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Tuesday, September 15, 2015


We are on the verge of history!  In my last blog entry, I discussed our upcoming 1:1 Chromebook deployment to high school students.  Now, we have announced dates (Sept. 22-24, 26), which is just around the corner.  Expect some tweets on our device deployment nights.

Meanwhile, I want to discuss a new web-based tool called FieldTripZoom.  After they followed me on Twitter, I visited their site and was intrigued.  When I reached out with some questions, I was fortunate enough to speak with FieldTripZoom's founder and CEO, Michael Pfannenstiel.  The more I heard, the more excited I get about the possibility of how FieldTripZoom could impact student learning.

What is it?  It would be easy to call FieldTripZoom simply a "virtual field trip," but this is more than just another Skype session or Google Hangout. It is more accurate to call these programs "live interactive experiences." Most of the programs are not simply lectures, but have several planned activities that involve students learning on their feet and with their hands.  Some of the program's fees even include shipping a kit of materials to be used by students.  (One memorable program with the Alaska Sea Life Center involves "The Scoop on Poop," where you are shipped a collection of sea lion scat in order to analyze their feeding ecosystem.)  This short video trailer shows a class not just listening to a presenter but also applying their knowledge and skills.

The list of programs in their catalog (available for viewing once you sign up for a free account) is remarkably deep and diverse for a company that has only been around for half a year.  You can filter the options by category or just browse them A-Z.  I saw everything from the Baseball Hall of Fame to the Columbus Zoo to the Denver Art Museum to the International Spy Museum to the Royal Botanical Gardens.  The offerings are also targeted for a range of K-12 classrooms.

It should be noted that for an increasing number of programs, FieldTripZoom also are creating online interactives, which is perfect for our soon to be 1:1 district.   (Of course, teachers may want to develop their own digital pre- and post-formative assessments around the program as well.)

FieldTripZoom does have a screening process to make sure the programs are Core Content-aligned interactive experiences with educational value, from a presenter who is an expert in their field and can interact well with young people.

The technical requirements are easy: after creating an account on the site, you just need a computer, projector, and a webcam, and the teleconferencing software is simple to install.  Next, you choose a program, take care of the purchase price, make arrangements with the presenter on the day and time, and be ready to blow the minds of kids.

While these programs are often paid by individual teachers, Michael noted that if districts wanted to deposit a minimum amount in a fund, they could set up a "bank" where teachers could check out programs either freely (first come first served) or with administrative oversight.

How could you use it?  In a time when actual field trips are difficult to pay for or schedule, FieldTripZoom provides a viable and valuable alternative.

However, FieldTripZoom also could create a much deeper learning experience. For example,  it could be a part of a PBL where students can get authentic, real world interaction with experts in the field to drive their data collection (have students uncover content rather than a teacher "covering" it). It may even be a model where the student product of a PBL is to create their own "programs" for other students.  Think of the authentic payoff of high school seniors and juniors teaching a concept via Skype or Google Hangout to elementary students, which would include creating an interactive kit that involves their targeted audience.

Downsides?  There is obviously the cost of a program, which at first blush may sound prohibitive.  However, consider that if a class of 30 students each paid $5, you would cover the cost of an average program, and there are grants and other financial opportunities (including a handful of programs that are free).  Compare that to the cost of an actual field trip, not to mention the logistics of permission forms, student medical and allergic concerns, etc.  The other issue is not to forget the spatial and kinesthetic value of actually walking the halls and meadows on actual field trips.   Sometimes you have to just put down the technology and breathe life in.  It may be more Core Content-aligned to always quantify and spell the flowers, but we shouldn't forget to smell them too.

Shelby teachers, are you interested in FieldTripZoom?  Have any teachers out there already used one of their programs?  How did that impact student learning?  Let me know in the Comments below.

(Full disclosure: FieldTripZoom is a proud supporter of EdCamps around the nation, and will be one of our EdCampKy sponsors in October.)