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Going Virtual

No budget for field trips? Miles from cultural sites? Then put down those permission slips and pick up your mouse. With a little imagination and preparation, virtual field trips allow you and your class to time travel and span the globe.

Journey back to 1874 New York and the Lower East Side tenement of Nathalie Gumpertz , a German immigrant who makes dresses in her apartment to support her daughters. This is one stop on the virtual tour of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where students visit five families who lived at 97 Orchard Street over the span of 70 years, reflecting the area’s changing ethnicity as waves of immigrants entered America. Audio and text guides help students learn about the cultures and traditions of the families and the history of the Lower East Side and of the development of social welfare in the United States. Visit .

Most museums offer virtual tours, and many meet national standards. For a comprehensive list, visit the American Association of Museums at .

At, your class can visit Carlsbad Caverns and watch a giant cloud of 300,000 bats swoosh from the mouth of a cave for their twilight feeding ; climb Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park; or get up close and personal with alligators, snakes, and other creatures of the Florida Everglades. The site offers 23 standards-based field trips, most of which have a conservation or environmental theme.

What sets eFieldTrips apart is a live chat feature that lets students make real connections with rangers and education specialists. “Some of the questions are great,” says site founder Rick Gividen. “We got more than 400 questions on one of our Carlsbad Caverns visits. My favorite was from a student [who] wanted to know if all of the bats were given rabies shots.”

Did life exist on Mars? Join NASA researchers to find out . In Western Australia, researchers are studying minerals containing fossils of stromatolites, the oldest known life on Earth. Data from spacecraft exploring Mars show that water once flowed on the Red Planet, which might have supported life like the 3.5 billion-year-old microbial organisms.

Virtual tourists get a 360-degree view of the red, dusty environment and can access videos where experts explain what the students see. The experts note points of interest, and students can jump from one location to another. It’s a heavy download at , but most say it’s worthwhile.

“In addition to [students], we also have a huge interest from scientists and post-doc students unable to go on the expeditions,” says site developer Geoffrey Bruce.

That’s exactly why virtual field trips are so useful, according to Kim Foley, co-founder and site developer of Tramline. “Virtual field trips offer a way to experience places that otherwise would not be possible,” she says. “For instance, a trip to Jupiter is not currently accessible—or for that matter, even the other side of one’s state.” On the Tramline site ( ), educators can create and post their own virtual field trips using the company’s TourMaker software, join a discussion list, and take a variety of age-specific K–12 field trips.

Patricia Hawkenson, a sixth- grade teacher at South Middle School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, uses virtual field trips to enhance classroom instruction and engage her students. “They love it,” she says. “A few years ago my students ‘traveled’ around the world with Linda Finch as she recreated the flight path of Amelia Earhart. The e-mails she sent back from her cockpit brought the experience to life in a way that couldn’t be found in the pages of the best reference book…Students don’t need raincoats or steel-toed shoes, and they can view topics directly from the experts in the field.”

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The Lower East Side Tenement Museum

NASA Mars Field Trip

Tramline Tours

National Geographic’s Underground Railroad

4-H Virtual Farm

Secrets of Easter Island


More Resources:

Get Out of Class with Virtual Field Trips

Virtual Field Trips: Why, Where, and How To

Online Field Trips Boost Reading Scores