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Electronic field trips help students travel far

Electronic field trips help students travel far
Electronic field trips help students travel far
Sixth-grade students at Lanesville Elementary School watch Duncan Foster and his cameraman swim around in the largest coral reef aquarium in the world. The students learned about the Great Barrier Reef last week from Foster and Fred Nucifora, who live in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Tonya Windell)

“Boys and girls, who wants to see Duncan pick up the Sea Cucumber poo and crush it?’ Fred Nucifora, of Australia, asked a room full of sixth-grade students at Lanesville Elementary School last week as eager hands flew into the air.
However, Nucifora wasn’t in the classroom. He was all the way down in Townsville, located in Queensville, Australia, holding a video conference with the students. While Nucifora talked to students, Duncan Foster was actually talking to the kids and Nucifora while diving in the largest coral reef aquarium, which is located at reefHQ in Townsville.
And the Sea Cucumber poo? It’s actually just clean sand which the students discovered after Foster picked it up with his bare hands.
While sitting on the floor in the library at Lanesville, Joe Dotson’s and Heather Brandt’s sixth-grade students could ask both Foster and Nucifora questions and see them on the large TV screen. In addition, Foster and Nucifora could talk back to the students, and Nucifora could see the students on his own TV and call on them to answer his questions.
Students came to school after hours to attend the electronic field trip. It was 6 p.m. on Feb. 27 for the students and 9 a.m. in Australia on Feb. 28 for Nucifora and Foster.
Through the video conference, students got to learn about different types of coral, fish and predators which are indigenous to the Great Barrier Reef, located off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia.
For instance, boy clown fish will become girls and then sometimes change back into boys.
‘Boys in the class, aren’t you glad you’re not a clown fish?’ Nucifora asked the class after Foster told students about the fish.
Plate coral can grow to be quite large; mushroom coral looks like the top of a mushroom; clams can become bleached due to heat or climate change; echinoderm means spiny skin; giant sea turtles do not begin breeding until they are 40 to 50 years old; and Cuddles, one of the nocturnal reef sharks in the predator tank, likes to eat crustaceans. These are all things Foster and Nucifora taught students during last week’s electronic field trip.
The field trip came to an end with Foster getting out of the coral reef tank and diving into the predator tank.
‘Boys and girls, do you want Duncan to go diving with sharks?’ Nucifora asked the students enthusiastically yelled, ‘Yeah!’
Foster swam in the predator tank and introduced students to various reef sharks and even a giant sea turtle, who liked to be scratched on its back. As the field trip came to an end, students and their parents were allowed to ask Nucifora questions about things they had seen during the trip.
Lanesville Community School Corp. first began using video conferencing technology in January 2000. The Harrison County Community Foundation provided the funding needed for equipment in the fall of 2001.
Now in its sixth year, video conferencing technology helps Lanesville average more than 50 electronic field trips each year. Hundreds of trips can be taken across the world with students never having to leave the classroom. Teachers can even use the technology for professional development opportunities.
The technology allows Lanesville students to talk to people across the country and world, at the same time seeing them and interacting with them to provide a new learning experience.
‘We’re still struggling on the high school side,’ Martha Beckort, distance learning coordinator at Lanesville, said last week.
Elementary students pay $5 each year and are guaranteed at least three field trips, while junior high and high school students pay $3. Beckort said it is harder to find opportunities for older students, especially when many of them attend things outside of Lanesville, like the Prosser School of Technology.
Still students have been able to learn about space at the Challenger Learning Center, view autopsies, learn about endangered species at the Indianapolis Zoo, chat with Peace Corps workers, see impressionist art at the Cleveland Art Museum and even visit the Holocaust Memorial Center without leaving the classroom.
‘The providers are really great,’ Beckort said about the different organizations and centers that offer the electronic field trips.
Some of the trips are free, but some can range from $50 to $500 for a class. Beckort also has to factor in time zone differences, such as trips to the Great Barrier Reef or a trip taken last year to Middlesex, England, so students could learn about Anne Frank.
The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration provides a Web site for educators to search for different providers. It lists an overview of the electronic field trip, the price and even which state standards the program teaches when available.
Later this semester, Biology II students will watch a forensic autopsy take place at St. Louis University. Art students will get a lesson on the Impressionist Era from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and first-grade students will learn about butterflies at the Indianapolis Zoo.

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