By Mariel Gómez de la Torre-Cerfontaine and Nichole L. Smith
Have your students ever visited the Pyramids or Buckingham Palace? Have they asked if it’s the same time in the United States as Calcutta, India? Virtual field trips are a medium for these explorations. As one student states: “I love [virtual] field trips. They are awesome. I get to see the most beautiful countries in real life and…know where to visit…in the future” (Emir, 6th grade).
The World Awaits!
It’s important for teachers to create engaging lessons that expose students to real life experiences, field trips, virtual tours, guest speakers, and so on (Honigsfeld, 2019). COVID-19 impacted how teachers approach education. In March 2020, all schools transitioned to remote learning, and all activities including field trips were cancelled. For some students, these opportunities were their only chance to experience the culture and community around them. As teachers found creative ways to engage students in local field trips virtually, the possibility of what could be was exciting. While many students have never had the opportunity to explore their own communities and states, even fewer have traveled across state lines or the borders of the United States. Engaging students in learning is so important, and often requires them to be emotionally committed to the learning; this requires flexibility and creativity (Serravallo, 2020). Virtual field trips hold the key to broadening students’ minds to what this world holds, and align with multiple content areas as the students engage in literature, art, environmental studies, and social studies around the world. Through careful planning, virtual field trips authentically provide glimpses into the world that will leave students curious and engaged in learning, as they’re taken in real time to locations they or their teachers choose. They’re given a perspective that cannot be fathomed through text or photographs. Through virtual field trips, students engage in authentic academic discourse with the presenter, teacher, and each other. Students can create a passport to document their virtual travels, and journal about what they’ve learned, all of which build their listening, processing, speaking, reading, and writing skills (Gonzalez & Miller, 2020).
Essential Steps for Hosting a Virtual Field Trip
- Plan ahead! Using your network of colleagues, identify countries, states, or local areas to visit virtually. Meet with your host prior to the trip. Establish a time (maybe outside of school hours) and an outline of what you will be included. Always have a Plan B in case there are technical issues. Follow all security expectations required by your district to maintain safety.
- Gather the appropriate resources needed in the classroom (map, clocks, and so on), and establish student expectations (such as camera on/microphone off, be respectful, microphone off, raise zoom hand to speak).
- Create excitement by providing clues leading up to the virtual field trip. Encourage students to create a passport to record their virtual travels and take pictures.
- Share trips via social media to build your capacity with others who may be interested in hosting a future trip or connecting you with a colleague who’s interested.
Things to Consider/Challenges
Be prepared! Virtual field trips might not always go as planned. There may be weather issues, technology/connectivity issues, and so on.
As students become more accustomed to virtual field trips, they will be more engaged. Questions may be scripted, and then there are times when the students can be allowed to ask the speaker questions “off the cuff.” This is often the case when students see something on a trip that is familiar to them.
For example, on one trip, we were in Zurich, Switzerland, and the guest speaker had an amazing tour planned; Suddenly, students saw a supermarket and were curious about how it compared to an American supermarket. They asked the guide to go to the supermarket. Although it wasn’t planned, this provided an opportunity for authentic learning and discussion, and when you allow for spontaneity, student engagement shoots up!
We developed our virtual field trips when we recognized a need for our ESL students to connect to the world at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. These trips opened the door for the students to explore regions they had only previously read about in books. Now, the students are excited about the upcoming trips and they’re eager to read and learn all they can about each location prior to each trip.
We will leave you with one final quote. “I enjoy these field trips because you can experience and see so many different things you haven’t seen before…. When I go on one of these field trips, it feels like I’m actually there, but in reality you’re just looking through an iPad…. The amazing people that take us to these field trips…give us information and facts about what the money looks like and how much [it] is worth, and things like that which can help a tourist out” (Christian, 8th Grade).
Google. (2021). Google Earth. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://earth.google.com.
Ditch That Textbook. (2021). 25 virtual field trips for your classroom. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://ditchthattextbook.com/20-virtual-field-trip-ideas-and-activities-foryour-classroom/.
Life Hacker. (2020). You can virtually tour these 500+ museums and galleries from your couch. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://lifehacker.com/you-can-virtually-tourthese-500-museums-and-galleries-1842343589.
Slides Mania (2022). Hyperdoc handbook template with interactive tabs. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://slidesmania.com/hyperdoc-free-template/.
Mrs. Gómez de la Torre-Cerfontaine, MAED is an ESL teacher in the Rowan-Salisbury School System. She teaches ESL for grades K-8 at Summit Virtual Academy, and she was the 2022-2023 Summit Teacher of the Year. Her areas of interest are student engagement, technology, literacy, and parent involvement. Twitter: @MGomezdelaTorre
Dr. Smith is a Professor at NC A&T State University. She teaches undergraduate and graduate education and literacy courses. Her areas of interest include teacher retention, content literacy, student engagement, and teacher professional development.
Gonzalez, V. & Miller, M. (2020). Reading & writing with English learners: A framework for K-5. Seidlitz Education.
Honigsfeld, A. (2019). Growing language & literacy: Strategies for English learners. Heinemann.
Serravallo, J. (2020). Connecting with students online: Strategies for remote teaching & learning. Heinemann.