students to learn outside of their classroom for the day. In addition, if a school day is canceled when a field trip was scheduled, because of snow, for example, the field trip would be canceled and may not have a chance to reschedule for that year.

Sykes classroom had originally scheduled their first virtual field trip for February 20 which ended up being a snow day. Instead of students missing the opportunity to learn about Mount Rainier, the virtual field trip was rescheduled for the next week, and students didn’t miss this great opportunity due to unpredictable weather.

Reflecting on the experience Sykes stated, “It was a great experience and easy to set up. Of course, having fabulous Nancy from EdTEC was reassuring in case anything went wrong, but it all went great! The possibilities this creates for our students are endless. My students are already asking what’s next. Their engagement and excitement motivate me to keep finding more opportunities for them to connect electronically with other resources.”

Sykes said she highly suggests this to all teachers who are interested. The students are eager to experience another virtual field trip.

Nelson said the class enjoyed the experience so much that they quickly signed up for another. “They are now on a list to do a Mystery Skype, a session where two classes from anywhere in the world are connected, and they take turns asking each other questions to try and guess where their partner class is located. Students use their classroom computers, maps, and other resources to try and be the first to pinpoint the other class.”

This opportunity will allow for more equity and access for students to experience and learn about different places, cultures, and topics from around the world. Some may even get to see or hear about places they may never get to experience in person for themselves.

More opportunities for virtual field trips are becoming available through Microsoft. If you are a teacher in PSD and would like to learn more about scheduling one of these for your classroom, please contact Nancy Nelson at: nelsonnp@puyallup.k12.wa.us