Loopy & downright loony school forms

Those of us with school-age children will appreciate how much of a hassle the seemingly endless stream of permission forms and slips can be during the school year. Excursions and field trips, free-dress days, swimming carnivals, sports meets and anything else that may be even the tiniest bit out of the ordinary will usually call on a guardian’s signature to give the OK.

Those on the other end of the stick – the teachers – will realise, although this can sometimes be an annoyance to already time-poor parents, the problems that can crop up from not properly informing them of school activities can cause major headaches and even legal trouble down the track.

When it comes down to it, most parents want to know what’s happening with their child during the hours they’re not around. Informed consent is important for any activity that might put your child in an unfamiliar situation or those which parents may want to know about.

And, although some permission forms have caused concern for parents, like one that asked for blanket permission to allow a school to publish photos of their child online, most are routine and innocuous, acting only to inform parents and get their seal of approval.

However, occasionally schools can miss the mark. A permission slip for parents of sixth graders in the US that asked consent for their child to eat a single Oreo biscuit stirred up an epic online battle that divided people into camps of the overprotective versus the free-range. Like all online debates, there were no winners, and we’re not sure how many kids were denied their chocolatey treat.

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Even a form which is borne from good intentions can come across as loony. Here are some of our recent favourites:

As mad as some of these may seem, let’s spare a thought for the poor teachers who have been pushed so far they thought their crazy form was necessary. That’s right, if they’re wanting the OK to go ahead and screen a kids movie to kids, offer a cookie in class or let your child get in touch with nature, there’s a good chance they’re doing so because someone complained about it in the past!

We’ve even seen how poorly communicated information can threaten school excursions and why these kinds of activities are important, especially for students, so let’s not let a few loony forms ruin everyone’s fun.

ParentPaperwork takes the craziness out of administering permission slips. Click here for more information.

How to be a Good Digital Citizen: a guide for teachers and students

Navigating the online world can be a bit of a minefield, even for us adults, so when it comes to teaching the next generation how to survive in a technology-driven society, it can be difficult to know just where to begin.

There is a lot of information out there about the negative side effects of technology. Articles warn of it changing the way children think or feel, putting their privacy and safety at risk and even the possibilities of overuse leading to obesity. But when it comes to the Internet, our gadgets and how we interact with them, maybe some morality needs to come into play? We all need to be good digital citizens to promote responsible use of technology.

Good digital citizenship is all about the quality of behaviour that we display online, both kids and adults need new skills to behave safely and responsibly in the digital landscape. Preventing kids from accessing unsuitable material online through filters is an uphill battle. Instead,  teach them to understand the digital world and act responsibly within it.

Being a good citizen online follows the same basic rules as good citizenship offline.

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More than just online safety

Often when we read about students and their digital lives, the focus is on safety and civility online, teaching them not to engage in cyberbullying, or to give out personal information or post anything that may come back to haunt them. But being a good digital citizen goes beyond this; promoting the use of a sophisticated set of skills that allows full participation in the worldwide online conversation.

Joseph Kahne, Professor of Education at Mills College in Oakland, CA, and Chairman of the MacArthur Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, says we need to broaden our ideas about digital citizenship and give kids a little more credit:

“One of the challenges and important priorities for K-12 today has to be broadening our understanding of what it means to be a digital citizen,” he says. “So that we’re talking about young people as producers and managers of information and perspectives, and not simply as people we need to keep safe and civil.”

The 9 elements of digital citizenship

There are a lot of little rules that can be followed to make our online lives a lot easier. Through its digital citizenship site, the International Society for Technology in Education has made it simpler for us by identifying a framework of 9 key themes of digital citizenship that teachers and students can use to promote responsible online interactions.

