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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Get Out Of That Classroom And See The World

When the excitement of getting my room ready for fall has passed and the routine is set I seem to miss the freedom of summer and getting out to see the country. If I am feeling this wanderlust I know my students must be looking longingly out my window and dreaming of outside adventures. You do not have to cut out that wandering cold turkey at the start of school. Certainly it is best to get the kids outside on a nice day and let the lessons occur outside. If the weather is rainy, hot or not suitable for trekking out to the warm sunshine there is an option that more and more teachers are using, “virtual field trips”.

I am a firm believer in “No child left Inside” and that we should take kids out of school to see the real world as often as we can whether it is a short walk in the area around the school or a full blown “get on a bus” and travel to a remote site experience. With schedule problems, funding cuts and other local issues that may not be as possible as it was in the past. Then, the web provides a wealth of great places to visit from the comfort of your computer lab. It is interesting that many of these virtual trips generate the same great extended discussions as the real ones.

If you are into geology there are great sites from the National Parks to college groups who have put together sites with photos, maps and guiding instructions. One of the best is:
http://jove.geol.niu.edu/faculty/fischer/429_info/429trips/fieldtrips_home.html

It is important to have activities that lead up to these virtual trips that are the same as those we would use for the real trips. We need to generate excitement, give the students some background information to help them make the most of the video, photos and experience. The science content you are using the trip to teach should be crystal clear to the students so they know what to look for. Lastly, there should be some follow up to give kids a chance to discuss what they learned.

If you want to have lists of virtual tours to select from there are lots of good sites. Two of my favorites are http://www.field-trips.org/trips.htm AND http://campus.fortunecity.com/newton/40/field.html

Not all trips have to be to outside locations. There are field trips inside the human heart, virtual dissections, science museums and web cams of surgery and a host of career introductions.  The heart experience is found in the list at http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/virtual.php
Most of these sites have a mix of secondary and elementary trips. One site with elementary only trips can be found at http://www.kn.pacbell.com/wired/fil/pages/listvirtualgr.html

There are companies that will provide you with trips at a fee. Most of these trips are expeditions to places of scientific interest where researchers communicate with your students every day from the remote locations. My students participated in one to the Galapagos Islands and another to Antarctica. Both were extensive daily experiences with lots of e-mails and chats. They were well worth the expense but you need to know that these trips will take over your curriculum for a number of weeks. The companies will send you lots of curricular materials and handouts to help in planning. I was reluctant to give up my game plan at first but when the kids began interacting with a scientist in the field I gave in and was exceptionally happy that I did.  We did cover the content I would have taught without the field trip.  Actually we covered a lot more as the content was so integrated it merged life, earth and physical. science. The best part was the opportunity the kids had to see what a real scientist does day to day. The scientific inquiry process was well explained.

You can have the same experience with a free virtual field trip. I would contact a scientist and ask that they participate with us or give us an interview via SKYPE. Local colleges or engineering societies can put you in touch with some great connections in the science field. There is a group called Women in Science and Engineering” that has an extensive outreach program and does a phenomenal job at encouraging young women in science. There is probably a group at your local university. The web site for one of the best of these groups is http://www.uicwise.org/

For more connections you can search “scientists in the classroom” and find a host of other programs both local and national. What you will find interesting is that there are lots of scientists out there who are anxious and eager to share their knowledge with your class.
So, here is your chance to scratch that itch to travel. There is a little preparation but no packing and you can go anywhere on the planet. I am going to suggest that you start with the National Parks. Lots of the kids I taught had never been out of the state. To show then Zion, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or Glacier may have planted the seed in some of them to get out and see their country. How great to do that with an eye on science.

Happy Traveling!

 

Shannon C ‘de Baca is a passionate educator who teaches at Iowa Learning Online.

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