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Virtual field trips bring the outside world to WPS classrooms and remote learners

Virtual field trips bring the outside world to WPS classrooms and remote learners

Clint Dayhuff records a virtual field trip at Music Theatre of Wichita The pandemic brought lots of changes to Wichita Public Schools this year, one of which was no longer being able to provide field trip opportunities to students and teachers.

But thanks to Dyane Smokorowski, the district’s coordinator of digital literacy, WPS found a unique way for students and teachers to engage with the outside world without having to leave their home or classroom.

During the 20-21 school year, Smokorowski’s team has created several Edventure virtual field trips hosted through Microsoft Teams that have focused on themes ranging from fine arts, heart health, Kansas Day, winter wonderland and more. The field trips provide a full day of age-appropriate presentations for students from Pre-K through 12th grade.

“As we began developing possible opportunities for a virtual field trip experience, our friends at the Sedgwick County Zoo asked if we might be able to create a full themed day,” said Smokorowski.  “They reached out to their zoo partners across Kansas and Iowa to participate with us.”

That first virtual field trip offered 15 different presentations and had 18,008 unique log ins. Five community partners participated.

To date, more than 212 individual learning sessions have been held featuring 47 Kansas-area community partners and others from around the world and more than 125,000 participants have logged into the events.

Prior to returning to Wichita Public Schools in 2019, Smokorowski had used technology to enhance learning in the classroom. Her first virtual connection happened in 2007 with a classroom in Australia, but she only had audio available. In 2009 as a middle school language arts teacher, she started using virtual connections to bring in guest speakers, which was not something that happened very often at that time.

After working with several virtual guest speakers, Smokorowski knew she would continue to incorporate virtual speakers in her lessons.

“It was easy. I had another voice that was coming into my classroom to engage with my students and I thought ‘I will never teach the same way again,’” said Smokorowski.

Janice Penner, children’s event coordinator for Watermark Books & Café, credits the virtual field trips with being able to continue author visits which is a vital part of Watermark’s marketing plan.

“Author visits have always been my favorite part of my job at Watermark Books & Café,” said Penner. “There is something so special and memorable for students when they have a chance to interact with a "real" author. I feared that the pandemic would mean a temporary halt to author visits but happily I was wrong.  We have been able to have visits with authors that would never find their way to Kansas and share a common experience with remote students, in-person students, and students across the state and beyond.”

Click here to watch a video overview of the virtual field trip program.