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  1. Digital Access
    Not everyone has the same access to technology. Digital citizenship starts by promoting equal digital rights and supporting electronic access for everybody. No one should be denied digital access.
  1. Digital Commerce
    The Internet provides an open marketplace of almost any product, some of which can be in conflict with local laws or societal norms (such as pornography and gambling). Digital citizens need to understand this economy and become effective consumers within it. 
  1. Digital Communication
    The digital revolution has also been a communication revolution, and we can now be in constant contact with almost anyone around the world. Good digital citizenship means making appropriate decisions around our communication options. 
  1. Digital Literacy
    Technology is present in all aspects of our lives. Although a lot is taught at schools, there are many technologies in workplaces that are not. Digital citizens need to learn how to adapt to new technologies quickly and understand how these systems work. 
  1. Digital Etiquette
    There are many online who act inappropriately, some by choice but others by not understanding the etiquette of the digital space. Some spaces ban users for this behaviour but, to be a good digital citizen, we have to learn these rules and know what is appropriate and when. 
  1. Digital Law
    Just like in the real world, stealing and damaging other people’s work or identity or property is a crime. Every country has its own laws regarding online crime but good citizenship means having responsibility for actions and deeds, and being aware of the legalities of your behaviour. 
  1. Digital Rights & Responsibilities
    There are freedoms online that are extended to everyone in the digital world, such as privacy and free speech. With these rights come responsibilities, and good digital citizens must use technology in an appropriate manner and understand their own accountability for what they do online.
  1. Digital Health & Wellness
    From bad ergonomics, strain and eye safety to psychological issues such as Internet addiction and the effects of cyberbullying, digital citizens need to be taught how to protect themselves from dangers posed from online interactions. 
  1. Digital Security
    Our personal property and identity can be in as much danger online as off from people that steal, deface or destroy. As a responsible digital citizen, it is up to us to put the locks on our virtual doors and minimise our possibility of becoming a target of crime.

Digital citizenship can be a tricky concept for us to get our heads around but, when broken down into these elements, we can see the parallels to the real world.

Being a responsible digital citizen is important not only for students to learn but also teachers. Understanding these concepts can help us lead the way for the next generation and open the door for more positive online interactions.

And remember…

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A Schooling in Green: printing

The humble printer and photocopier can be a mini blackhole when it comes to expenses.

Many of us have worked in offices where the printing room is an unsupervised hotbed of wasted paper and ink. But, when it comes to schools, often the amount of wastage is multiplied, thanks to unnecessary printing of resources that could be handled electronically.

We’ve looked previously at the monetary costs associated with printing in school environments, which quoted Microsoft’s Education Marketing Manager Ray Fleming, who stated that schools often spend more on printing than they do on IT:

“An average school will use 1m sheets of paper a year and spend £60,000 (AUD $120k) on photocopying but only £56,000 (AUD $110k) on IT.”

The environmental cost of this amount of paper use is startling enough, but when we consider the additional burden of disposing of printer toner and ink cartridges, we can start to understand the immense size of the problem.

According to not-for-profit Australian environmental foundation, Planet Ark, Australians throw away more than 18 million printer cartridges every year. This equates to over 5,000 tonnes of non-biodegradable material that ends up as landfill. Compounding the issue is the fact that, when these cartridges break apart, they can potentially contaminate groundwater and the environment.

In the UK, it is estimated only 15% of the 65 million printer cartridges sold each year are recycled.

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For your health

Another often-ignored danger of printing is the affect it can have on your health.

Toner ink can contain carcinogens such as ‘carbon black’ – a dust that isn’t exposed during normal use but can be released if a cartridge is mishandled, and they can also emit carbon monoxide when overheated or place in poorly ventilated areas.

Studies have looked into the effects of sitting in close proximity to a printer and found there is a possibility of illness from spending long periods of time near printers, especially if not set up or used properly.

What can be done?

Thankfully, there is a lot that schools can do to help the environment when it comes to printing.

In Australia, Cartridges 4 Planet Ark is a recycling program for toner and ink cartridges that has collected and recycled over 28 million cartridges since its inception. The program offers collection bins for schools that use a lot of cartridges and have drop-off points at many participating stores. They also have competitions for schools that participate, offering prizes made from cartridges they have recycled.

Also in Australia and the US, Close the Loop is a recycling program that turns used cartridges into products as diverse as pens, garden benches and even tarmac. In the US alone, the program has recovered close to 69,000 tonnes of material that otherwise would have gone to landfill. They too offer collection boxes for cartridge recovery.

