Hollister students travel world with virtual field trips

New pilot program uses tablets

Hollister teachers can now take their students just about anywhere in the world without leaving their classrooms.

That’s because of a new “virtual field trip pilot” program, facilitated through the Hollister School District’s technology department.

“With a teacher guiding an expedition, students can be placed right in the middle of a museum or any number of other landmarks,” said J.R. Rayas, who heads up the district’s Technology and Innovation Department. “I love seeing students use their tablet as a window to explore, think and wonder.”

With about an $8,500 investment in Google Chrome tablets, the tech team started with a fifth-grade class at Calaveras Elementary School. Enhancing a lesson on the solar system, teachers Danielle Canez and Jaime Garcia led students on a tour that included visuals of the Milky Way Galaxy and stops at each planet in the solar system. Each student worked with a partner to explore, discuss and question the details of the solar system, according to staff.

“This new and exciting technology allows a teacher to lead an expedition of their choosing while all of their students follow along with their own tablet,” Rayas explained.

The pilot program is led by the district’s Path to Progress group, a cadre of mentors “who have been working to incorporate effective and innovative technology practices in their classrooms.”

“It is exciting to watch our teacher leaders incorporate the tablets so successfully into their curriculum,” said Ed Tech’s Tiffany Bianchi. “The level of student engagement as they explore and make connections to prior learning was amazing.”

Second-grade students at Calaveras and Cerra Vista Elementary Schools have already taken virtual field trips to six museums around the world. One trip corresponded with a language arts lesson in which the students had read about Sue Hendrickson’s discovery of Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Teachers Janet Raper, Kristen Damm and Catalina Johnson led their classes through exhibits at the various museums, noting the adaptations of the multitudes of dinosaurs. The crowning point of the tour was the uproar of the class as they were able to stand right in front of Sue the T. Rex at the Chicago Field Museum, according to Rayas.

“Watching the videos of our students engaged in these virtual field trips has been amazing,” said district Superintendent Diego Ochoa. “I’ve seen high levels of excitement met with real emotional responses from our students.”

Rayas hopes to expand the pilot program to other district schools.

“It’s definitely something we want as many kids to experience as possible,” said Rayas, whose tech staff brings the set of tablets directly to the classroom for the lead teacher to use on any particular day. Then, they pack up the traveling set and bring them to the next classroom.

“Each teacher who has been part of our committee takes the lead in piloting the virtual field trips in their classroom and also showcases it for other teachers at their school,” Rayas said. “It’s been amazing. …Teachers are taking it to the next level.”

There are hundreds of expeditions available, with some created and published by other users, according to Rayas.

“It’s an ongoing process. If it goes further, we definitely want to expand to have a set of tablets for each school site,” Rayas said. “We will take all the feedback we can about the user experiences to see if there were any tech issues and look for new innovations and applications.”

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