Recently I began exploring the idea of virtual excursions to excite my students (and myself!) about our new units of work, and connect our learning to the real world in ways we hadn’t yet explored. This term we are studying living things so when I discovered Houston and San Diego Zoo’s webcams and the Smithsonian’s virtual tour, I could instantly see ways to incorporate them into our learning and make links to the curriculum.
Before jumping into our first virtual excursion it was important to establish some ground rules as a class. I explained to students that today we would be taking a virtual excursion, meaning we would travel across the globe without leaving our classroom. We discussed the expectations on excursions we had previously taken as a class, and that some of these would also apply on our virtual excursions. For example, it is important that we stick together on our excursion, so that we don’t get lost and we are able to observe and learn about what we are there to see. For our virtual excursion this means using the given QR codes to ‘travel’ to our excursion location and gather information using the prompts provided. I told students that they could have some ‘free time’ to explore after gathering the required information, just as we do on other excursions.
We traveled to the Smithsonian for our first virtual excursion, where students were given a series of QR codes linked to different areas of the mammals exhibit. They were required to collect information by searching for clues, scavenger-hunt-style. Our second excursion saw us visiting San Diego and Houston zoos to observe elephants and gather information related to the animal’s appearance, diet, habitat and life cycle. Students would later use the information collected from these observations and further research to write an information report on elephants.
This was by no means a quiet activity. I found that the students’ reactions to virtual excursions was not unlike their reactions when we take physical excursions. The room was filled with uncontrollable excitement as students were calling out to each other, amazed about what they were witnessing. As I’ve said before, I’m learning to relinquish control of the quiet classroom from time to time, to open up the possibility for opportunities like this, where students are engaged in meaningful, collaborative and stimulating learning experiences.