In the US, most major ink and toner cartridge manufacturers will also offer a service to collect and recycle your used cartridges. In the UK, companies such as The Recycling Factory and Recycling 4 Charity will take your used cartridges, and even have programs aimed at schools.

There are many options when it comes to staying green within your school. Creating a program to collect and recycle your ink and toner cartridges is something simple that can have a huge positive impact on the environment. Of course, finding ways to reduce your use of printers and photocopiers should always be the first step in any attempt to make your school more sustainable.

Ask us how the ParentPaperwork system is contributing to environmental sustainability in schools.

Why the sad face? The loss of morale in teachers

Everyone in every job in every country at some point thinks, ‘I hate my job’. It’s one of the challenges with full-time work – but, when you are overworked, overstressed and falling behind, those four little words can begin to creep into your everyday vernacular.

This is certainly beginning to apply to teachers as job satisfaction levels reach record lows.

A 2012 MetLife Survey of Teachers found teacher job satisfaction declined from 62 percent of teachers feeling ‘very satisfied’ in 2008 to 39 percent by 2012. The survey also showed 51 percent of US teachers report feeling under great stress several days a week. But the trend does not stop there.

A recent survey by the Guardian Teaching Network found, by large, teachers in the UK feel overworked and undervalued, with 82 percent saying their workload is unmanageable and only four in 10 saying they are happy with their job.

And, in Australia, teachers work harder than their colleagues across the world. On average, Australian primary school teachers have 871 face-to-face hours with students annually compared to the world average of 782 hours per year.

This is leading to a decline in not only the amount of students enrolling in teacher courses, but it has been reported close to 50 percent of those who graduate as teachers leave the profession in the first five years.

When you actually crunch all these numbers, add the stress and overtime, these factors are major contributors to a loss of morale in teachers. And the biggest question that remains is: how do you win back that lost morale?

In Australia, the Grattan Institute put out the report, ‘Making time for great teaching’, which found teachers need to cut back on things that don’t directly improve teaching and learning. The report showed, when teachers were more efficient by cutting back on unnecessary tasks, they could spend more time doing what they loved – teaching.

This research is also in step with the UK Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who recently explained, “Teachers should spend more of their working week in the classroom rather than carrying out pointless administration tasks.”

“More should be done to tackle the issue of ‘unnecessary workload’ faced by teachers to give them more time with children.”

One of the ways teachers can take charge of their workload is to cut down on irrelevant or outdated processes and even start school initiatives for assisting the entire teaching workforce.

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First, find out which aspects of classroom time you can control. In some schools, teachers find they can reduce the time it takes to schedule lessons, grade papers and plan extracurricular activities by using digital tools to better organise calendars and paperwork.

The key is to find simple solutions for eliminating menial work like printing paper, or brush up on some time management skills by really looking at where your time is going during the day. And, if any of these methods work, it is a great opportunity to share your time-saving methods with the rest of the teaching team to hopefully adopt a school-wide approach to lessen the workload.

Rich McKinney, PhD, an award winning assistant principal in the US, explains how taking the initiative helps empower teachers and leads to better teaching and student learning outcomes. He says, “Teachers in schools do not call the shots. They have very little say. They’re told what to do; it’s a very disempowered line of work.”

“Students need teachers are who are highly competent role models, whose talents and expertise are leveraged both inside and outside of the classroom, and when possible, away from school in the community. When students recognize their teachers are leaders, their natural response will be to follow. School morale can only improve in this type of environment.”

There may be a loss of morale but it does not spell destruction for the teaching industry. Instead, it is an opportunity to take back control and get back to the real reason you became a teacher – to teach.

Read about how ParentPaperwork is playing its part in reducing teacher and school administration stress.

Oakleigh Grammar: a case study

Oakleigh Grammar in Melbourne, Australia, was one of the first schools in the world to adopt ParentPaperwork’s online platform at the initial startup phase. Their faith in ParentPaperwork – and the subsequent benefits they’ve experienced by taking on the ParentPaperwork system – have got them singing our praises.

