Recently I stumbled across a tweet that resonated with me and will probably resonate with many other educators who are struggling to make online learning work for them. It said, “When will this decade of a month be over???” As self-quarantine orders drag on and on, and more and more states cancel the remaining days in their year, we find ourselves longing for simple things that are no longer safe or responsible. It’s hard not to be constantly reminded about what we can no longer do, inside and outside the classroom.
However, just focusing on what we don’t have won’t get us anywhere. All it will do is make this “decade of a month” seem even longer than it has to be. Shifting our mindset to focus on what we do have access to isn’t always easy but is ultimately constructive and can lead to shifts in other areas as well.
Teachers can use this time to shift their way of thinking regarding teaching and learning when it comes to the importance of allowing students inquiry-based explorative assignments. While we may think that more structure and more control is the key to online learning, there are advantages to a less structures and more open-ended approach to instruction.
One example of “open-ended online instruction” is the virtual field trip. There have been a lot of links shared to online museums and tours, but so far NOBODY has provided much help to teachers regarding the construction of standards-based lessons around these resources. At least not until now…
HOW to explore online
There are several simple ways you can utilize online virtual tours to create engaging learning experiences for students. Once you have found a resource that is thematically connected to your class (see list of options below) you need to provide some structure without overburdening students with a heavy-handed schedule.
A simple one is to ask yourself, “what question does this resource answer?” and then have students explore the resource to uncover evidence to support the construction of an answer. This is a great way to incorporate research and writing standards and skills without much effort.
If you’ve got a bit more time, you can add an “entry resource” in the form of a Hyperdoc that incorporates the virtual field trip into a larger lesson. This allows teachers the flexibility in their instruction by creating a more curated experience for students, similar to the methods used by park rangers when they plan interpretive programs. This example focuses on Social Studies standards around characteristics of civilizations by examining one of Hawaii’s many cultural sites.
If you are really ready to dive into virtual exploration, then consider an Exploration+ activity.
Exploration + is a model that was developed by Park Based Learning to help teachers flip the script on the traditional “field trip” but is also applicable online. Students begin with teacher-led question formulation around a topic or subject, then branch out into self-paced lessons and resources. Eventually, they are directed to virtual field trips or tours to complete their own explorations and find answers to the questions they have created. The entire experience concludes with reflections based on what they have learned. Click here to download a free copy of our inquiry-focused lesson outline.
WHAT to explore online
Below I have created a short list of virtual tour sites and resources you can use to build lessons around. There are many others, but this list represents ones I have used or have seen other educators create lessons and project around.
Top Virtual Tours – Hubs
Google Art and Culture is by far the most expansive virtual tour platform available. This immense project seeks to document the entire cultural history of the human race and make it available to anyone on the planet. Want to visit the Tokyo National Museum? How would you like to stroll through the ruins of Palmyra in Syria? What about being able to see details in Van Gogh’s Starry Night so small that they are undetectable to the naked eye? All of these things are possible in Google Art and Culture!
The Hidden World of our National Parks was designed by Google to commemorate the centennial celebration of the National Park Service. This virtual tour takes you to five of our nation’s most impressive natural wonders.
Search this database of 360-degree images of landmarks, statues, and monuments from across the U.S. on Historyview Virtual Tours.
What’s your favorite National Park? Acadia? Sequoia? Google Earth has created amazing self-directed tours of 31 of them that you can navigate from the comfort of your own home! And that is just a small fraction of what they have to offer on the main site.
Lions in Africa? Farm Animals in New York? Grizzlies in Alaska? View hundreds of live and recorded camera feeds from across the world when you visit Explore.com This is a fantastic resource for teachers wanting to take their students to observe environments and ecosystems other than their own!
Top Virtual Tours - Individual
Virtual Yosemite takes you all around the geologic wonders of the Yosemite Valley.
Walk in the footsteps of kings on this virtual tour of Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park.
The Nature Conservancy has a series of videos focused on wildlife and biomes from around the world. Each of the 11 videos takes about 45 minutes.
The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History hosts an expansive virtual tour of many of its galleries, including its famed wildlife hall.
Less of a virtual trip and more of a current event experience, NPR’s Borderlands takes you on an up close and personal tour of the US-Mexico border region through a mix of personal stories and historical information.
Travel through the jungles of Vietnam and explore Son Doong Cave
Coming To America is a virtual field trip to Ellis Island created by the National Park Service and Scholastic.
Get a behind the scenes look at the people who are developing the next generation of space vehicles with this virtual tour of the Johnson Space Center created by Boeing and Discovery Ed.
Multiple live cams from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California show kelp forests, coral reefs, and live shots of the California coast.