When thinking about a virtual classroom experience, it is not likely field trips come to mind. However, that is a perception that Johnson City Virtual Academy teachers are working to change. Just before spring break, JCVA 7th- and 8th-grade English language arts teacher Devin Plaas set up two unique experiences her students are sure to remember.
Plaas set up virtual field trips for her students to help connect their reading experiences to the real world. Plaas’ 8th graders recently finished The Outsiders, so they virtually toured the Outsiders House Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her 7th-grade class finished the book My Side of the Mountain, so Plaas set up an opportunity for her students to speak with wilderness survivor instructor Erik Kulick.
“A great perk of being virtual is that our field trips do not have to be limited by the bus radius,” Plaas said. “Technology allows us to meet with experts and visit places across the world. The positive reactions my students had to these events proved to me that they are excited to learn and are always hungry for new experiences. As we continue to grow and improve the JCVA, it will be a top priority for me to find ways to bring in these unique experiences for my students.”
JCVA 8th grader Yahel Arias Avila said that she thought the virtual visit to the Outsiders' home was fun and interesting.
“It helped answer some questions that I still had,” Avila said about the experience. “It made me feel more connected to the book because we actually got to go around the house. It’s cool how technology was able to allow this tour. Even though we couldn't be in Oklahoma, we were still able to tour the house thanks to our technology.”
During the Outsiders trip, students toured the house where a majority of the filming for the movie took place. The group's tour guide, Patrick, took them through the house and shared different behind-the-scenes stories about the filming of the movie. Plaas said he also took time to make connections between students’ interests and how they can make them into careers.
During the 7th graders' virtual excursion, Kulick – who lives in Western Pennsylvania – spoke to students about the different scenarios covered in the book. His main goal was to talk about how realistic or unrealistic the different scenarios were.
For instance, he noted that Sam – the main character of the book - would’ve had trouble surviving off acorns as depicted in the book. Students were also eager to ask Kulick other survival questions, and he answered each with a smile before ending the hour session with a bit of advice.
“You’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to make a lot of mistakes,” Kulick said. “The benefit is that you are going to learn from those mistakes.”
JCVA 8th-grader Fiona Breese said that she enjoyed the virtual field trip.
“I thought that it was a very cool and interesting experience,” Breese said. “I have never gone on a virtual field trip like this before. It was cool how we actually got to meet the owner of the museum and have him virtually tour the whole house. It made me feel more connected to the book because we got to see more background about SE Hinton. I also just thought it was cool all the little details like Cherry's skirt having spilled soda on it. Overall it was just really fun to see all the things about how they made the movie and getting to see the museum.”
For more information about the Johnson City Virtual Academy, visit VirtualAcademy.JCSchools.org. The JCVA is currently accepting applications for the 2022-2023 school year for students in grades 5-12.