We spoke to Soula Mitsopoulos, Head of Senior School’s PA/VASS Administrator at Oakleigh Grammar, to discover exactly why they’re our number one fans.

Which aspect of ParentPaperwork prompted you to give the system a try?
It was the opportunity for immediate responses, and the ability to export all the required details into a convenient spreadsheet.

What are some of the best things that have happened since implementing ParentPaperwork at your school?
The increase in efficiency in collecting responses and information has been really notable. Also, that we are able to work with the ParentPaperwork team to improve our requirements, as well as get ideas to streamline the processes, means a lot to us.

What was the process of introducing ParentPaperwork into your current school management systems like?
We’re not a huge school (just over 600 students from ELC to Year 12) so the slips are prepared, sent out and the responses monitored by our admin staff. This meant that the internal introduction process was straight-forward. We wrote out to school families explaining how the new process would work prior to implementation.

We haven’t really had any problems using Parent Paperwork to speak of, to be honest. The transition was quite smooth.

How have parents and staff reacted to ParentPaperwork?
The teachers really appreciate not having to collect and chase up returned paper slips. And parents appreciate being able to respond online as soon as they get the notices/slips. Not having to rely on their children – particularly in the case of the younger ones – to remember to hand in a paper slip is a big thing.

What are the key benefits you have experienced? Have there been any unexpected benefits that you didn’t anticipate?
Definitely the reduction in staff time photocopying and in paper use, as well as the timeliness of receiving responses. The ability for our admin staff to answer parent questions regarding their responses without having to chase whomever was receiving paper replies is huge – also the ability to see at a glance who has responded, who has opened their email but not responded and who hasn’t even opened their email to know exactly who needs to be followed up.

What sort of savings are you seeing as a result of using ParentPaperwork? 
We’ve experienced savings in paper use, staff time in photocopying, teaching staff’s time collating returned slips and chasing up those not returned… They’re the main savings we’ve noted.

How important are environmental considerations to your school? How have you seen ParentPaperwork contributing to your school’s environmental goals?
Environmental considerations are very important to our school. ParentPaperwork is helping us to reduce our environmental footprint in the reduction of waste.

What would you say to other schools considering implementing ParentPaperwork into their school? Any handy tips?
I would say they definitely should do it! Parent Paperwork is easy to use, both in setting up and sending the slips then collecting, collating and reporting the information…

We’ve been using ParentPaperwork for over 12 months, and the excellent support and prompt service we get from the team at ParentPaperwork has made the whole process easy. We know we can rely on the system.

Feel free to visit Oakleigh Grammar online at oakleighgrammar.vic.edu.au

Click here for more information on ParentPaperwork.

A Schooling in Green: paper

It’s no secret schools and paper are intrinsically linked – but neither needs the other in order to survive. In fact, it may be time to make paper an endangered species.

Paper is not only a financial burden on schools but the production, deforestation and waste creates a massive carbon footprint. The good news is: schools can green up their act.

But first, a schooling in math.

The amount of paper used in the classroom varies from country to country. In the US, the average classroom uses 25,000 sheets of paper per year, which equals 833 pieces of paper per student.

Now, if one tree makes 8,333 sheets of paper, that means three trees are being used in every single US classroom per annum. That’s a lot of trees, especially when you consider recycling one ton of paper, which is about 20 full-grown trees, saves enough energy to heat an average home for six months.

And it’s not just the trees that are disappearing. Water is a vital ingredient when it comes to the production of trees. In Australia, to make just one ton of paper, over 90,000 litres of precious water are used, which will fill 450 rain barrels.

Modern paper also involves chemicals for bleaching and, once these chemical-laden products go to the landfill after use, it produces dangerous greenhouse gases during decomposition.

All these numbers are not meant to induce fear – they are simply painting a picture of paper consumption in schools. And based on the math, it’s time to make a change.

So how do you build an army of green warriors at your school?

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Learn to love math

A lesson in accounting is the best way to spearhead a sustainable charge. Review your current paper situation. Look at not only how much paper you use but how much paper you waste.

