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Virtual Field Trips: Five Interactive Science Lesson Ideas

EducationWorld is pleased to present this article contributed by Kristin Marino, who writes for on a variety of education topics, including modern online learning opportunities such as virtual field trips.

Some of the most basic—and best—science lessons are learned hands-on, in the classroom or home school environment. What science student wouldn't benefit from a visit to a natural history museum or aquarium? Field trips can enhance a lesson plan for any subject, but some of the biggest field trips aren’t available to many students.

Most teachers would agree that being there is the best thing, but there’s also plenty to be gained from implementing fun and informational online science lessons. These virtual field trips have two major advantages over in-person visits—no crowds, and no cost!

While educational scientific Web sites abound, the sites below make great virtual field trips because of the interactive, immersive experiences they can offer any student at any level.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
If you’re not fortunate enough to make the trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in person, this virtual tour might be the next best thing. Follow the arrows and use your computer mouse to “walk” through the various areas of the museum. Click on the camera icons located on displays throughout the museum for an up-close look at display items, and use the mouse to zoom in on text and other fine details. A 350-degree view allows visitors to explore the majestic rotunda space, which features a massive taxidermy elephant with trunk raised, ears fanned and long tusks on display.

From the rotunda, head off into any of the bottom floor areas, including mammal hall, ocean hall, African cultures, ice age and the fascinating human origins. A navigation system enables visitors to travel between all three floors of the museum. The second floor offers a look at the bones exhibit, Egyptian mummies, insects and more. Those so inclined can visit the ground level with the cafe and the museum store. The bonus of visiting online is that one can even access past exhibits.

App download:  The MEanderthal app lets visitors see what they might have looked like as early humans.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park
Take a trip to the National Zoo, which is home to 2,000 animals of nearly 400 different species. This virtual field trip allows visitors to see many of the inhabitants of the zoo live, in real time. Via live webcam, view the Amazon River cam, the Asian small-clawed otter cam, the cheetah cam, the clouded leopards cam, the clouded leopard cub cam, the fishing cats cam, the flamingo cam, the golden lion tamarin cam, the gorilla cam, the kiwi cam, the lion cam, the naked mole rat cam, the octopus cam, the orangutan cam, the red panda cub cam, the sloth bear cam, the tiger cam, and the most popular of them all, the panda cam.

Along with the opportunity to view the animals in their live habitats, visitors can also access fact sheets and photo galleries on the animals. Students can check out areas of the site dedicated to various areas of the zoo, such as the African Savanna and Asia Trail, where they can learn about the animals’ natural habitats and see what new and exciting things are happening in the different areas of the zoo.

App download:  A mobile app allows those on the go to view their favorite animals via webcam every day of the week.

Solar System
Take a trip through space, where all the stars and planets have been conveniently labeled and where visitors can observe several planets and stars up close using Solar System Scope. Users can use a mouse to turn the planets around 360-degrees and hover over major stars in the solar system to learn more about them, including their names and how far they are from Earth. Various view selections allow students to see the system in heliocentric, planetary and panoramic views. A telescopic view lets users see the sky as it would look from Earth.

App download:  The Star Walk stargazing app allows one to point a mobile device to the sky and identify stars, planets and constellations.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego
Learn about marine life by “walking” around the actual Birch Aquarium using a computer mouse to follow the arrows. A zoom-in feature allows visitors to view sea life and accompanying text up close. It’s the next best thing to pressing one’s nose up against the glass. What’s outside at this aquarium is nearly as interesting as what’s inside; majestic whale sculptures grace the front entrance. Meander around the aquarium and use the zoom feature to view the sculptures more closely than would be possible during an in-person visit.

App download:  Learn more about some of the marine life housed at the aquarium with the California tide pools app.

Virtual Human Body
Take the ultimate virtual science field trip—inside the human body. The Virtual Body covers all the major body systems, including the brain, the skeleton, the heart and the digestive tract, with text and narration in both English and Spanish. On this virtual field trip, visitors learn about the inner workings of the human body and can engage in several interactive activities such as “Build a Skeleton” and “Organize your Organs.” They can see how a heart works and how it looks when it’s beating at different rates, and what the brain looks like from all sides. Why do we get headaches and goose bumps, and how does our body remember to breathe? Students can find the answer to these questions and more at the Virtual Human Body tour.

App downloadSpeed Anatomy challenges users to see how quickly they can identify various internal organs, bones and other parts of the anatomy.


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