Virtual Field Trips: Saving Time and Money
Maximize instructional time and reduce costs and planning by using virtual field trips.
By Elijah Ammen
Field trips are always a point of contention among teachers and administrators. On one hand, field trips can be an inspirational experience for children. On the other hand, they are expensive, require significant planning, and often spend more time in a bus than at the site of the field trip. The traditional alternative is to watch a documentary on a location, but that turns students into passive consumers rather than active learners.
With virtual field trips, learners are able to experience another place in a more interactive setting than a documentary. Classes are able to manipulate the virtual field trips and actively search for particular points of interest, rather than passively listen to a narrator of a documentary.
Many virtual field trips are available for purchase. However, there are just as many quality virtual field trips available for free. The following are a few categories of field trips that can be used in the classroom—particularly if used with a SMARTBoard.
Many museums have their content available online. The Smithsonian has most exhibits available online as panoramas to explore the museum. It is also available on iPad or other mobile devices.
The Google Art Project has thousands of pieces of art searchable by collections and artist. Like most Google software, it’s very user-friendly. You will need a Chrome plugin which only takes a few minutes to install. They also have a “Discover” feature where they recommend artwork if users just want to browse the art.
There are several other sites that have already compiled a list of virtual tours. This site has a lot of links out to national museums where you can browse for your specific subject, ranging from zoological parks to Capitol tours.
As a kid, I loved astronomy; whether it was visiting a planetarium, or watching the Leonids from the backyard. Planetariums are exciting, but online planetariums allow your classes to explore and search through the stars; becoming active rather than passive learners. So if you can’t take your class to reenact Rebel Without a Cause, use these online planetariums to explore stars:
In addition to a sky map, Google Sky has links to specific celestial features, whether constellations, galaxies, or specific stars, as well as podcasts and detailed information for the different sights.
Other excellent (though more complex) planetariums include:
While Google Maps is a great resource for any mapping, there are some more content-specific mapping programs online, like Crime Mapper, where you can look up crimes by time, date, and location. Students can research and map communities and crime trends and compare them to other communities. You can even take your students on an in-depth tour of the White House!
Introduce virtual field trips to your students by having them explore the Vancouver Aquarium in this lesson plan. A great way to get students familiar with concept and scaffold their experience with online content.
This program has a free trial but costs for the full version. This lesson plan explains ways to integrate Tramline into your classroom if you can find funding for the program.
This site from the University of Missouri has a collection of virtual field trips. Some are Missouri-specific, but others are links to national museums or foreign attractions.