In the UK, the average secondary school produces 22kg of waste per student each academic year. The figure for primary schools is even higher at 45kg per student.

Ashford Secondary School in the UK did their part. They put two lead teachers in charge of Year 7 students to conduct a waste audit, realised they were tossing way too much in the landfill and came up with an action plan.

The school ended up saving nine tons of CO2 emissions per school year through a recycling program.

Educate about trees

Trees are a big part of our collective environments. They produce oxygen, shade, decoration and, if you’re a kid, they are fun to climb.

It’s important to educate students on the impact of paper production on the environment as it is a global problem. The largest producer countries – US, China, Japan and Canada – alone make up more than half of the world’s paper production, which is 400 million tons a year.

According to our earlier calculations, that’s around eight billion trees.

Raise awareness by putting deforestation in perspective. If students cannot imagine that only about 22 percent of the world’s old growth forests remain intact, ask them to imagine a world without trees.

Do something, even if it’s small

After the review and education processes, schools need to take action, even if it is to save one litre of water, one tree or put recycling bins next to every printer.

The simplest way to make a change is to reduce paper-dependent processes and activities with digital alternatives. Go to step one and think about what you have that can go paperless.

Reports and transcripts? Paperless. Permission slips for activities and excursions? Paperless.

School boards and councils should also be encouraged to distribute meeting papers via email or through online blogs to keep the school community up-to-date digitally. It is a cost-effective way to not only save paper but to make sure everyone stays informed.

The technological tools are already at your fingertips to start making your school greener today.

Schools should be red-faced if they’re not going green

Climate change isn’t a buzzword, it’s a call to action. The world’s environmental situation may seem too big to tackle in the classroom but schools are actually perfectly positioned to make an impact.

Of course, education plays a big part in helping to reduce our global footprint. And many initiatives are in place to assist schools in talking the sustainable talk.

There are also a number of resources available for teachers to support the education of students on climate change. NASA, for example, have created an animated infographic called Climate Kids to help with the big science questions.

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And in the UK, the Sustainable Learning initiative provides information for schools to reduce energy and water. So far, schools working through the program have seen energy reductions of 10% on average, and have a better understanding of how energy and water is used in their schools.

But, as the next generation are going to encounter new and unknown environmentally related issues in coming years, schools need to be on the front foot in teaching students how to take action.

The Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI) allows schools to make sustainable decisions. It implements improvements in a school’s management of resources and grounds, and integrates this approach into the existing curriculum and daily running of the school. Students participate in an action learning – or learning by doing – process.

So far, more than 2,000 schools and 570,000 students across Australia are now participating in AuSSI. And it’s working. Earlier this year, an eco-friendly Perth primary school received the United Nations Environment Award for their climate change initiatives, which included recycling food scraps, growing vegetables and walk or ride to school on ‘travel smart’ days.

Although great strides have been made in order to reduce the carbon footprint, schools are still big contributors to eco-unfriendliness. This is because, with so many people, it can be hard to keep track of who’s wasting what and where.

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So how can schools improve? There are four key areas schools can begin taking action on now to get greener, and it all starts with paper.

Paper

Did you know a school with 2,000 students could be using 80,000 pieces of paper a year just to send forms home to parents? That’s about 10 trees a year that can stay in the ground emitting oxygen.

However, most schools still rely on a paper-based forms to capture parent permissions for activities like excursions and sports activities. For parents with more than one child, this leads to literally dozens of pieces of paper that must be signed and returned.

Of course, recycling is one option for schools but it can be difficult keeping track of all those papers. Paperless solutions will sidestep these problems all together.

Printing

Whether it’s a paper jam or running out of ink, the printer can be a source of many frustrations – including financial ones. Not only are printers expensive but, if not maintained properly, they can sap a ton of energy contributing to a school’s overall footprint.

In the same way, schools can digitise forms and they can also bring printing online.

Schools in the UK have moved towards digitising their print systems, introducing new ways of managing a fleet of printers and copiers centrally. These technologies have not only help schools move closer to becoming paperless but they have helped save money by tracking printing costs across the whole network in real time.

