Go where the bus can’t: 10 virtual field trip ideas

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, September 10, 2015

Go where the bus can’t: 10 virtual field trip ideas

Go where the bus can’t: 10 virtual field trip ideas
The school bus can only take students so far. Use these 10 digital tools to take them anywhere in the world without leaving the classroom. (Flickr / woodleywonderworks)

The school bus can only take students so far. Use these 10 digital tools to take them anywhere in the world without leaving the classroom. (Flickr / woodleywonderworks)

Field trips are complicated. Messy. Full of lots of work — and lots of paperwork.

Thankfully, these days, you don’t need a bus, a bunch of permission slips and an adequate number of chaperones to take students to a magical learning experience.

They’re out there for the taking, they’re free, and sometimes they’re instantly available — on demand.

Take your students on a virtual field trip instead. In many cases, you’ll still get the “oohs” and “ahhs” as well as the interaction and personalization. When I present to teachers and show them some of these ideas, the gasps of fascinations and murmured whispering is audible.

Get that reaction out of your students, too! Here are 10 ways to bring a virtual field trip experience to your classroom in several different forms.

Take your students on the streets almost anywhere in the world with Google Maps Street View. Drag the little yellow man onto the image to explore (see above). (Screenshot taken at maps.google.com)

Take your students on the streets almost anywhere in the world with Google Maps Street View. Drag the little yellow man onto the image to explore. (Click image to see full size.) (Screenshot taken at maps.google.com)

1. Google Maps Street View Street View makes it possible to drop your classroom virtually onto almost any street in the world and walk around. It uses panoramic images that let you turn around, zoom in and walk down roads to check out the scenery. Just grab the little yellow “peg man” and drop him where you’d like to go. (See animation at right.) For practice, try dropping yourself at your doorstep of your school if you’ve never used it before.

2. Street View Treks Once you’ve seen your school from the curb on Google Maps Street View, take it to the next level with Street View Treks. These custom-produced exploration experiences are awesome for students. They provide information about the location and videos that pair nicely with the panoramic views. Locations include Nepal, Gombe National Park, the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Barrier Reef (a Street View Trek underwater!) and more.

3. Walking tour screencasts — An extension to Street View and Treks is to let students take you on a walking tour of someplace in the world. They do some research and collect some facts about the location first. Then they load up the location using Street View or Treks. They start recording a screencast video (a video of what’s happening on their screen with their microphone recording their voices). Some free screencasting tools: Snagit for Google Chrome (my favorite), Screencast-O-Matic and Screenr (there are others). Students narrate the tour as they “walk” the streets using Street View or Treks.

4. Google Cultural Institute These virtual tours don’t have to be confined to what you can see from the street. Google Cultural Institute gives you access to top-notch art collections from around the world (Art Project) and modern/ancient world heritage sites (World Wonders). Witness significant moments in history with Historic Moments, giving students a version of a field trip to the past.

wismer map

Kurt Wismer created this map of his travels, complete with year visited and images. Students can create similar custom-built maps with MyMaps. (Screenshot from Kurt Wismer’s map)

5. Mapping fun — Creating or viewing an interactive map with images and information can be the next-best thing to visiting a location, and students can create their own. Kurt Wismer’s great resource site for using Google Maps and Google Earth shows you how. Have students create a map using MyMaps. Select locations, use custom icons, add photos and share.

6. Geoguessr This game is like a surprise virtual field trip every time you play. Geoguessr uses Google Maps Street View and places participants in a random location somewhere in the world. By panning around, zooming or “walking” down the street, participants place a pin on a map to guess where they are. The closer they guess, the more points they win. It’s great for critical thinking and using context clues.

7. Smarty Pins Smarty Pins is like Geoguessr’s cousin. Granted, it’s a little less like a virtual field trip, but it does use geography-based questions to play. Participants answer questions by dropping a pin where they think the answer is. It’s fun, it’s academic, and it is geography-focused … enough to constitute a virtual field trip experience? I’ll let you decide. 🙂

8. Skype in the Classroom Live streaming video field trips are some of the closest to real, live visits. Skype in the Classroom is basically a bulletin board of lessons, virtual field trips and other video experiences you can sign your classroom up for. Some cool experiences available at the time this post went live: a live interview with a fashion company’s creative director, a visit to the National World War II Museum and a demonstration by an underwater videographer and shark diver.

9. Discovery Education Virtual Field Trips Discovery Education produces some really solid, well produced virtual field trips. They’re live and incorporate images, live video and pre-produced video. The hosts answer questions on the spot during the live broadcast from students who are watching. Past virtual field trips are viewable on video (see video to right from Ford’s Theatre). Each field trip includes classroom resources and activities that teachers can use instantly. Find them on Discovery Education’s events page by selecting “Live/Virtual Field Trip” in the drop-down filter menu.

10. Google Connected Classrooms Google has conducted several field trips and live video experiences that classes could join. They’ve included an interview with children’s author Lois Lowry, a trip to Jefferson’s Monticello and an event at Constitution Hill in South Africa. When this post went live, it had been a while since a new trip had been scheduled on the site, but all previous events are still available for replay.

[reminder]What other virtual field trip resources can you share? Have your students ever traveled virtually by video or other means? [/reminder]

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  • Matt Miller says:

    I’m posting this on behalf of Margit, a teacher from Japan …

    I am a person who needs to take action if there is something that seems great. So, the first thing after reading your book and a few tweets was trying to figure out a way for mystery skype.
    What I actually came up with was a bit different, as I couldn’t find a classroom at the time I have class. And as I said: „I want to take action ASAP“
    So, here:


    At the same time I checked skype virtual field trips, created an account, checked one researcher, and faster than I could think about it, I had an answer and a date to go to Antarctica; this was AMAzing!


    Of course my students want more, so please anyone who reads this, do get in touch. ESPECIALLY if you live in the same timezone (or about), which would be Australia, NZ, Korea, parts of China…

  • Maura says:

    Hey Matt!

    My name is Maura and I work for a company called Georama – we produce live virtual tours. We work with expert tour guides around the world who broadcast live, interactive walking tours of popular spots in their city or area. Because these experiences are live, teachers can design the experience and students can then control it by asking the professional tour guide questions and getting answers in real-time.

    I would love to tell you about our technology! Please let me know if you’re interested 🙂

    Oh and here’s a link (http://www.georama.tv/guides/monica-condeminas/past) to a virtual field trip we did last November to Barcelona – we worked with the United States Distance Learning Association and took people on an architectural adventure and explored the work of Gaudi.

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