Virtual Field Trips for Civics & Citizenship with Voices of Freedom

By Bill Bliss

My favorite days in public school were the field trips. From the moment our teachers handed us the permission slips to bring back with our parents' signatures, I'd look forward to the chance to play hooky with classmates by boarding a bus for a visit to a local museum, the planetarium, an old historic site, city hall, or some other destination. Field trips offered experiences that couldn't happen in the classroom, they sparked our curiosity and exploration, and they were fun.

So with the help of the Internet rather than school buses, one of my goals for the Voices of Freedom citizenship text is to send students on lots of field trips so that their introduction to U.S. civics, history, and government is as experiential and stimulating as possible. Here are some of the places we go in the Civics Enrichment activities at the end of each unit:

In Unit 1 as we learn about U.S. geography and landmarks,a travel and tourism website takes us to any of the states and territories we'd like to visit.

Unit 2 is all about the flag, and we practice using a search engine to find the answers to questions such as, "When does the flag fly in front of the White House?"

As Unit 3 introduces the branches of government, we visit the U.S. House of Representatives and knock (virtually) on the door of our local representative in Congress.

Unit 4's field trip to Washington, DC takes us to the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center and to the White House.

In Unit 6 we explore life in Colonial America with a visit to the Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts.

Students enjoy our Unit 7 trip to Philadelphia, where we visit Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and other historic sites.

For Unit 9's focus on the 1800s, the National Park Service takes us to Fort McHenry to learn about the Star-Spangled Banner, to the Gettysburg battlefield, and to the Lincoln Memorial.

In Unit 10 we visit the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to explore great inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Benjamin Franklin. We also take a trip to Ellis Island to learn about the 12 million immigrants who came to our shores through this immigration station.

Finally, in Unit 11, we make a return trip to the White House for a slideshow about the Presidents and an opportunity for students to search for information about a President they would like to report on to the class.

We go lots of places! Students can take these virtual field trips at home if they have Internet access, but they can be fun class excursions if access is available in your classroom or the computer lab. Of course, beyond the Internet, you might consider some actual class visits to local institutions, such as your city hall, your local congressperson's office, the police headquarters, a courthouse, or a local history museum. Some citizenship teachers I know have even arranged end-of-class trips with their students to their state capitals or to Washington, DC. But if that's too ambitious, do try some of these virtual field trips with your students.

No permission slips or school buses are needed, just some connectivity and curiosity about the civics world outside the classroom. Happy travels!