MACUL Newsletter Article

Out on a Lim with EdTech

by Janine Lim

Best virtual field trips give students many quality experiences

Videoconferencing gives students the opportunity to connect to people and places otherwise unavailable to them at school. Over 80 sites offer programs to schools on topics such as Animal Adaptations, Careers in the Arts, and Harlem Renaissance. Information on over 400 programs can be found at

So with the plethora of programs abounding on many topics, how should teachers choose which programs to try? I’d like to share our favorite field trips from the last two years. We started our videoconferencing network in January 2000, and since then we’ve done over 150 programs with various zoos and museums across the country. Here’s a sampling of our favorites.

Alpha Base One: Houston We Have a Problem!

Coming from the Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center in Indianapolis, your class is Alpha Base One and you have been living on the Moon. Alpha Base Two, a team of students onsite in Indianapolis, is en route to the Moon in the spacecraft. This one-hour simulation is fast paced. Students work in groups conducting hands-on activities and making calculations to acquire information that is vital to the success of the mission. The information must be communicated directly to Mission Control in Indianapolis. Your students carefully guide to Alpha Base Two team to a successful landing on the moon.

This program’s strength is the simulation, which seems very real as the students work carefully and quickly on various problems. There is very little "presenting" of information; instead, the students experience a real-world problem-solving situation

A Rare Underwater Adventure

Travel with the Columbus Zoo to the mangrove forests of Southwestern Florida and visit the West Indian Manatee. The broadcast comes from a 190,000 gallon exhibit straight into your classroom! Students become scientists as they explore the underwater world of these rare marine mammals. They will measure a life size paper model of a manatee to understand its size; weigh each other and calculate the average weight of a manatee, sort various foods to understand the diet of a manatee, and many other interesting learning activities.

Becky Peters at the Columbus Zoo is an enthusiastic, exciting presenter. The teacher receives a wonderful packet of hands-on materials for the videoconference. Becky is even willing to take e-mail questions from students after the program if you run out of time.

Conversational Spanish (or French or German)

With your foreign language classroom, visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art for a game show like no other! Learning to speak a foreign language involves hearing it, thinking about it, and speaking it. During the program, your class will work in teams to answer questions posed about art from the past and the modern era while using the language they are studying. The art shown is from the respective country or culture, i.e. Spanish art for the Spanish program. Team winners of the contest receive medals for their excellent work!

Students and teachers gain a greater realization of the importance of speaking in their target language. This program is a fun way to practice and improve speaking skills while learning about the culture and art

Feeling the Squeeze: Air Pressure

When visiting the Center of Science and Industry in Toledo, better known as COSI Toledo, students participate in hands-on experiments to learn about air pressure. Students watch a live demonstration of a balloon shrinking after being immersed in liquid nitrogen. Then small groups of students participate in activities using materials sent to the teacher by COSI and some materials supplied by the teacher. A couple of students heat a pop bottle full of water, and then quickly transfer it to cold water. Before each experiment, students predict what will happen; then afterwards the presenter leads a discussion of the science principles learned.

Interview with a Holocaust Survivor

Hosted by the Museum of Tolerance in California, a holocaust survivor tells his or her story while students listen attentively. Following the presentation, about 30 minutes are allotted for students’ questions. This program’s strength is the real-world personal story of a historical event. This opportunity won’t be available forever, as the survivors are aging, so give your students this opportunity while you can!

Harlem Renaissance

Visit the Cleveland Museum of Art and learn about artists such as Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and photographer James Van Der Zee. Students interact with the presenter and discuss the various paintings and photographs. A special treat, well loved by the students, is a wonderful interpretative recitation of a poem Langston Hughes. This program is an excellent addition to an American Literature class or a special celebration of Black History Month.

The Chicken or the Egg

A chef from the New York Institute of Technology Culinary Arts Center takes your students through a fast paced food show. Beginning with a whole chicken, the chef shows various techniques, finally ending with two plates of food! The strength of this program is the humor and rapport the presenter has with the students. The chef is friendly with the students and willing to answer any questions they might have.


Students can visit the Center for Puppetry Arts and learn about various topics while creating a puppet. In the Butterflies program, students use materials collected by the teacher to create a butterfly puppet. The programs are targeted to K-5 students and are tailored nicely to younger students’ short attention spans. They create the butterfly in small steps. In between each step, students learn about the butterfly. For example, when the students work on the butterfly wings, they learn about the various patterns and scales on butterfly wings. The hands-on component of this program makes it a great choice for elementary students.

U. S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives

Our schools have connected four times to our legislators in Washington D.C. Students have talked with Senator Carl Levin and our Representative, Fred Upton. The videoconference usually consists of a short presentation by the Senator or Representative, followed by a question and answer period with the students. We usually have at least three classes connected at the same time. Students prepare questions ahead of time, and then the schools take turns asking questions. These programs allow students to gain a better understanding of government, and allow the Senator or Representative to maximize his or her time. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have videoconferencing equipment. If you want to videoconference with your legislator, contact your local legislator’s office first.

Black History Month

Visit the Children's Museum of Indianapolis for a program on Black History Month for elementary students. Students learn about Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice. They listen to a celebration of African-American poetry from the past 75 years. Poems are recited and read using a call and response method. Students also join in a hand-clapping and rhythm exercise highlighting freedom songs and African-American history. Students are involved and engaged in this interesting presentation.

This small sampling is only a taste of the programs that these sites offer. Many other sites offer great programs as well. Field trips aren’t the only use of videoconferencing. Students can participate in cross-school collaborative projects, high schools can share classes, and teachers can participate in professional development.

Over 5000 students in Berrien and Cass counties have enjoyed educational videoconferencing since January 2000. Some students have commented, "The technology helped in answering questions that we felt needed to be answered." "I think it [video conferencing] was very cool and different. It helped me learn better because I heard it from someone who actually experienced it." This technology provides students new educational opportunities that enrich classroom learning.

Janine Lim, Instructional Technology Consultant for the Berrien County ISD, coordinates distance learning for Berrien and Cass counties and trains teachers on effective technology integration.