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7 of the Best Virtual Science Field Trips

Nifty ways to keep science education lively and entertaining with virtual field trips.

As many students are finishing the 2019-2020 school year with online lessons due to COVID-19, parents and educators alike have been charged with stimulating children in a non-traditional education setting.

There is also a strong likelihood that as governments continue to scramble in finding ways to stop the spread of coronavirus, at least the first term of the next school year may continue in the form of distance education.

RELATED: 11 SCIENCE AND TECH MUSEUMS YOU CAN VIRTUALLY TOUR

Distance education can work quite smoothly when planned in advance. There are many online resources that can give students educational opportunities paramount to those they would receive in the brick and mortar classroom.

However, due to the extraordinary circumstances placed on many by the pandemic, extracurricular and supplemental activities are simply not feasible. One thing that students may be missing, especially in the spring and summer months is the chance to go on field trips. Field trips allow the classroom to come alive. A field trip takes learning into the community and gives students a chance to do fun, hands-on activities

Thankfully, technology is advanced enough that virtual field trips can be taken in the place of traditional field trips. Many museums, nature reserves, theme parks, and activity centers have virtual tours and activities that are engaging and provide a break from the monotony of typical screen time. Science field trips are particularly conducive to being digitized. To do our part in helping with the global distance education effort, we have prepared a list of trips along with a short guide on how to make the most of them.

The Simpsons With VR Glasses
Source: Fabrice Florin/ Flickr

 Virtual field trip sites

1. Project Noah 

A free resource for wildlife identification. Users create wildlife journals by sharing photos from nature and identifying species. Students may create their own journals or discover new species by exploring the journals of others. 

2. Navigating Nuclear

Presents a tour of the Idaho National Laboratory, which is the leading nuclear research facility in the United States. Students can explore a nuclear reactor and get information on careers in nuclear science. This site also features educator guides to assist with lesson planning.

3. Great Lakes Now

A Detroit Public TV effort that has three five-minute videos that are virtual field trips. The topics are coastal wetlands, algal blooms, and lake sturgeon. These trips are geared towards middle schoolers but can be adapted for all ages. Great Lakes Now's virtual field trips also feature lesson plans.

4. UPM Forest Life

A virtual explorer field trip in which users are entrenched in the sights and sounds of Finnish forests. There are several paths to choose from. Each path has a different theme. Students have the option of stopping to learn more about the forests' flora and fauna along the way. This a cool experience for students and parents alike, as the images of the dense forests and sounds of birds chirping are very soothing. 

5. NASA's Journey To Mars 

Video and instructional materials to teach students about the preparation for space travel and the journey to Mars itself.

6. San Diego Zoo Live Cams

Virtual field trips at the zoo are always a great option. Watch the animal exhibitions live and dive deeper into the educational experience with the magazine Zoonoz. The site also has prerecorded videos and activities for kids.

7. Spark Online Education by Nascar Hall of Fame 

Not all educational field trips are created equal. This is an exciting chance for students to learn about physics, geology, and engineering all in the context of Nascar races. It also includes lesson plans. 

These are just some of the many options for science field trips from home. Other choices include virtual reality trips, trips to the back yard, or turning your home into a science lab by ordering kits and finding fun projects. 

Making the most of virtual field trips 

Not every parent is an educator and not every educator has the time to create extra activities under the weight of tedious zoom lessons and endless zoom meetings. So, we are here for you. Here is a list of tips for making the most of these virtual trips

Set the scene 

A big part of the fun of field trips is the excitement of the day's routines. Packing a lunch, setting an itinerary, and even writing out name tags can help kids feel like they are headed out for an actual adventure. 

Prep your learner 

Teachers know that the best lessons come with a warm-up. Activate the student's prior knowledge by talking about the trip and its subject matter before diving in. For example, before entering the Finnish forest, you can ask students of all ages about what they may expect to find there. 

Keep it interactive

Give the students a task to do before starting the virtual trip. This could be note-taking, coming up with questions to ask afterward, or using props or decorations in line with the trip's theme. This can be as low fuss or production-like as you have time for. 

Discussion

Students of all ages need guidance in reflecting on what they have seen or learned during a field trip. An easy discussion allows the students to freely share their thoughts, but guided discussions may help if there are specific learning objectives you need to meet.

Follow up activity

A field trip themed art project, essay, or research paper can help give your student's living room excursion a more academic feel. Students may gripe about extra work, but secretly they usually crave the structure of school and will feel good about applying their newfound knowledge.

We have given you a few examples of where to go on your next science-themed virtual field trip, and how to structure your trip. Lesson plans are included with most of these, and if not, you can use the format above to make your own. When in doubt, keep it fun and light. Virtual field trips do not have to be for students only - try one yourself for a relaxing alternative to Netflix.

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