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March 22, 2012 Getting Ready for a Virtual Field Trip By Christy Crawford
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Teacher planning kicks into overdrive for a field trip. You scout out the location of your trip — twice; present the bus driver with 3-D relief maps to your destination; and pack three-course meals (no glass bottles, of course) for hungry kids. But how do you prepare for a virtual field trip? Read on for quick tips for making the most of a live Webcast or virtual trip.


    Get Beyond Electronic Media Roadblocks

    In an age when most schools won’t even permit access to YouTube for educational videos, you must make sure your school or district allows live Webcast streaming. Ask your tech teacher or your school system’s technical support desk what is permitted ASAP. Was the answer negative? Were you told about a firewall? Arm yourself with lots of fabulous facts about your unit of study and the Webcast, and mention all the money you could save your school by taking a virtual field trip. Then gather support from your principal or administrator(s). A fabulous principal will not only push to get you access to Webcasts, but also limit access to the Internet in your building during Webcasts to make sure you have the best possible viewing.

    Test live access before the day of the Webcast. If you’ll be watching Scholastic and the National Park Service's Ellis Island Webcast, see Scholastic's Webcast page to run a test and for lots of great techie tips.


    Get Your Trip Tools

    No interactive whiteboard? No problem. You’ll need . . .

    • a laptop, projector, cart, an extension cord(s), and marking tape. Find the perfect spot from which to blast video and mark the spot with tape. (Magic school gremlins have a tendency to move even locked-down carts.) Tape down any wires that may cause students or staff to stumble.
    • a large, light-colored sheet or tarp and nails or heavy-duty thumbtacks. Project Webcasts or educational videos on a large (10" X 12") canvas tarp. You’ll get that movie theater feel, and hundreds of kids will be able to easily view the screen. Enlist the support of your school’s custodian to hang the tarp the night before the event.
    • speakers. Make friends with your school’s music teacher. She or he can hook their huge speakers into your laptop so you get that Dolby Surround sound effect for your trip.
    • Adobe Flash Player: Download the latest version on your computer before the day of the Webcast.

    Prepare Students for the Virtual Trip

    Delve into the unit of study before your virtual trip begins. It will pique students’ interest and minimize talking during the Webcast. Getting ready for Scholastic’s virtual field trip to Ellis Island? Turn out the lights and have your kids check out Scholastic’s interactive tour of Ellis Island. Hear the immigrant stories from the early 1900s as well as stories from kids who arrived recently. Check out Scholastic’s “Immigration Books and Resources” page for a bevy of books, videos, and Web sites on immigration.

    Remember the fun of dressing for a Rocky Horror Picture Show? Try it for the Ellis Island Webcast. For my immigration/migration unit, students came dressed as their favorite ancestor/turn-of-the-century immigrant or migrant. Third graders created names for their Ellis Island alter egos (Shamus O’Sullivan from Co. Claire, Ireland, or Morganna Brathwaite from Barbados) and wrote journal entries about the hardships they faced during their journeys. Read your students’ favorite entries as part of a Webcast pre-show.

    Recruit tech sharks. Have trusted students assist in the equipment setup for the Webcast. Scared of buffering (video freezing)? Have those same students read topical trivia questions you’ve prepared in case of technical difficulties. Questions (e.g., "Is Ellis Island in New York or New Jersey?") and small popcorn prizes will ensure that you maintain students' attention and good behavior during a Webcast.

    Enjoy! In a 30-minute Webcast, you can grab the excitement of a real field trip without the aching feet or piles of permission slips!


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