Under the Sea

Standard Met: NGSS ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

What You Need: Computer with Internet access and Skype

What To Do: Students at Willard Elementary School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, took a once-in-a-lifetime trip under the sea with Jacques Cousteau’s grandson, Fabien Cousteau, last spring. The younger Cousteau re-created his grandfather’s legendary adventure by living in the world’s only underwater marine laboratory for a month.

Teacher John Altieri found out about the opportunity to Skype with Cousteau during his mission. As a result, first-, second-, and fifth-grade students at Willard connected with Cousteau and learned what it was like to work in the underwater lab. Students even witnessed marine life right outside the window of the vessel. They had plenty of questions to ask, especially because their teachers had shared books about Jacques Cousteau.

Altieri says it’s possible to connect with experts in all fields, even if they’re not Jacques Cousteau’s grandson: “The scientists we’ve spoken with over Skype are sometimes just as excited as the kids!” Follow Skype in the Classroom on Twitter (@SkypeClassroom) for similar opportunities.

A Day at the Museum

Standards Met: Various NGSS science standards

What You Need: Computer with Internet access; interactive whiteboard or digital projector

What to Do: Janet Enslin turned to virtual field trips after her district did away with out-of-county trips, and then further limited trips to those with direct alignments to academic standards. In spite of those restrictions, the teacher from Spruce Creek Elementary School in Port Orange, Florida, took her class to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Enslin didn’t spend a dime, and there was no bumpy bus ride required. How did she do it? The Smithsonian offers a panoramic virtual tour of the museum (mnh.si.edu/panoramas). “You can wander through every exhibit on all three floors,” Enslin explains. “As you work your way through the museum, you can zoom in to read all of the placards and signs.”

Enslin recommends starting the tour as a class, and then letting students explore the museum on their own on iPads or computers. To make the virtual trip more exciting, Enslin suggests having students bring a bag lunch to eat outside and allowing them to take pictures of exhibits. (Many other museums and zoos offer similar virtual tours. See sidebar for details.)

One Small Step for Your Class

Standard Met: NGSS ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System

What You Need: Computer with Internet access; various materials depending on activities

What to Do: Nick Mitchell, a teacher
at the American School of Doha in Qatar, took his students on an out-of-this-world trip. As the school’s elementary science coordinator, Mitchell knew that no matter how many photos, videos, or stories he shared with kids, the sun, moon, and stars would remain far away—both literally and cognitively—for them. “So why not take a virtual field trip to the moon?” he wondered.

To start off, the kindergarten teachers that Mitchell worked with sent home permission slips to make the trip feel official. Students then created space helmets out of paper bags and prepared for liftoff as they watched a video clip of a shuttle launch. Students then went outside and searched for moon rocks (in playground sand) and created their own lunar soil (with kitty litter). At the end of the trip, they reboarded their spaceship and headed back to Earth, all while watching a video of a shuttle splashing down into the ocean. Virtual field trips, says Mitchell, “have great potential to inspire kids to learn about places that are impossible to visit but very likely capture their imagination.” To access Mitchell’s photos and resources for this trip, visit bit.ly/virtualmoontrip.

Vets and Pets

Standards Met: Various science and social studies standards

What You Need: Computer with Internet access and FaceTime; inter-active whiteboard or digital projector

What To Do: When Laura Ouimette decided to explore the relationship between people and pets with her first-grade students, she reached out to the parent of a student who is a veterinarian. The parent was more than happy to share his passion for helping animals by showing students around a local animal hospital. “Our physical field trips had already been budgeted and scheduled, so going to his office was not an option,” explains the teacher from Trinity Christian Academy in Addison, Texas. Instead, they agreed to connect virtually. The vet used FaceTime on his iPad, while the class used FaceTime on a school computer that was then projected onto their SMART Board.

Ouimette provided the vet with specific talking points and vocabulary words to address during the presentation. On the day of the trip, he gave students a tour of the facility, showed them how he uses an ultrasound machine, and even demonstrated a surgical procedure on a stuffed dog. “I was surprised at how real the virtual tour felt,” Ouimette says. “I wanted this to be a short yet meaningful experience. It ended up taking only 20 minutes of class time.” She later extended the field trip by connecting it with both reading and writing activities. “The kids could hardly write fast enough because they had so much to say,” Ouimette explains.

Farm Trip 2.0

Standards Met: Various science and social studies standards

What You Need: Computer with Internet access and Skype

What to Do: Arturo Avina’s kindergarten students at Olympic Primary Center in Los Angeles don’t have easy access to a farm—or so you might think. Avina’s class had an ongoing relationship with Shannon McClintock Miller’s students at Van Meter Community School in Iowa, frequently holding Skype sessions to learn from one another. So when Avina’s students began their animal unit, they jumped at the chance to “visit” Miller’s farm.

The two parties connected via Skype. Avina’s students used Skype on a computer, while Miller used the Skype app on her smartphone as she toured her family’s farm. Avina’s kindergartners were captivated as they watched Miller’s son feed carrots to a horse. “My students only know about living in a city, so it gave them the chance to see a different way of life and interact with some really wonderful people almost 2,000 miles away,” says Avina.


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