Waste

In the US, paper accounts for 60% of a school’s waste. That’s over half of all the waste a school produces.

Switching to recycled paper is one way to tackle this and, in California, the Green Schools Initiative developed a Green Schools Buying Guide to help schools make sustainable purchases.

Reduce.org suggests involving students by providing information on how to reduce paper waste, encouraging students to not only use recycled and look for recycled products but to proactively uncover ways to avoid using paper.

Remember, recycling one ton of paper, which is 24 trees, saves enough energy to heat an average home for six months.

Distribution

The first question a teacher should ask when distributing paper in a classroom is: can this be done digitally?

The RecycleWorks School Program suggests conducting an audit on the amount of paper distributed to students throughout the week and search for ways to cut down.

In our digital age, it is unnecessary to be using paper for every piece of permission, homework or note when digital solutions like email can cut down on costs, save time and reduce a school’s footprint. Schools still have a way to go before becoming sustainable superstars but, by taking action now, it will make it easier for generations to come.

Ask ParentPaperwork about bringing your school permission slips and paperwork online. 

How long do schools need to retain data?

With so many students filtering through our collective school systems every year, records management has become an issue for institutions around the world. The slow pace at which many schools have upgraded from paper-based systems to electronically stored information means that standards on what is kept and how it is kept differ from one place to the next.

Storage isn’t only an issue for schools that are yet to go paperless; it also raises problems for those who store data digitally. When it comes to storing data securely, there’s always a risk that it’s not secure enough, so for how long should a school retain your personal data?

Well, it may just depend on where you live.

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Australia
In Australia, the recent introduction of controversial data retention laws has sparked debate. While these laws only apply to telecommunications, they’ve still generated intense conversation about data retention across the board and how our data can be used against us. The fact that many schools use online educational tools that will collect metadata on students that could fall under these laws and, therefore, be retained for up to two years, further muddies the waters about what is collected and for how long.

Metadata aside, Australia’s laws on student data are somewhat vague. The Australian Privacy Principles state that non-government schools are required to destroy or de-identify personal information when it is no longer ‘needed’, leaving it in the hands of schools to define the meaning of ‘needed’.

Government schools are more clearly defined but differ wildly from state to state. Victorian government schools can hold data for up to a year after the student leaves while, in NSW and ACT, it can be held until the student either turns 25 or seven years after they leave.

The US
In the US, schools are not required by federal law to keep records for any set period of time. If someone has submitted a request to view your education record, however, schools are prevented from destroying it before the request is fulfilled.

State and local laws are varied, so it is possible that where you live or go to school may have more specific guidelines regarding your records. Recent legislations about how schools can use your data did not outline any changes to its retention.

The UK
In the UK, similar recommendations are in place, stating that schools should not hold personal information on students longer than is required, once again leaving it up to the school’s discretion. Recent moves in Ireland to hold students’ data until they reach the age of 30 was widely condemned as going too far.

Why retain data at all?
The risks of data retention have been extolled many times, mainly focusing on the privacy and personal information being used for nefarious purposes without our knowledge.

In Australia, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse has relied heavily on school records to investigate possible crimes by organisations. The findings showed how important data retention is for schools, and these cases have highlighted schools’ legal obligations and duty of care to students.

Schools should keep records for greater transparency and to mitigate risks, however, finding a way to do so safely and deciding how long they should be held is a tricky issue.

Many schools have to take into account their storage space, as physical files can quite literally populate room after room. If working with a paper-based system, a move to digital storage is the cheaper and more efficient alternative. Just as long as we can keep this information secure, the length of time it is held may no longer become such a prickly issue.

ParentPaperwork takes data storage and security seriously. Take a read through our FAQs.

The Virtual Field Trip Experience: part two

Last post’s review of several virtual field trips showed that, when it comes to learning online, the choices are varied, with both advantages and disadvantages to the different methods used to present these experiences.

The virtues of virtual field trips are most apparent when compared to an alternative that many schools face – not having any field trips at all. Whether it be because of budgetary reasons or problems with liability, some schools are not able to offer students these experiences or, perhaps, only able to offer very few in an academic year.

