Travel the World Without Leaving the Classroom

“Raise your hand if you’ve ever been to the zoo.”

Out of my twenty-one students only about five of them raised their hands. ONLY five students had ever been to the zoo. At first, I couldn’t believe it, but then once I really thought about it, it wasn’t all that surprising. The zoo is about an hour and a half away from our school, so in reality not many of our families are able to drive there or pay the admission fee. But if most of my students had not been to the zoo, how would they possibly be able to make genuine connections to the non-fiction text we were reading and how would they be able to debate about whether or not a zoo is a good place for animals to live.

I wish I had thought of it then, but a virtual field trip could have helped bridge the experience gap for my students. Instead I just said, “Well we’re going to the zoo in April, so you’ll get to see a zoo then.” Looking back on it, I’m a little disappointed in myself because we visited the National Zoo virtually to watch the baby panda on several occasions this year!

A virtual field trip could have helped bridge the experience gap for my students.

We know that the more real-world experiences that we can give our students, the better off they’ll be, but we are limited by our resources, time and location. Virtual field trips can help build students’ life experiences without ever leaving the classroom. We know that typically our students who have lower achievement levels have less life experiences to bring to the classroom. This affects their learning because they do not have the vocabulary and background knowledge needed to make connections to what we are learning in class. I challenge to bring as many real world life experiences into your classroom and virtual field trips can help you do that.

Start small by using Google Earth to explore the world.

  • Travel to the far-away places that your students are reading about.
  • Explore the natural habitats of animals that your students are studying.
  • Examine and compare different landforms by travel to far-away locales.
  • Compare the structure of different communities around the world.

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Here are a few of my all time favorite virtual trips!

Smithsonian – Natural History Museum

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The Natural History Museum has always been my favorite museum! There’s so much to explore at this museum, from animals to gems to mummies. The Smithsonian has done a fantastic job of creating their museum virtually, so that students can navigate through all of the exhibits. The museum has a great map and “hotspots,” which are blue arrows that lead students through the different exhibits.

National Zoo Panda Cam

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This has been a class favorite over the last couple years, especially since the birth of two new panda cubs. We’ve been observing them grow, learn to walk, and snuggle with mom. It’s a great way to learn about animal life cycles.
Not sure where to start, check out this blendspace which has additional virtual field trips that I’ve used with my classes. Please share how you have traveled the world with your class!


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, frankieleon.

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