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Exploring Georgia From The Classroom With GPB's Virtual Field Trips

At the end of last school year I decided to transfer to a new school after six years of teaching 6th and 7th grade world studies. I was hired to teach 8th grade Georgia studies to the gifted and advanced students. I was excited to start this next chapter in my professional career. New school. New subject. But I didn’t know anything about Georgia! I spent the summer of 2017 researching educational materials and found a gold mine.
 
GBP Education has a Georgia Studies Collection that includes a digital textbook, Georgia Race Through Time game, and Georgia Stories videos. These materials are all staples in my classroom instruction but the virtual field trips have been the most revolutionary. It may not be possible to take my students to all of the places we learn about in Georgia physically, but I CAN take them there virtually. Students are immersed in locations, historic events and the culture of the sites they visit. Each GPB field trip is unique based on the topic but they have some or all of the following elements which enrich the curriculum immensely: 
  • Interviews
  • Biographical profiles
  • Photo galleries
  • 360-degree panoramic photography 
  • Interactive elements
  • Maps
  • Videos
  • Art work
  • Music
  • User guide 
GPB's virtual field trips are accessible across all platforms, including tablets and computers.

I have used the virtual field trips in a number of ways. I have reserved a computer lab so that all of my students could be working on a field trip at the same time but at their own pace. I have six desktop computers in my classroom so my go-to option has been to have students complete a field trip at a station. This way I am using the technology I have in my classroom without having to compete for lab time or deal with the hassle of a laptop cart. (We all know a teacher that leaves it a mess right before you use it!) I have also had students work on field trips using the GBP Education app on devices such as iPads (iTunes) or BLU Vivo (Android). I have purchased headphone splitters to allow partners and small groups to work from one device, further maximizing the technology available to students in the classroom.

Students explore the Civil Rights Movement with GPB's Civil Rights Virtual Learning Journey.

Since the virtual field trips are aligned with the Georgia Standards of Excellence (GSE), my students receive the information they need to be successful in 8th grade social studies by participating in these field trips. I have used the field trips at the beginning of units, in the middle and at the end before assessment. I have used portions of the field trips such as videos, images and maps in my direct instruction. The field trips have been early finisher options and homework. Some field trips have even completely replaced a unit that would be traditionally taught. For Andersonville and Jimmy Carter, I only had my kids complete the virtual field trips. Our discussions and their assessment data prove that they can and do learn with this media. And because it is so visual, the information is stored in their long-term memories.

Eighth grade students explore virtual field trips at their own pace.
 
I gave my students questions from the user guide to answer as they go went through the Andersonville field trip and toured Warm Springs. I created my own sets of questions using the videos, photo galleries, and bio profiles for the Civil Rights Movement and Jimmy Carter. For the Indian Mounds tour, I allowed students to explore the information without a set of questions but instead they wrote a summary at the end. After learning about the Creek and Cherokee Nations, I gave students accountable talk guidelines and they discussed how native lives and lands were impacted as Georgia expanded westward. And I have also allowed students to go through the field trips with no “work” attached. They had complete freedom to explore the five regions of Georgia, our state’s physical features, and the campus and history of UGA.
 
I know it’s scary to release the control to students, but they learn so much when not tethered to an assignment. They can spend more time on what they find to be interesting and skip parts that are not as appealing to them. With this option, students are able to work at their own pace and truly explore without penalty if they don’t finish questions or a writing assignment.
 
The curriculum has been enriched with the use of GPB virtual field trips. The learning experiences have been informative as well as emotional. I saw a few students shed tears during the Cherokee Nation and the Civil Rights Movements. Talk about impactful! My students look forward to engaging in a field trip each unit and I’m sad that our last one (Entrepreneurship in Georgia) is coming up next week when we finish our economics unit.
 
If you have not been using the Georgia Studies Digital Collection, including the virtual field trips, I strongly urge you to do so. Don’t just teach about Georgia. Allow your students to explore Georgia!

Vanessa Ellis is a guest blogger for GPB Education and a middle grades social studies teacher in Muscogee County School District. She taught sixth and seventh grade social studies at Fort Service Learning Magnet Academy for six years and will teach 8th grade Georgia Studies at Veterans Memorial Middle School in the fall of... more