Current Science Classroom
Can you remember your favorite childhood field trip? I can still remember going to the NASA Glenn Research Center in 6th grade; we toured the facility, donned spacesuits, and saw one of the Apollo command modules. These were all things we had read about, but now got to see and touch. Launching humans into space to explore our Universe? This is where it happened.
Whether it’s visiting a museum to interact with specimens, spending the day at a research facility conducting experiments for a current study, or heading outdoors to collect your own data, field trips are vital to a rigorous high school science course. Get out of your classroom and into the world where the things students read about actually happen and exist.
Sadly, field trips at the high school level are few and far between. Even before COVID made traveling with your students (or, in many cases, seeing them in person) nigh impossible, field trips were a rare luxury and often the first item cut when district budgets need trimming. With most teachers seeing upwards of 100 students a day, coordinating logistics becomes a herculean task. Nothing will replace a true field experience for kids; however, there are some ways we can bring the world to our (virtual?) classroom that gives students the chance to interact with scientists and expand their perspective.
I am going to start with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, a place I dreamed of visiting as a kid and where I spent countless hours when I finally got to go as an adult. Luckily for your students, the entire museum is virtual. You can tour the permanent, current, and past exhibits on any device, as well as research stations. There’s even an option for virtual reality! Several tours are available to be narrated, which makes them perfect for differentiation. Create your own scavenger hunts or let your students explore on their own.
Many of your local museums, zoos, aquariums have online components. The San Diego Zoo, the Houston Zoo, and the Georgia Aquarium all have live streams that allow kids to observe the behavior of dozens of different species. The Georgia Aquarium also has detailed pages for over 234 species, with information on characteristics, habitat, and current threats.
Unencumbered by permission slips and travel expenses, take your kids anywhere in the world with Google Expeditions. With over 900 virtual reality and expanding augmented reality settings, you bring students up close to some of the most fascinating places on the planet. Illustrate Earth science concept by taking your class to Mt. Everest, the Italian Dolomites, or Grand Teton National Park. You can also create your own adventures!
Stellarium is an open-source app that allows you to turn any lesson into a planetarium. Free to download and extremely easy to use, you can teach your students the basics of observational astronomy by setting the location, time of day, and year to view the heavens. The app comes with a suite of tools that allow kids to learn about the planets, stars, and galaxies. My advice is to explore Stellarium together to prime your students for observing the sky at home and documenting what they see in their science journals. I used this resource when I was a classroom teacher, projecting the sky on my SMARTboard. We had a blast.
But why stop exploring there? Access Mars puts you in a 3-D environment on the Red Planet, giving you free rein to discover where the Curiosity rover has explored. Lots of interactives provide context and data to what the students see. Also includes a virtual reality option!
And of course, I have to include one of my favorite resources, Skype a Scientist. One of the best parts of a field trip is giving students an opportunity to interact with experts and ask their own questions. This project gives you a chance to make that happen virtually. National Geographic has a similar program that connects explorers with classrooms. Just remember to brainstorm questions with your students before you talk to your scientist.
I’ll close by saying this again, as it bears repeating: nothing, and I mean nothing, can replace the authenticity and impact of an in-person field experience for kids—those memories last a lifetime. Even if those kids don’t become scientists, it will go a long way to teaching them how our world works. However, until the public health and school funding battles are won (and make no mistake, we need to win both), it’s up to us to get creative and bring the world to our students.
Chris Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org; @TheScienceJedi) is a science instructional coach for the Hamilton County ESC.
Teacher Preparation Teaching Strategies High School