Thursday, April 22, 2010

Virtual Field Trips: No Need to Leave the Comfort of Your Own Home

I wrote this article for the Facebook Fan Page of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine this week, but thought that some of my readers may really enjoy it, so I decided to post it here as well.

We’ve been to some incredible places in the past few years including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Monterrey Bay Aquarium, the Eiffel Tower, Easter Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. What may surprise you is that we visited all these places from the comfort of our own home. As much as I love getting out of the house and exploring the world around us, sometimes it’s just not practical or possible to do so. Time, Distance, and Finances can sometimes hinder the big plans I construct in my mind. Thanks to the technology of the internet, there is no shortage of where we can travel too. Virtually, that is.

The best part about taking a virtual field trip is that there is very little preparation on your part. No need to load up the car, drive across town or even get dressed if you don’t want too. And if the weather is nasty or someone is sick? Who cares? No need to cancel something you’ve been looking forward too. Did I mention that Virtual Field Trips are Free and work on YOUR schedule? Do you prefer to take your field trips in the morning before you start school? After school? or when the baby is napping? Do you find that you are always running late no matter how hard you try to prepare ahead of time? Don’t worry, this field trip waits for you.

It's important to remember that with all field trips, some are better than others and that goes for Virtual Field Trips too. Below you'll find some of my favorite resources when it comes to selecting a virtual trip.

We are huge fans of the National Park system and have been known to plan our real travels according to where there nearest National Park may be. It’s only natural that we would enjoy learning about some of the parks that we have yet to travel to. If you have 5-12 graders, Teaching with Historic Places is a great starting place because it can be searched using several criteria including theme, location and time period. The lesson plans are written for the classroom settings and some are a bit heavy on the reading and short on images, but they do contain a wealth of information and often contain links to additional supplemental material if your child really develops an interest.

Virtual field trips can also be used to enhance a current study. If you’re teaching about the ocean, or desert, owls, dolphins or roller coasters, why not Google it with the word webcam and see what comes up? This website, Making Teachers Nerdy (for classroom teachers, but very relevant) has a great selection of webcams linked up and waiting for you to view. The list is divided by Animals/Insects, Landforms, Geography/Travel, History/Social Studies and Science. You’ll find a brief description of the website, whether the webcam is live, or delayed and if the site is interactive ex., allowing a chat feature.

Want to learn how chocolate’s made, guitars or Motor Homes? Factory Tours Online is your gateway to understanding. Some of these links will just contain a few pictures, but you’ll also find some video factory tours which are a special treat. Especially to Hershey’s. Yum.

Of course there are also virtual tours of museums, famous structures, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the Grand Canyon. You’ll find that and more at Education World,two sites that share the name, Virtual Field Trips, Virtual Field Trips and Virtual World Travel.

Have I gotten your attention yet? I hope so, your adventure is waiting just a few clicks away. So, who’s up for a trip to Niagara Falls, in…hmmm…ten minutes? I’ll grab the rain coats!

Until next time, Happy Field Trippin’!

*Just so you know, though I’ve listed these websites as resources, I have not thoroughly combed over each one and have no way of knowing if they contain material that may be unsuitable for your family. I would not knowingly point you in the direction of something that would be harmful, but websites change daily. For that reason, I always suggest that you peruse these websites before passing them on to your child, and better yet, take the field trip with them.

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