The Electronic Field Trips program developed and produced by a team from Ball State University's Teachers College takes millions of students from across the nation on virtual field trips from the Grand Canyon to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
The April 2006 Carlsbad Caverns Electronic Field Trip featured special guest First Lady Laura Bush, who appeared live in a broadcast from Boston's Charlestown Navy Yard. She also joined Ball State President Jo Ann Gora, and students from Boston's Warren-Prescott school to work on an experiment simulating the creation of Carlsbad Caverns.
Reaching more than 15 million viewers from all 50 states and seven countries with each broadcast, the internationally recognized field trips have taken students, teachers, and community members to amazing highs—and lows—from NASA's "Vomit Comet" to the ink-black depths of Carlsbad Caverns; from the tree-top canopies of Washington State to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
"We're constantly pioneering innovative uses of interactive technology to allow millions of children to explore our national museums and parks," says Mark Kornmann, director of Ball State's Teachers College outreach services. "Our goal is to make each trip engaging and to constantly improve our Web-based educational games and lesson plans to increase learning on the subjects we feature."
Major support for EFT has come from Best Buy Children's Foundation, as well as a congressionally authorized grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and funding from collaborators such as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Three components—an interactive Web site, custom classroom materials, and a live broadcast— comprise the EFT program. The award-winning Web site, geared specifically to each trip, is rich with engaging, interactive, and educational content for students and teachers. It has earned multiple national and international honors, including the Center for Digital Education's Best of the Web award, two gold awards at the 2006 World Media Festival, and six Telly Awards at this year's ceremony.
The classroom component includes teacher-created lesson plans. Well in advance of each field trip, a group of teachers is immersed in the partner museum or park and charged with developing grade-appropriate, standards-based activities covering reading, history, science, language arts, and more for use on the Web site and in the broadcast.
Finally, teachers and EFT staff also create educational games. One game, designed for the Carlsbad Caverns field trip, allows students to explore the caves for treasure. "My students loved it," says Lucas Shivers, an elementary school teacher from Abilene, Kansas. "We spent more time (on the game) than I planned because the students enjoyed it so much."
After spending time on the Web site and learning in the classroom, students watch a live, interactive 90-minute broadcast originating from the partner museum, park, or institution—the culminating component of each EFT. Past locations have included the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Space Center Houston, and the National Museum of the American Indian.
The broadcasts are hosted by museum or park experts and students, who study for months in preparation. One week before the field trip the students travel to the show's location. Before the Carlsbad field trip, students toured caves, studied with park rangers, hiked in the desert, rehearsed, and filmed segments that aired during the live broadcast. Hayley Hunter, a fourth grader, reports that the day of the show she had a wake-up call at 4:50 a.m. and hiked down the equivalent of five stories to her location. Her reward was getting to ask a question of the show's special guest, First Lady Laura Bush: Which national park was her favorite?
"Of course I love the White House (itself a national park) because I live there," Mrs. Bush replied. "But I'd also have to say the Grand Canyon, too. You can go to the bottom and float on the Colorado River. There's beautiful hiking, and because the way the canyon was formed and how deep it is, you can see all the layers of geology."
Since the EFT shows are live, the script is more of a guide rather than an ironclad plan. "We have always treated the broadcasts like a classroom," Kornmann explains. "What makes the interactive aspect so interesting is that if we have calls from students that change the direction of the shows, we go with them."
The live format and the quality content of the Web site and the broadcasts are working. A recent study indicates that students retained more information about the topic after they completed the EFT than those who had not seen the EFT materials.
While the field trips enhance learning, students tend to focus on the fun. "Next year, they're going to Hawaii," says K. J. McCoy, a fifth-grader who helped host the Carlsbad EFT. "I'd love to go on that trip, too!"