Due to school closures, teachers and students are no longer able to engage in the fun, exciting school trips that they perhaps otherwise would be at this time of year.

However, in light of the global lockdown, many institutions and venues are opening up virtual ‘tours’ that can be enjoyed online, in a bid to keep families entertained and reduce many people’s feeling of ‘cabin fever’.

These engaging, often interactive virtual trips are particularly amazing for schools, who can use the experiences to set work for students and provide an alternative to real life school trips. Many of these online tours are free, and can be made easily accessible to all students, all with the right planning.

How to organise a virtual school trip

Virtual school trips have already been utilised by several teachers across the country – not least of all Melissa Heppell, principal of Atlantic Primary Portland, who has been implementing them in her school.

Speaking to TES, she says: “We realised we could bring the world into the living rooms of our children through digital tours and trips.

“We send out information about the trip beforehand, and then the link will go ‘live’ as scheduled by us in Google Classroom. Throughout the visit, the teacher can pose questions and set activities for the children to engage with.”

Although the trips do require access to a computer and the internet, virtual school trips are relatively easy and cheap to set up and don’t involve access to VR glasses.

Heppell shared some top tips for teachers running their own virtual trip, in order to make it as fun, thrilling and worthwhile as it would be in real life.

  1. Allow for a social element. Part of the fun of a school trip is students bonding with their friends, so perhaps offer a platform through which children can speak to one another throughout, such as a live chat thread.
  2. Recreate that pre-trip excitement. Sometimes the build-up to the trip is as good as the trip itself. Teachers can recreate that by assigning children a ‘buddy’, setting some reading or a task to do before the trip, or give clues as to where you are going and get the children to guess.
  3. Provide activities to enjoy during the trip. Some students will be happy to go off and ‘explore’ on their own; others may need a bit of gentle encouragement. So setting tasks or activities is always a good idea – this could be a scavenger hunt, a fact-finding questionnaire or having to sketch their favourite item in the exhibit.
  4. Continue learning afterwards. Just like any other school trip, leverage it as far as possible by setting tasks or having guided discussion about things they learned or discovered during the trip. Teachers can use their school learning platform to share set work and get parents involved too.
  5. Make it accessible for all. Some students may not be able to take part in the trip at the appointed time due to computer sharing, internet connectivity or other family commitments. Therefore it’s important to leave the visit link live for a few days afterwards to allow everybody to access the resources at a later time convenient for them.

Virtual School Trips to Try During Lockdown

The Great Barrier Reef

With the simplicity of Google Earth, a school trip where students can go scuba diving and explore a coral reef is now within the realms of possibility for schools.

Heppell says her students are encouraged to explore the the Great Barrier Reef and the underwater worlds that live there, including shipwrecks, sharks and families of dolphins.

This trip could be a great opportunity to teach children before and afterwards about the importance of the coral reefs and why its so important to protect them.

Longleat Safari Park

A trip to the zoo is a common trip that most schools will engage in at least once. Thanks to safari parks like Longleat, that doesn’t need to be a thing of the past.

Longleat’s virtual safari features riveting video footage that gives viewers the chance to explore and learn about its animal residents from the comfort of their homes. The tour is free to view on the Longleat website and uses a mix of audio commentary, video and photos to allow students to feel as though they are on a real-life drive-through of the park.

Visitors will view giraffes and zebras of the East Africa Reserve before heading through the notorious Monkey Drive Through. The 30-minute tour also features close encounters with Longleat’s big cats, including their famous lions, tigers, cheetahs and wolves.

The Solar System

Through interactive 360-degree map Stellarium, students can explore their solar system in a whole new light.

Free to view, this virtual ‘observatory’ is a great tool to learn about the planets, their stars and moons, and even view star constellation art that scatters our skies. Students can explore with their mouse or keyboard and click on various planets and stars to learn more about them. They can also log their findings with NoctuaSky – an online observation log book (just create a free account).

Harry Potter: A History of Magic at the British Library

Google Arts & Culture are offering people the chance to visit the long-awaited Harry Potter exhibition ‘A History of Magic’ that was set to open at the British Library this spring.

Students can virtually wander around the exhibition and see the works of JK Rowling and their magic, ensuring no Potter fan has to miss out. Curated by Julian Harrison, the exhibition allows children to explore the different ‘rooms’ and see exciting artefacts such as a celestial globe, Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook, a guide to ‘muggle magic’ and the artistry behind the illustrations of the novels.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes are a worldwide phenomena that children will love to explore and study. There are many National Parks offering virtual tours on their website, one such park being Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Also hosted by Google Arts & Culture, this tour of one of the most famous volcano hotspots is a fantastic way for children to learn how volcanoes function and the unique ecosystems that live in Hawai’i’s hot climate. Explore the volcanoes’ incredible hot lava tubes, gorgeous cave structures and even the park’s active volcano.

International Space Station

Visiting a real-life space station is certainly not normally an option for most schools, but this virtual tour of Nasa’s space station makes it possible.

Start by watching the informative video tours about the space station, and then use Google Maps Street View to really experience it ‘first hand’.

Heppell also suggests letting children get creative afterwards with these brilliant Minecraft educational challenges.

National Theatre Collection

The National Theatre Collection is making the best of British theatre available worldwide to libraries, schools, universities and the wider education sector with high quality recordings of over 30 world-class productions.

Available through Bloomsbury’s award-winning digital library Drama Online, students can have the best seats in the house for a host of classic plays and productions, from Shakespeare to Greek theatre to American classics and novel adaptations.