In this issue of Science and Children, we consider what lies “beyond the field trip.” Given the pandemic, field trips may look quite different for a while. Let’s take this time to look “beyond” them, to what we have available now. Technology can offer fantastic ways to keep students connected with the outside world. Whether students are learning remotely or face-to-face with you in class, the apps in this issue are great choices for connecting students with the world around them.
Tal, Lavie Alon and Morag (2014) studied many elementary school field trips and identified the following four characteristics of high-quality (in person) field trips to natural places: Activity and Action: Engage learners in discussions about phenomena observable on the field trip. Provide opportunities for multisensory learning. Engage students in actions to care for the environment (e.g., trash pickup). Involved Teachers: Build bridges between the field trip, the curriculum, and what you know about your students to ensure learning goals are met. Share your personal stories as well! Using the Environment: Be enthusiastic about students’ discoveries even if they are off topic. Offer praise when students notice details of the world around them. Field Trip as Social Learning: Allow students to share their ideas and experiences about the field trip and generally what is going on in their everyday lives.
Many aspects of these high-quality strategies are relevant for virtual field excursions as well. In the sections below you will learn how to make a virtual field trip for second graders to launch their learning about habitats right in their own community! You’ll then learn about an immersive virtual field excursion in which fourth graders can build background knowledge to support their learning about glaciers and erosion.
Google Tour Creator gives you and your students a fun way to bring interactive images together to make virtual reality field trips (VRFTs). VRFTs comprise 180- or 360-degree images that you can create on your own or select from Google Maps’ incredible repository of “street views.” Creating VRFTs is fun and surprisingly uncomplicated. Using VRFTs is a great way for your students to investigate the world beyond the classroom.
The free web-based Google Tour Creator app allows you to create and view VRFTs on any internet-enabled device. The app integrates with Google Drive, making your VRFTs easy to access, store, and share. Embed your own text and audio files in the language(s) of your choice to expand accessibility. Creator also integrates with Google Expeditions.
The Google Tour Creator app is perfect for creating engaging experiences for young learners in two ways. First, you can create VRFTs of anywhere you can use your camera-enabled mobile device. Your own community can feature prominently. Foster excitement and interest by creating a VRFT to investigate new questions in familiar places.
Google Tour Creator also turns your 180- and 360-degree images into interactive scenes for your VRFTs. Students can view them on standard device screens by panning around the scenes or through the Google Expeditions’ “view” or VR options, the latter of which works with a VR headset such as Google Cardboard (see Pacheco-Guffrey 2020 for details). Once you have populated your VRFTs with scenes, enrich your students’ experience by adding “points of interest” with text, audio (.mp3), and photos. Immerse your students in the VRFT experience by embedding music or real-world sounds within scenes as well.
Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) performance expectation 2-LS4-1 has students making “observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats” (NGSS 2013). Most students in our nation live in human-engineered environments such as cities, towns, and even farms. Traditional lessons about habitats and the environment present them as places outside or separate from the human-designed world. However, both between and within human-designed areas, we find habitats where organisms live and thrive.
With a mix of Google Maps “street views” and your 180-/360-degree photos, use Google Tour Creator to make your own VRFT for your second graders featuring different habitats around their community. Include city/town parks, shorelines, farms, city blocks, town centers, school grounds—places in the community that will be familiar to students. Group students 2:1 with devices, 1:1 working in pairs, or keep them whole-group. Take advantage of the opportunity to build children’s sense of connection with their community. Share concrete ways the children can be proactive in ensuring places in their community are cared for. Here are some ideas for engaging your young learners in NGSS science and engineering practices. Find links to apps, resources, and NGSS@NSTA performance expectations for each practice under Internet Resources.
You do not need a specialized camera to create photos for your VRFTs; instead, use the panorama camera setting on smartphones / tablets or a low-cost panorama app. The Panorama 360 app from Occipital (2020), available for iOS and Android, produces better, less distorted images than my iPhone camera’s “pano” setting.
|Google Tour Creator|
The Google Arts and Culture (GA&C) app is a goldmine of multimedia resources for exploring many facets of our human experience. Hidden Worlds is a “theme” within GA&C. It will bring you and your students on a virtual journey into the sights, sounds, and experiences of field excursions to four spectacular national parks.
Web-based Hidden Worlds is accessible by any internet-connected device. The virtual tours offer interactive experiences that engage your senses and invite you to form connections with these remarkable places. Pan around the 360º videos/photos to discover your surroundings, explore embedded video/audio links, explore your own interests, and progress to other tour stops. Passionate, diverse park rangers lead these virtual tours, sharing their stories and love of the parks. Wonderment abounds!
|Google Arts and Culture: Hidden Worlds|
Teaching fourth graders about the effects of weathering and rates of erosion (4-ESS2-1) can be a fun (and messy!) hands-on learning unit. However, I find they have difficulty grasping what glaciers are, limiting their ability to understand the role of glaciers in erosion. GA&C: Hidden Worlds includes a virtual excursion to glaciers in Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park. The immersive experiences on the Kenai trip will help your learners build background knowledge to better understand glaciers as agents of erosion.
Bring this virtual excursion into learning after students have explored weathering and erosion by other agents (e.g., vegetation, wind). Start out device-free for a whole-group brainstorm to learn what students already know about glaciers. Pose questions like, “What are glaciers made of?” “What do glaciers look like?” “Do glaciers ever change?” “Where can we find glaciers?” and “What would glaciers look like on a map?” Transition to internet-connected devices for a glacier hunt using Google Earth or Google Maps (both free and accessible on all devices). Note that these apps will show glaciers, masses of moving ice on land, but not sea ice. It’s a perfect opportunity to discover which pole is covered in land! Support student social learning and troubleshooting by grouping students 2:1 with devices or 1:1 working in pairs. Come back together to have students use the classroom projection of the map app to share findings from the hunt and identify where glaciers are found today. Introduce Kenai Fjords National Park virtual trip. Here are ideas for engaging learners in NGSS science and engineering practices as students investigate glaciers. Find links to apps, resources, and NGSS@NSTA performance expectations for each practice under Internet Resources below.
Audio is important with Hidden Worlds so headphones are helpful. Captioning is available in the bottom right menu. Though you can pause tour audio, you must refresh the browser window to replay audio. Have students use Google Chrome for best performance.
Google. Google Arts and Culture: Hidden Worlds
Google. Google Earth
Google. Google Expeditions
Google Tour Creator
NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Occipital Inc. 2020. Panorama 360. Retrieved from http://360.io
Analyzing and Interpreting Data
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
Planning and Carrying Out Investigations:
Heather Pacheco-Guffrey (HPACHECOGUFFREY@bridgew.edu) is an associate professor and researcher of science/engineering methods and technology applications in STEM for elementary and early childhood teachers at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Send her an email with technologies you’d like to see highlighted, questions you have about technologies, or experiences you’d like to share!
Pacheco-Guffrey H.A. 2020. Tech Talk: Taking Science Home. Science and Children 57 (5): 14–17.
Tal T., Alon N. Lavie, and Morag O.. 2014. Exemplary Practices in Field Trips to Natural Environments. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 51 (4): 430–461.
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