How can you take students around the world without moving very far? If you haven’t yet, it’s worth trying virtual field trips and excursions. Now more than ever, these resources allow students to experience spaces they might not otherwise get to see, and there are many ways to introduce them to students as they explore a topic.
Virtual field trips can help students explore a new space, build vocabulary and background knowledge, and expand their world view. Whether you want to explore the setting of a novel, introduce a place-based math problem, or make connections to current events, virtual field trips can expand upon traditional lessons in many ways. One of the reasons I love them so much is that they allow students to view a space that piques their curiosity and provides context for their learning.
The term virtual field trip can be used to describe not just 360 degree photos and videos but also the live interactions and video conferences you might set up with a subject matter expert like an author or museum docent. Flipgrid (one of my favorite tools) hosts a handful of these types of virtual field trips.
6 Ways to Set Up Virtual Field Trips
The list of free virtual field trip resources here is adapted from my ISTE Live presentation in December 2020. Students can access these resources without logging into a new website—teachers can post the link to a 360 degree panoramic image or interactive experience in a platform students already use, making it easy for them to access in both traditional classroom settings and at home.
1. AirPano: This site includes 360 degree videos and images from around the world. You aren’t required to create an account—you can just jump in and start searching. When you’re ready to share with students, there is a link you can copy and paste or an embed option if you’re adding a widget to a site of resources. If you’re looking for international locations, AirPano is a great choice for exploring outdoor spaces, including Machu Picchu in the daytime, or the northern lights at night.
2. Google Maps Treks: In combination with Google Maps and Earth, Treks organizes content in an easy-to-navigate way. There are Treks for places around the globe, including the U.S. and Canada, Egypt, Nepal, and India. Each one has information and videos for students to explore.
3. National Geographic: National Geographic’s YouTube channel transports students all over the world to learn about different cultures, foods, animals, and more. Have students press play on the video, and as the video begins, they can use their cursor or trackpad to spin the video in different directions. They can tap on one part of the screen to move the video back and forth as they learn about a new place.
4. Nearpod: Known as an interactive presentation tool, Nearpod has virtual reality content built into its platform in the form of 360 degree panoramic views, which can be used as a great pre-reading strategy to introduce a new book or spark discussion about a social studies or science topic. To use these interactive experiences with your students, insert them into any Nearpod lesson in the same way you would add a slide or poll. (Please note: Nearpod also offers a paid plan with additional amenities.)
5. 360Cities: This collection of stock 360 degree images has lots of user-uploaded resources. There is a special school version that allows you to introduce students to more dynamic learning experiences; it has features such as a guided tour creator.
6. Google Arts and Culture: This tool has a variety of high-quality content, including interactive views that let students walk through notable spaces such as museums and explore examples of beautiful architecture like the Alhambra in Spain. You can let students know that this resource is mobile-responsive in addition to working on a web browser—they can access the content on a smartphone or tablet, or their Chromebook or laptop.
Engaging Students With Guided Questions
Set a purpose for students as they explore these resources by using prompts to guide their excursions. Potential prompts include:
- What do you think the weather is like in this place?
- How do you think someone captured this moment?
- What might be missing from this shot?
I’ve put together more prompts here.
If building student vocabulary is a primary goal of introducing virtual field trips to your students, you can point out different objects in the panoramic views or ask students to find certain features. For example, imagine students are learning about geological features and you take them on a virtual field trip to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Together you can discuss vocabulary like crater, steam vent, and igneous rocks.
When sharing with students, include a prompt or question and post the link and task into a space they already have access to, such as Google Classroom, Seesaw, or Schoology. If you’re sharing a list of resources for students, colleagues, or families that includes some of these virtual excursions, you might curate a list of favorites using a tool like Google Sites, Spark Page, or Microsoft Sway.