So, let’s look at some other field trip services that offer users lots of bang for little buck.

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FIELD TRIP ZOOM
An online service that allows users access to zoos, museums and historical sites, Field Trip Zoom takes the pain out of finding suitable, high quality virtual field trips. With a searchable database of virtual field trips from a collection of US partner institutions, a subscription to Field Trip Zoom makes live educational content easily accessible from computers anywhere.

The Good
Free for teachers to sign up and browse the field trips available, Field Trip Zoom offers a one-stop solution to the virtual field trip. Software-based video conferencing is easy to set up and allows access from any classroom. The range of trips available is quite varied and only high-quality content makes the grade.

The Bad
While sign up for the catalogue of virtual field trips is free, accessing some may mean paying costs from the partner institution. Field trip Zoom takes care of the cloud-based access. The full experience of accessing ‘collaboration rooms’ is subscription based, and costs may be high for some schools.

Supporting Material
Yes, for most field trips but is provided on a trip-by-trip basis by partner institution.

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ADVENTURE ’15
Billed as the world’s biggest virtual cultural exchange, Adventure ’15 brings together over 2,200 schools across 55 nations to exchange ideas, build a global project and undertake a mutual exchange of educational ideas as a cyber event.

The Good
Bold and ambitious, this project is setting a number of goals that can only be achieved through a large-scale exchange such as this one. Projects include ‘The Book of Childhood’, which will see at least 24 schools in 24 countries in 24 timezones write a book about childhood around the world, which will later be made available as a free eBook. Adventure ’15 aims to break down borders and connect schools around the world.

The Bad
Scale. Trying to coordinate a jigsaw of schools from around the globe seems like a big undertaking and, at this stage, the details of how this virtual field trip to 55 nations will exactly work are scarce. Considering this ‘trip’ is an event happening across a few days in November, it’s not available year-round.

Supporting Materials
It’s unclear what supporting materials will be provided at this point in time.

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ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY
One of the Internet’s great repositories for virtual field trips is provided courtesy of Arizona State University, who have carefully crafted many of the online learning packs available free on their site. From rainforests, microorganisms, ancient earth and the Grand Canyon, their virtual field trips cover a range of topics of interest to educators around the world.

The Good
High quality and free, these virtual field trips require nothing more than an Internet browser. They offer 360-degree views of selected sites with supplementary images, videos, sound effects and information on the area and topic. Some topics include labs with video interviews and questions. Overall, this is one of the best free resources available.

The Bad
Not a lot. The only complaint we had was that we wished there were more field trips available and, perhaps, if they had included some downloadable lesson plans to accompany them.

Supporting Materials
Interactive labs for selected trips.

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GOOGLE LIT TRIPS
Combining great literature with modern technology, Google Lit Trips is a lovingly put-together resource of virtual field trips that helps bring books to life. Using Google Earth, these pre-designed packages map out the locations and travels of characters and real-life historical figures from literature. The trips include passages of text, images, links to further resources and, of course, the imagery and interactivity of Google Earth. A great resource to put literary sources into perspective.

The Good
Great concept. This highly interactive project is broken into class year levels, k-5, 6-8, 9-12 and higher education, offering books aimed at each level. The trips are free and easily downloaded requiring only a computer installed with Google Earth.

The Bad
The level of detail and information available on each field trip is dependent on the person who painstakingly put the trip together. Some seem a little lighter on detail than others. Would be great with a larger range of books.

Supporting Materials
Only materials available are the information provided in each trip.

THE VERDICT ON THESE FIELD TRIPS
Once again, this collection of virtual field trips offer a wide range of experiences, further proving that one size does not fit all.

While virtual field trips can offer interactive insight into the subjects you teach, they’re often not able to offer the full educational benefits of actually getting students out of the classroom and into the world. However, a lot of the better virtual field trips act as great supplementary learning tool for teachers, and can help illustrate points and complement the curriculum in ways that engage young minds.

ParentPaperwork advocates actual field trips and excursions, rather than virtual ones, whenever feasible. Our platform makes organising permissions for excursions and field trips easy.

