Field trips are clearly a great way to expose elementary students to the outside world. Although valuable, they are not so easy to make happen. Here’s a recent example. A fifth-grade teacher at a Title 1 school in northern California was arranging one of those hands-on learning experience field trips to a recycling center just a few miles from their campus. The field trip was part of a lesson plan on the environment and ecology. The goal of the trip was to provide the students with a first-hand look at closed and open systems, how food waste fits into one of those models and how it affects their environment. It’s a very impactful experience for the students, but extremely difficult for this teacher to make happen. Why? 

Getting Bus Transportation for the Short Trip. 

The cost of busing for events like this one has increased by around 50% from last year to this year. This Title 1 school doesn’t have the financial resources to easily absorb this type of increase. Through a combination of parent contributions (which are limited—these are economically struggling families), the PTO, grants and school administration support, the $2,000 for the bus to take 75 fifth-graders on a field trip was cobbled together. The teacher had to find time in their unbelievably busy day to write the grant requests, create the contribution program for parents, pitch the PTO and align administration—just for the bus.

Examples like this highlight the need for an approach that better enables teachers to connect their students with real-world examples and experiences.

The key to any new approach is scalability. Essentially, a new approach must make it easy for teachers to affordably do more field trip-like experiences. 

Interestingly, here’s where IT leaders can have a role. (For this discussion, I’ll avoid the broader topic of education technology and its impact on student outcomes and focus.) I will exclusively highlight how cloud-based communications can better enable teachers to bring the outside world into their classrooms through:

  1. Video meetings with experts
  2. Collaboration with high schoolers
  3. Connecting and sharing with companion classes

1. Video Meetings with Experts

What if you could connect your students with video game developers, animal trainers, the writers of books the students are reading, scientists, architects, artists, musicians, inventors? The inspiration and engagement could be powerful. Teachers strive every day to bring their lessons to life by making them engaging, interesting and often entertaining. Bringing practitioners and experts into the classroom for a 10 to 20-minute session is one way to make the lesson relevant and interesting. And, with cloud communications, the technology portion can be free.

The time to engage the experts and schedule the connections is not trivial. Neither is guiding the experts to ensure they have the right type of content for the lesson and level of students. But like the bus, one of the biggest challenges is actually making the connection happen. That doesn’t have to be the case. Using cloud-based video communications, the expert can be anywhere as long as there is an internet connection. With the technology, the teacher now has more flexibility with timing, enabling them to more easily align lesson timing with the expert’s schedule. With the click of a mouse, the expert is instantly connected with and can see, the students. The students are now virtually in front of the expert. Lesson plans can include prepared questions that the expert can bring to life with real examples and stories from their experiences. 

Those sessions can be recorded enabling the teacher to easily build a library of experiences that can be reused for reinforcement and future classes. 

2. Collaboration with High Schoolers

Here’s another example to illustrate the possibilities. Recently, an elementary teacher was doing an ELA lesson using an immigration theme. The elementary students had selected the theme of immigration based on the impact that recent events were having on their families and friends. The students had to interview someone that had immigrated to the United States and then write about their story. The teacher connected with an English teacher at the local high school and arranged for immigrant students as volunteer interviewees. Many of the elementary students selected the interview with a high schooler because they thought it was “cool”. Those interviews were mainly conducted over email. 

Using video communications, the elementary students could have connected with the high school students in a more collaborative way. They would have seen facial expressions, heard intonations and could ask real-time questions. The high schoolers could also provide a stronger connection with the ability to read their counterpart’s expressions. These visual cues would enable them to better understand the impact of their story and where more explanation would be helpful. Best of all, the video interaction could be done within class time to make scheduling much easier. 

3. Connecting and Sharing with Companion Classes

Connecting with peers and sharing ideas, stories, and experiences through video collaboration is another way cloud communications can bring the world into the classroom. 

Providing students with opportunities to practice creating and presenting their ideas is a critical part of preparing them for success in college and their careers. Being able to easily connect with a companion class at another school is another way to increase external collaboration.  

Using video communications, teachers can bring together classes from two geographically separated areas and share presentations as part of the lesson plan. Middle school and high school students can connect and collaborate on specific projects to start developing the skills to work in distributed teams. The ability to connect and collaborate using video communications provides a richer experience by transcending geographic boundaries and meeting and engaging with each other. It’s the next best thing to physically bringing these students together.

Wrapping it Up

There’s a great deal of discussion about twenty-first-century skills and how education needs to adjust to develop and enable them. Empowering teachers with the right tools to drive and deliver this change needs to be part of the discussion and solution. 

Modern cloud communications can contribute by removing the obstacles to connecting students with the broader world, enabling teachers to focus even more on creating engaging learning experiences and less on trying to find money to pay for the bus. 

Give it a test drive, for free, at and start exploring the possibilities that video communications can provide by bringing the outside world into the classroom. 

I would love to hear from anyone who is finding additional ways to bring the world into their classroom. Drop a comment on our LinkedIn post or tweet @8x8.