A few years ago during a speech therapy session, a group of preschoolers and I were reading a book about a bear. Despite a persnickety bee, the bear enjoyed some honey from a nearby bee hive. One of preschoolers commented that she had never seen a bee hive before and wanted to know what went on inside of it.
So, what did we do?
We took a virtual field trip.
We found an online documentary about the inner workings of bee hives, turned off the volume, and talked about what we were watching. Although we worked on practicing her target speech sound in spontaneously produced sentences, we also capitalized on this teachable moment.
By integrating the student's interest into therapy practice, she actively participated in the activity and appeared more motivated and invested in the session. As a result, she practiced her speech sounds long after our session ended, telling others about bees and what goes on inside of those mysterious hives.
What is a virtual field trip?
Virtual field trips provide us with opportunities to experience new things beyond the scope of our daily reality. According to Wikipedia, virtual field trips are learning experiences in which students use digital media to transcend time and space in order to learn new information. Instead of climbing onto a school bus to visit a nearby farm, students, for example, can go online to see how farmers around the globe irrigate crops.
Virtual field trips can help students connect knowledge learned in a book or classroom with real-world experiences that sometimes are beyond their reach.
I first read about virtual field trips in a report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Their report, Take a Giant Step: A Blueprint for Teaching Young Children in a Digital Age, argues that virtual field trips provide invaluable experiential and background knowledge that students may not otherwise acquire in their daily lives.
knowledge helps inform "learning in science, social
studies, the arts, and other domains, and increases the richness of the dramatic play so fundamental to their development of self-regulation and other abilities" (Barron et al., 2011, p. 17). The authors also went on to point out the importance that experiential knowledge plays in helping young readers more fully understand the words and concepts they read about.
Videos can help students prepare for new and unfamiliar experiences, such as riding a subway on an upcoming trip.
You can also build an entire speech or language lesson around a virtual field trip.
Compared to videos, webcams offer web-based videos in real-time. A list of webcam links is at the end of this post. However, it's important to note that some webcams only operate during business hours or certain times of year.
Many museums, zoos, national parks, and other public institutions offer live webcams.
Using webcams like these from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, students can observe how animals live and interact within their daily habitat.
Because webcams are live, viewers are subject to many of the same experiences they would have if they were standing there in person. With that comes some degree of uncertainty. Something to keep in mind within educational settings.
What are your favorite virtual field trip resources?
Barron, B., Copple, C., Cayton-Hodges, G., Darling-Hammond, L., Bofferding, L., & Levine, M. H. (2011). Take a giant step: A blueprint for teaching young children in a digital age. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and Stanford University. Retrieved from: http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/jgcc_takeagiantstep1.pdf
San Diego Zoo: http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/live-cams
Houston Zoo: https://www.houstonzoo.org/meet-the-animals/animal-webcams/
Smithsonian’s National Zoo: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/webcams
Monterey Bay Aquarium: https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals-and-experiences/live-web-cams
Kentucky Equine Humane Center: https://explore.org/livecams/sanctuaries/kentucky-equine-horses
Africa, Laikipia County, Kenya: https://explore.org/livecams/african-wildlife/african-animal-lookout-camera
US National Parks: http://www.yellowstone.co/allwebcams.htm
Katmai National Park (bear cams and more): https://www.nps.gov/katm/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm
Statue of Liberty: https://www.earthcam.com/usa/newyork/statueofliberty/?cam=liberty_str
Nasa Live: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive
International Space Station: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/live-iss-stream
Durango-Silverton Train - Durango Train Station: http://durangolivecam.com/train-depot/
Space Needle: http://www.spaceneedle.com/webcam/
Golden Gate National Park, San Francisco: http://www.parksconservancy.org/visit/web-cams.html
Pier 39 Marina, Sea Lions, San Francisco: http://www.pier39marina.com/the-sealions-at-pier39/