The Virtual Field Trip Experience: part one

Our recent article on the rise of the virtual field trip helped introduce the concept of an educational excursion experience when it’s not possible to physically get there, either due to budgetary or logistical restrictions.

With field trips being a favourite of students everywhere, the ability to take time out from the usual lesson plans to introduce students to new places and experience exciting things from the comfort and familiarity of the classroom has big potential to revolutionise the field trip experience.

So, the question remains, what are virtual field trip experiences like and which ones are right for your classroom? We’ve looked at three different field trips available online to share with you exactly what you can expect.

Screen Shot-The Louvre

THE LOUVRE MUSEUM, FRANCE
Want to peruse renaissance art, Egyptian treasures or the world famous Galerie d’Apollon in the heart of Paris? The Louvre provides the world with a free online virtual tour of sections of its gallery.

The Good
The tour is easy to access on almost any computer system. Move from room to room and experience a 360-degree view of the collection with information about each room’s history, as well as the ability to select works of arts to enjoy a close-up view and detailed information. The tour offers a real feel for the space and includes the underground section with original walls of the keep and moat from the Louvre’s days as a fortress in the 12th century (a little trivia of which students may not be aware).

The Bad
The collection featured is limited to three rooms and not all works of art have close-ups and information available; the biggest disappointment being that one of the most famous works, the Mona Lisa, is not included – purchase an airfare for that one.

Supporting Material
None, you’ll need to put together your own lesson plan.

Screen Shot -WILLIAMSBURG

COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG – THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
America’s history comes to life thanks to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia – home of the American Revolution. The 301-acre historic area features restored, reconstructed and historically furnished buildings populated with costumed interpreters. A lot of work has gone into creating this educational space and their online component is no different. Their ‘Electronic Field Trips‘ are interactive in every sense of the world, allowing students to participate in a retelling of the story of America.

The Good
A lot. The whole website is a trove of information that doesn’t shy away from some of the harsher truths of the era. Its virtual field trip component is top-notch. Streamed live, the field trip features a pre-recorded story. Whether it is in drama, documentary or game show format, this section is followed by a live Q&A segment where students call, tweet or send in their questions, and then characters or historians answer these questions live. The themes change from one field trip to the next and cover a many different disciplines including history, science and even maths.

The Bad
Although the live streams are free, they’re based in the US, meaning schools in other countries may have trouble participating live. The trips meet US curriculum standards but could be adapted to meet the needs of other countries. To access the catalogue of previous field trips and associated resources, a subscription is required.

Supporting materials
Resources for all broadcasts, including live streams, are only provided to those subscribed to the History Education Resources Online system (HERO). These resources include games, activities, resources, lesson plans, glossaries and overviews that teachers can use with students.

Screen Shot-NASA

NASA – AMES RESEARCH CENTRE
We might be a few years off going to Mars yet but NASA’s Ames Research Centre have provided some fun and educational virtual field trip experiences that allow students to explore areas on earth that are being studied due to their likeness to the red planet. The Ames Research Centre site also features similar programs that explore the solar system and mathematics.

The Good
This downloadable application takes students to a surface view of a survey site with a 360-degree panorama with which students can interact. The program allows students to select objects and scientists around the site, and learn why the site was chosen and how it matches up to the surface of Mars. The software is free, features videos and multimedia resources.

The Bad
The software needs to be downloaded and is quite large (1GB). Currently, there is only one ‘field trip’ and two related educational programs with plans to expand the collection in the future.

Supporting Materials
None for the Mars field trip, but the two other programs come with full lesson plans.

THE VERDICT ON THESE FIELD TRIPS
These largely area-specific resources market themselves as virtual field trips but offer three very different experiences for students and teachers, highlighting how flexible the notion of the virtual field trip experience can be. Each trip has its advantages and disadvantages and are worth exploring, if only to identify what will work best in your learning environment.

Next time, we will look at another set of virtual field trips which offer broader, more flexible experiences for users… Stay tuned…

ParentPaperwork advocates actual field trips and excursions, rather than virtual ones, whenever feasible. Our platform makes organising permissions for excursions and field trips easy.