Traditional Field trips are great, but they do have their drawbacks. Maybe you don’t like the long bus ride. Maybe you have difficulty getting enough chaperones to volunteer or maybe traditional field trips are just too costly. Virtual field trips are a great way to bring the world to your students without the hassle of a real field trip.
One of the best resources for virtual field trips that I know of is PORTS: Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students. PORTS is run by the California State Parks and their rangers. The park rangers will do a video conference with your class that provides real time, two-way communication. The ranger can answer students’ questions and present a multimedia, live lesson to the students on a topic related to one of the state parks. The students can interact with the park ranger as if they were right there, even though they are miles away.
Some of the PORTS topic include:
- Hearst Castle
- Kelp Forests
- Desert Stories (Geology or Fossils)
- Elephant Seals
- Gold Rush
- Monarch Butterfly
- Redwood Ecology
- Salmon Life Cycle
- Tide Pools
- What is a Mammal?
To prepare your class for the video conference, PORTS provides lesson plans, digital videos, digital images, and other media materials on the PORTS website. All you need is a computer or tablet with a camera, a projector, and a high speed internet connection. PORTS is completely free, high quality, and are constantly adding new topics.
To get started, go to the PORTS website and check out the descriptions of the different topic (called Units of Study). Then fill out the registration form to request a particular topic and date you would like to schedule the video conference. The ranger or coordinator will get back to you by phone or email. Make your request early in the year, because spots fill up quickly.
Another resource for virtual field trips is the Microsoft Community Skype in the Classroom Virtual Field Trips. It is also free, is set up similar to PORTS, and uses Skype to do the video conferences. You do need to set up a username and password to sign in to the site. It has virtual field trips from all over the world.
Lastly California State Parks has partnered with Google to create an experience similar to street view on Google Maps for many state park trails and beaches called Google Trekker. They did this by mounting a 3D camera to a backpack and walking the trails. This provides a self-guided way to see nature at our state parks without leaving your classroom. Check out all the locations available at this website. This is also free, but is not interactive with a ranger and is not in real time.
I hope this gives you some ideas of ways you can use technology to bring the world into your classroom and provide an engaging, memorable learning experience for your students.