Virtual Field Trips Let Students Travel the Globe


The three chandeliers in the East Room, the largest room in the White House, are spectacular. Spin underneath one. The light coming through the cut glass—6,000 pieces in each—is mesmerizing.

This perspective would be impossible on a standard tour of the White House. But it’s fully available on a virtual visit. “On a virtual field trip, you can see what you want to see—there are no velvet ropes,” said Pam Doran, a Teacher’s Assistant in the Education Technology division of Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES. She shared her enthusiasm and experience using virtual tours in a classroom setting with educators through Zoom on April 8. The White House was their first stop on a whirlwind tour of, well, the world.

The online professional learning session, part of BOCES #PLontheGo, was attended by more than 50 educators from Eastchester, Scarsdale and Brewster School Districts, and as far away as DCMO BOCES, who were eager to learn how to bring experiential adventures to students who were learning from home.

“Virtual fieldtrips are not new,” said Doran. “The good news is that there are many to choose from and there’s plenty of premade curriculum to go along with them.” The starting point she recommended is artsandculture.google.com.

Doran shared her screen with the session, much like a teacher might with a class, and brought the group to some of her favorite destinations. As they walked through Arches National Park, in Utah, and floated through the International Space Station, 400 kilometers above Earth, Doran demonstrated how to use your keyboard to direct your movement. They also popped into the giraffe and gorilla habitats at the Houston Zoo, in Texas, where you can actually control their webcams to find animals playing. Then, as if she’d given each participant a plane ticket, she directed them to find a virtual experience and report back to the group.

Mary Leptak, a Spanish and French teacher at Eastchester Middle School, highlighted Museo Nacional Ciencias Naturales, in Madrid, Spain, as an exciting place to build an interdisciplinary unit. “I’d go to the Natural History Museum in London with kindergarteners and look at the insects,” said Karen Cook, a K-5 Instructional Coach at Wampus Elementary School in Armonk.

Robin Bray, who teaches Spanish at Scarsdale High School, had a similar idea but on a different continent. She was drawn to the virtual tour of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City with a side trip to the Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza, the remains of what was the largest playing field in Mesoamerica. John Chiara, an educator with BOCES, opted for time travel and showed the class the virtual tour he found of the Easter Uprising in Dublin 1916 – 1919.

Virtual tours bring learning alive. Doran suggested that teachers could ask students to find a virtual tour of a place they have visited and tell their classmates about the day they were there. She also highlighted the lesson plans that already exist for most virtual tours—complete with additional reading, interviews, even scavenger hunts—with challenges that pack fun into history. Back to the White House: Where did Abigail Adams hang her laundry up to dry? The East Room, 75 years before the chandeliers were installed.


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