All Aboard! Virtual Field Trips and Writing Experiences
Field trips are often the highlight of the school year. I fondly remember a week-long trip I took as a 6th grader to Nature’s Classroom and trips to New York City as an 8th grader and a high school student. As a kindergarten teacher, my classes always loved our walking field trip to the local firehouse. As a third grade teacher, my former students have talked about our Bronx Zoo field trip as one of their favorite parts of the school year. There is something so special about being in a new environment, often out in nature, with your teacher and classmates. Memories are made.
At the time of this writing, we are experiencing social distancing due to the spread of Covid-19. We aren’t even in classrooms together- teaching is being done remotely as we try to connect with students across miles and through challenging, difficult circumstances. Field trips are, sadly, out of the question.
In New York, our spring break would have been from April 9-April 17. Spring break was canceled as Governor Cuomo asked the schools to continue delivering instruction during this time. My third grade colleagues and I wanted to create something fun and different for our students during this time period. We decided to present them with a new virtual field trip each day.
In this time of remote learning, I’ve found that educators have been so generous with sharing their ideas and inspiration has been all around. My sister-in-law, Melissa Sokolowski, shared the idea of virtual field trips with me which led to the spark to create a week-long experience for the third graders in my district. Melissa also teaches third grade in a neighboring district and shared how her team was able to create virtual field trips to Disney World. Following her example, we created virtual field trips to the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT Center, and Animal Kingdom. We then branched out to some other locations, creating trips to Paris, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Washington D.C.
Since we created the virtual field trips, more inspiration has come and this post is expanding the idea of virtual field trips by adding writing experiences as a possible extension. My team and I designed the trips to be a fun and educational activity in an academically lighter week due to what would have been spring break. The menu of writing activities came after I did this work with my students, as a full disclaimer. I haven’t tried the menus with my third graders yet since we took the virtual trips before this idea came to be.
This work very much stands on the shoulders of what Clare Landrigan shared about virtual classroom libraries and Pernille Ripp’s work on Choose Your Own Adventures with remote learning. Clare’s work led me to think about how Google Docs can be a menu that helps students go off to different places. The way she set up her charts, with colored backgrounds and hyperlinks to other places directly inspired how I designed these writing experience menus. Pernille’s idea of allowing students to choose their own learning adventure really appealed to me. The way she used Google Docs for this purpose helped me put the pieces together to allow students to choose their virtual field trip and then choose how they will write about their experience.
So…here’s the idea! Feel free to tweak, change, add, subtract or in other ways make it your own. Any Google Doc you wish to change, you would need to go to File and then Make a copy. Then you can make any edits you like.
Students can decide which virtual field trip they want to take from the menu of choices. After exploring the trip, they click on the menu of writing options and choose one or more, depending on what you as the teacher ask them to do.
I created a video to show how the trips work with the writing menus.
I think this structure and style of Google Docs that take you to different places can work with so many other writing related lessons. In Clare Landrigan’s example, you can create mentor text baskets that students could click on for different craft moves or genres of writing. Clare also recently wrote about using a board for students to get feedback on their writing in her post Every Writer Needs a Reader- How to Design Virtual Response Spaces for Writers.
I’m envisioning the board as a way to organize the craft lesson’s I’ve taught and link to writing samples. My students have been participating in the Classroom SOLSC this month and I’ve been awarding them badges for craft moves like incorporating dialogue and show, don’t tell. I envision a board where I have the craft moves in the chart and can link to student writing that illustrates the craft move (with student and parent permission, of course). Teacher samples could also be curated in this way so students can see an example if they forget how to try out a certain craft move. I’ve also been sharing videos with students that teach the craft moves and I can see this type of chart being used as a teaching tool- perhaps each craft move is linked to a video lesson, a teacher mentor text and a student mentor text. Now that this structure is something I have tried out, I am excited for all the possible ways I can use it as a means of giving my students options and choices, to “choose their own learning adventure” as Pernille Ripp advocates.
While I would never try to paint the current situation as one that has a silver lining, I will say that remote teaching and learning has pushed me to learn new tools, technology and ways to create experiences for students. Knowing how to create menus like these will help when I am back in real time with students. I can see this being very helpful for small group instruction and for allowing student opportunities to find the lesson they need when they need it, as Melanie Meehan described in her post on creating videos for students.
If your students try the field trips and the writing menus, please let me know how it goes! If you improve upon this, please also share. I know I am creating and revising all the time now- ideas that seemed right a week ago, I now tweak, add, enhance, and make better as I see ways to do so. I’ve been learning so much and I am grateful for all the educators who are sharing and finding better ways everyday to teach students from afar.