One phrase I have heard over the years is “the world is getting smaller”. At first, I thought that was the equivalent of saying “you’re getting older”, which may still be part of it. (I remember when a trip from Orleans to St. Johnsbury seemed like an epic adventure). As time marches on, I’m reminded more and more often how the “smallness” of the planet is attributed most to advances in technology.
When I first started doing tech work in the schools (in the days of cavemen and dinosaurs), the earliest form of video conferencing done in OCSU used Tandberg units obtained through a grant. These large, mobile consoles were affectionately nicknamed “the barbecue” because they looked like a rolling hibachi grill with a projector connected to the top. At one point, we had a part time employee dedicated to nothing but maintaining that equipment and system, as well as helping schedule, coordinate, and run virtual field trips using it. Kids had great experiences from those field trips; I remember a group of high school kids viewing open heart surgery and kindergarten kids going to the zoo with (never leaving their classroom).
Fast forward to a couple if years ago. I’m heading home (late) from a conference and pop into my son’s school to join in a class of students (there after the dinner hour, by their own choice) having a conversation with kids from the other side of the planet using nothing but a laptop, mic, web camera, and projector. Not only had the world gotten even smaller, but the technology had gotten easier, better, and more accessible. One thing didn’t change, however: the students in both situations (old-school Tandberg dinosaur equipment and laptop Skype call) were totally engaged.
Center for Interactive Learning
We’ve used this resources since the beginning. It is basically an online catalog of field trips (some free, some not) from various vendors. Topics range across all content areas and grade-levels. Some of these field trips list specific equipment, but I find many of them can adapt to different connections when you email them. While some people may turn up their noses when looking at the cost, consider how much it is to bus a group of kids to something local, to say nothing of somewhere like a coral reef or the Smithsonian (which they can now visit without leaving the room).
Skype in the Classroom
This resources is very similar to the Center for Interactive Learning but a) uses Skype exclusively and b) seems to currently have a more limited selection of field trips (which could be a good thing for those looking to “dip their toe” into video conferencing for the first time.) The search filters are also great; you can narrow easily by grade-levels and topics to see what is available. I’ve found most of the programming here top notch and still have fond memories of going (virtually) to a museum in Wyoming with a group of notoriously “overly-enthusiastic” 3rd graders and watching them totally engage in the program: asking amazing questions, respecting their classmates by listening to their comments, and reaping praises from the presenter for their behavior. (The Earth may have gotten smaller and tilted on its axis that day).
Global Nomads Group
This is a new resource for me which I have barely had time to investigate, but it is broken down into three main categories:
- Campfires: a virtual student exchange program
- Youth Voices: “connects classrooms across the world through shared curricula, an online platform, a global citizenship project, and interactive videoconferences” (all good stuff)
- Pulse: a virtual, global “town hall” for students to debate issues
Field Trip Zoom
This is another new site for me, one I’m eager for someone to try out. It lists both live streaming events and virtual field trips/video conferencing. Like Skype in the Classroom, it is easy to narrow by topic and/or grades. I did some quick, random searches and ran across an eclectic but really, really cool list of topics that included:
- how geometric concepts, such as circumference, area, perimeter and diameter apply to baseball
- reading about Nipper the Crab to learn about animal diversity and the characteristics of invertebrates
- exploring historic photos and personal stories from the 9/11 Tribute Center
- an analysis of percussion instruments across the world
If anyone has a fun virtual field trip story or a virtual field trip resource they would like to share, please pass it along by commenting to this post. Until then, I will see you (in person, I think) around OCSU.