[Editor’s Note: Please enjoy this guest post from Paige Somoza, District Integration Specialist with the Boise School District, and NCCE 2020 speaker on the topics of virtual field trips and mastery learning.]


In 2011 I took a family vacation to New Orleans, Louisiana.  We took in all of the sites that the wonderful city has to offer, including the National World War II Museum.  The museum was spectacular, and as I walked through the exhibits I thought about my history students. How amazing would it be if I could fly all my students to New Orleans so they could have this experience as well?  I kept reflecting on that question during the trip and vowed that when I returned home I would find a way to recreate what I had experienced at the museum.  

Back in Boise, I began researching the museum’s website and found that they recently had begun a distance learning program.  If I could find teleconferencing equipment and funding, my students would be able to virtually connect with the museum and experience one of the programs that they offered.  I wrote a grant, received the teleconferencing equipment, and my students connected with Chrissy Gregg, Assistant Director of Distance Learning at the museum.

The distance learning programs were everything I wanted for my students and more.  These engaging programs exponentially increased student interest.  World War II became tangible and more meaningful to students. The background knowledge provided equity of access for all of my students which ultimately led to deeper understandings and demonstrations of knowledge.  

As technology improved, these learning experiences became easier as well.  Now, a teacher no longer needs to purchase clunky teleconferencing equipment.  Conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype in the Classroom make it easy for educators to connect with experts around the world.  

I believe that every educator should take advantage of distance learning programs and virtual connections. But before you do, preparation makes all the difference. Here are my TOP 5 TIPS to make the most out of your virtual field trip:

1- Articulate Your Learning Goals- Like any trip, you have to know where you are going in order to get there.  When teaching Pearl Harbor, I emphasize Japan’s quest to be an imperial nation, and the West’s growing fear that this would become a reality.  Students should understand the concept of ethnocentrism and how it can lead to devastating events like Pearl Harbor. I also want students to come away with the knowledge that Pearl Harbor mobilized the United States to enter World War II.  I tailor my lessons to emphasize these issues, and if possible, let the museum educator know the points worthy of focus. 

2- Build Students’ Background Knowledge Beforehand – After booking your field trip, the educational institution will give you a curriculum guide to help prepare students for the event.  There are lesson plan ideas and important content included that will make your trip more successful. I study the material and create lessons that highlight my learning goals and make the content accessible for every student in my class. Similar to a real field trip, these experiences are more meaningful if students come prepared with some prior knowledge of the subject.

3- Use a Common Vocabulary– When building background, use the same vocabulary that students will hear during their trip. Not only does this build content literacy, it makes input comprehensible and builds digital literacy as students navigate through the EFT (electronic field trip).  This is especially important to do for your EL and IEP students.

4- Have Students Generate Questions- After building background knowledge, I have students fill out a post-activity/ pre-field trip response guide.  During the field trip, I ask them to find the answers to their questions.  If their inquiries are not answered during the field trip, they need to find answers to those questions in their culminating project.

5- Students Should Demonstrate What They’ve Learned- In order for students to synthesize the knowledge gained from the EFT, I ask them to create a culminating project.  With Pearl Harbor and D-Day, I have students create a newsreel. As they create their project they also learn valuable video editing skills.  I like using WeVideo because it is cloud-based and allows students to collaborate from a distance if necessary. Every year, I am impressed with the results. Click here to view a student project about D-Day.

Live virtual learning experiences are a great way to increase student engagement and understanding.  Please join me, Chrissy Gregg (Assistant Director of Distance Learning at the National World War II Museum), and Amanda Kuznia (K-12 Instructional Technology Specialist, Boise School District) on March 5th at 8 a.m. for our NCCE 2020 presentation as we discuss tools and strategies to help you and your students fearlessly explore the world from the comfort of your classroom.

Headshot of Paige SomozaABOUT PAIGE:

Paige Somoza encourages student creativity and choice and believes these are important skills that will serve students as 21st-century problem solvers. In her role as a District Integration Specialist for the Boise School District, she encourages and trains educators to become risk-takers in their own classroom by using mastery teaching strategies, project-based learning, and virtual experiences.  Paige is a PBS Digital Innovator All-Star. She leads virtual professional development courses for PBS and creates educational content for PBS Learning Media. Join her and other All-Stars this spring as they tackle informational texts and cultural responsiveness with Molly of Denali.




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