A Pandemic Field Trip

We want what we don’t have. At least I do.

I’m craving travel, exploration, connection, shared experiences, the opportunity to get out of the rut of the ordinary. So are my students.

Living and teaching during a pandemic is no picnic. But all of you know that. Uncertainty and change are the only constants…along with masks, hand washing, and physical distancing.

After three weeks of distance learning, my students came back to school last week. Sort of. Part time. I love, love, love having my students in the classroom again. But…

I have half of them at a time. One shift in the morning and a second shift in the afternoon after the janitorial staff comes in and disinfects the classroom. The AM group works independently in the afternoon from home, the PM group does the same in the morning before they come to school. And I am exhausted trying to keep up!

In spite of this hybrid schedule, I want students to have a rich and meaningful learning experience each and every day. I want them to think deeply and for curiosity to be an insatiable itch that only more reading, writing, observation, and investigation begins to scratch. I love to combine rich content with opportunities to explore, create, and connect. Science is often my go-to.

With the Pacific Ocean outside our door and plant and animal adaptations on our list of science standards, it makes all kinds of sense to study our local kelp forest. Macrocystis Pyrifera has become the basis of our study, the algae on which we build our knowledge.

We’ve done some reading, watched a video, and looked at some photos. Most years we head down to the beach and take a close up look or a parent heads in with a bucket full of these amber jewels. But not in coronavirus times.

So what could I do to breathe some life and variety into the learning in this hybrid classroom? What could I do to energize my own planning and teaching?

I decided on a field trip. Wait…the virus, the pandemic. I’m not even allowed to have all my students in the classroom at the same time!

Virtual field trip to the rescue.

My students don’t come to school on Wednesdays. I host a morning Zoom meeting with the entire class and then set them off to work independently for our minimum day. But this week, Wednesday became our field trip day.

I remembered that the Monterey Bay Aquarium had live cams and a huge kelp forest tank, so I headed to their website to see what kinds of opportunities might exist for my students. I uncovered a wealth of resources! This is a place I had always wished I could take my students to visit, but it is halfway up the state…well out of reach of a field trip even in the best of years!

So how would I organize this virtual field trip so my 8 and 9 year old students could access these resources independently? After some trial and error, I decided to create a slide deck to guide them through a variety of activities. I assigned some specific activities and offered choices for others. And to slow them down and encourage close observation and focused attention, I provided a paper packet for note taking…with a reminder that we will use these in class next week.

I know I was more excited about this virtual field trip than they were–there was great disappointment when they learned we weren’t actually going anywhere! But first indications suggest they did have fun…and learn some things. I’ll know more on Monday!

In the meantime, maybe you are in need of a field trip and an immersion into in the kelp forest. Here’s a link to my slide deck.

So, I didn’t get to travel…but I did get to explore and dig myself out of my usual lesson planning routine. I watched sea otters frolic, jellies undulate, and giant kelp sway. And I’m plotting how to put my students’ new found knowledge about the kelp forest ecosystem to creative use in the classroom next week.

I’m also already thinking about that next virtual field trip. Where should we go? What should we study? If you have great ideas about places with a variety of resources, I’d love to hear all about them!