Travel has never been easier. You can make airline reservations on the Web, book your hotel room by email and even check the weather at your destination as you pack your bags. So it is easy to transfer any trip-planning task in your coursebook directly to the Internet. The children in your class must have a good reading level, of course. And they will need some guidance in searching the Web as well.
But let’s look at a different way to travel online. Virtual Travel: a chance to visit another place while staying at your desk in your classroom. There are many virtual travel sites available now, and many of them are designed specifically for kids. Some things to look for when choosing a site include:
- hosted by a permanent organization: a museum, government organization or school;
- simplicity in design and language;
- easy to navigate;
- multimedia files, readable on your computer;
- interactive, encourages communication.
Now, let’s look at an example. Greatest Places Online is a Website that answers these criteria. It has existed since 1999, designed by the Science Museum of Minnesota to go along with a large-format film playing worldwide. The film takes you on an educational journey to seven of the most geographically dynamic locations on Earth: the Amazon River and Iguazu Falls in South America; the Namib Desert in Namibia, the Okavango delta in Botswana and Madagascar in Africa, and even the plateaus of Tibet in Asia.
This Website is intended to inspire students to learn about the geographically diverse regions and cultures related to the film. The introduction to each area is written in very simple language. As you explore each place, you are given a great variety of activities to choose from: listening to sounds, watching videos of the animals, learning about the people.
The Namib section explores life in the desert. The map shows you exactly where the desert is, and links to another site which can calculate its exact distance from your school. A video shows the hard life of the beetles that live here, and another captures footage of ships that have crashed on its shores. Your children can read the journal of a teacher who travelled there, where Water is More Precious than Gold. Then discover how to make your own mirage, or look at how Namibia connects to your own ecosystem. Finally you can send e-postcards from Namibia, add your own ‘Greatest Place’ to the site, or even join a discussion board to talk about your experiences.
No need to pack a bag! The simplest way to take advantage of this resource may be to divide your class into 7 travel groups. Each group will explore a different region and do the activities there. Then they can prepare a poster or picture book with a tour guide to show their virtual vacation to the rest of the class.