Sunday, April 30, 2017

Virtual Field Trips with Google Expeditions

Do you know about Google Expeditions? Our district recently received a kit through a grant, allowing 30 students to follow their teacher to the ends of the earth. Google Expeditions is an app that turns 360 degree pictures into virtual field trips. Teachers can give a guided tour, highlighting points of interest while students experience new places. There are hundreds of locations already prepared for teachers to use with their classes, and it’s free through the Google Expedition app!

Today, my class had the opportunity to travel to the island of Borneo to study the ecological changes happening there as a result of deforestation. Sounds amazing, right? It was! This field trip was not only highly engaging, but it is also tightly aligned to our curricular goals. I planned this field trip as an introduction to our PBL incorporating current events, natural resources, and persuasive writing skills.

Before we went on the field trip, my class learned all about natural resources. We identified various resources, categorized renewable and nonrenewable examples, and realized our reliance upon them. The goal of our PBL is to further investigate current problems related to one of three natural resources. Once students become experts in their areas of study, they will create a persuasive product of their choice such as a song, public service announcement, or presentation to persuade their audience to take a specific action to preserve our natural resources.
Photo credit: Rachel Lamb

The field trip to Borneo allowed my students to experience the effects of deforestation. I was able to point out areas of interest, teach about the environment they were seeing, and pause their experience to allow for discussion. They were immersed in their learning far beyond what a picture or a teaching video could show.  They were shocked and genuinely concerned with the landscapes they witnessed and explored. Their reaction was so strong that there was a very natural transition to introducing our project, in which they were offered the opportunity to take action. My students ended our learning time today feeling empowered and motivated to continue our work on this project. Here’s what my students had to say about their virtual field trip experience:
  • “I went somewhere on a phone that I wouldn't have been able to go to in real life.”
  • “It’s like I was really there. The details were real! I could look around and explore Borneo.”
  • “I discovered new things and new places.”
  • “For a little while I was really standing in a rainforest today.”
  • “I could look all around me and control what I was seeing by moving my head.”

Photo credit: Rachel Lamb

With Google Expeditions, the world is literally at your fingertips. I’ve spent a few hours just exploring my own interests, and I can’t wait to use this tool again in the future. If you have a few devices, consider trying this with a small group of students. It would work well in a station rotation model of blended learning. You could use your face to face time with a small group to guide a tour that is connected to their online content.

My students were begging to take more field trips, and I’m dreaming of all the ways I can incorporate amazing locations and experiences into our curriculum units. We could visit a courthouse while studying Indiana government, tour the home of a famous poet during our poetry unit, experience a Native American celebration as we learn Indiana history, or explore the Tetons to better visualize the setting of our read aloud, Stone Fox.  

If you’ve used Google Expeditions, share your virtual field trip experience in the comments. I’m interested to hear how other teachers are using this great teaching tool!

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