Alberni students take virtual field trip at Toronto Zoo

Students in Kristine Clark’s class cheer during a Skype virtual tour behind the scenes at the Toronto Zoo, courtesy of Microsoft’s Explore. Teach. Build program. - PHOTO COURTESY MICROSOFT CANADA
Students in Kristine Clark’s class cheer during a Skype virtual tour behind the scenes at the Toronto Zoo, courtesy of Microsoft’s Explore. Teach. Build program.

A class from Wood Elementary School in Port Alberni has helped Microsoft Canada launch its first Skype virtual field trip in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Kristine Clark’s Grade 3/4 class explored the Toronto Zoo one morning in January with an immersive learning adventure with a fish biologist in the zoo’s Great Lakes conservation program.

“From over 4,000 kilometres away, students connected one-on-one with the zoo’s Curator of Fishes to learn about the importance of our Great Lakes and what they can do in their communities to face the challenges in the coming decades,” said John Tracogna, CEO of the Toronto Zoo.

Using a single classroom device, teachers can take their students to destinations around Canada and give them an opportunity to interact in real-time with tour guides and educators at heritage sites and points of interest. Wood Elem. students were able to ask questions of the curator, and told her about their own salmonid in the classroom project. There is also a component of the project that makes use of Minecraft, a web-based game popular with children.

The entire Explore. Teach. Build. program integrates several different aspects of the BC curriculum, Clark said.

“This time we saw the salmon project (zoo biologists) are doing for Lake Ontario Atlantic salmon,” Clark explained. “We compared it to our coho project here. Now to tie it into the curriculum we are creating a Minecraft (technology) world—a First Nations village (social studies) and a salmon habitat (science). Students have to do a writeup on it about what they learned (language arts).

“The kids are super excited about creating their world.”

“When you integrate the Minecraft component…you get to see some significant momentum,” says Marc Seamen, national director of education for Microsoft.

So far Microsoft has signed up 12 sites of national importance for Explore. Teach. Build, in partnership with Parks Canada and Heritage Canada. Seamen did not know how many virtual field trips students across Canada will take this year, as the program continues to shift.

“It’s a great way of breaking down walls and getting kids to learn in a totally different way other than their teachers.”

Wood Elementary was chosen for the pilot because they had previous experience with Microsoft programs, Seamen said.

“We thought it would be very important to connect from B.C. right across to Toronto and leverage the technology to allow classrooms to visit the Toronto Zoo in a chance most of those children have not had.”

School District 70 has engaged in a pilot project with Microsoft by supplying teachers with Surface tablets to use in their classrooms, which can be used interactively with students on their own computers, on a smartboard and in other ways.

“(This was) our first Skype experience,” Clark said. “The kids really liked it. It was great to be able to ‘go’ to a place—the Toronto Zoo—that we couldn’t just go to in real life.”

Some of the students have never left Port Alberni before, so the experience was exciting for them.

The school will get to revisit the zoo in the spring when they start a new section on endangered fish, and they will also get to see the tropical fish, Clark said.

“There’s nothing better for kids than to be able to learn from experts in their field,” Seamen said.

“We believe that technology in the classroom creates new learning opportunities, regardless of their location,” said Janet Kennedy, president of Microsoft Canada.

“In celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, Microsoft Canada is helping to break down barriers in an innovative way and inspire students to explore every corner of this great country.”

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