Schools taking more virtual field trips during COVID-19 pandemic

Districts are finding creative ways to safely give students unique experiences while staying in the classroom.
Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 10:22 PM CDT
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GREEN COUNTY, Wis. (WMTV) - Taking a whole group of students on a field trip is not easy during a pandemic, but some schools are finding creative ways to make it work, bringing some field trips inside the classroom.

“Field trips are an integral part of the learning process,” said Monroe superintendent Rick Waski.

Waski said students in his district look forward to field trips every year.

“Kindergarten, they always visit a pumpkin patch and get to learn about growing pumpkins and pick out their pumpkins,” he described.

However, handling field trips during a pandemic with all the COVID-19 safety precautions is just not practical.

“We’ve suspended all field trips this year,” Waski said. He added some sports teams and academic clubs are meeting in person and will travel for competition, but all other trips are cancelled.

Traci Davis, superintendent of the Juda School District, said field trips are specially important for rural schools like hers.

“Museums, those types of things, are things that we look to give those opportunities for kids that we don’t necessarily have right next door to us,” Davis explained.

Juda is keeping some in-person trips, sticking mostly to outdoor activities and limiting chaperones.

“Kindergarten usually goes to the Madison Zoo,” Davis said, explaining the field trip to the zoo will be going ahead as scheduled.

However, both Davis and Waski said teachers are taking more field trips from inside the classroom.

“Since we can’t take the students to the event, we’re going to try to take the event to the students,” Waski explained.

UW-Madison is lending a hand to rural schools like Monroe and Juda. When the pandemic hit, UW’s Discovery Building and its Discovery Outreach team wanted a virtual way to continue bringing science to students who would typically visit the building on field trips.

“Our sweet spot was really connecting students in Wisconsin to researchers at UW-Madison,” said Val Blair, senior outreach coordinator at the Morgridge Institute for Research.

Discovery Outreach is a partnership between the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the Morgridge Institute for Research, the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and UW-Madison.

Blair and her team are not working with Monroe or Juda, but they are working to bring virtual field trips to 28 school districts around Wisconsin. They wanted to keep the hands-on aspect—for example, one field trip involved mailing students kits with simple supplies and instructions on building a generator.

“Even though the kit is seemingly simplistic, tape and aluminum foil, the students are still really excited to get something and unbox it,” said Samantha Mulrooney, program coordinator at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

Every activity is followed by a Zoom call with a scientist in that field of study.

“If [students] can see, ‘Well I like video games, and that scientist likes video games,’ they can find a connection and maybe see themselves as a scientist too in the future,” Blair explained.

Virtual field trips are not ideal, but administrators like Waski and Davis said it is still a way to give students an exciting experience.

“Many of those virtual field trips have matched the experiences students would have with an in-person field trip,” Waski said, adding, “Field trips, especially at the elementary and middle school levels are something that students talk about year after year.”

Waski, Davis and Blair said they are looking forward to having in-person, hands-on field trips again, but Blair added her team may keep the virtual aspect. Through virtual field trips, they have been able to reach more schools across the state.

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