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Technology takes Nebraska students on virtual field trips

February 11, 2018

SUPERIOR, Neb. (AP) — Elementary students at Superior Public Schools have been able to access a new learning tool this academic year, and in turn are experiencing the sights and sounds of “field trips” they would otherwise never be able to take.

Students in Tricia Kuhlmann’s fifth-grade class recently took an internet “trip” to Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska via the Zoom video conferencing system, viewing scenes they would not have been able to access by any means other than the internet.

The park is home to Mount Denali, which is the crowning peak of the Alaska Range and the tallest mountain peak in North America at 20,310 feet above sea level.

The Superior students didn’t study Denali in particular other than that day. Instead, they studied the relevant earth science topics such as landforms, plate tectonics and erosion.

The students sat on the floor of the classroom, and Kuhlmann placed a computer on her desk portraying the land formations they had read about — the same image that was projected onto the board at the front of the classroom. The students responded to their teacher’s questions as a short review before the presentation began.

An Alaskan park ranger at Denali then came onto the scene and introduced herself. Her image then shrank to a small inset at the top, to the right of the scenes the students viewed. The ranger would explain geological facts and explain how the mountains had been formed, as well as ask students questions for their response.

“We studied some of the details of the preserve for a couple months,” Kuhlmann told the Hastings Tribune , “and suggested questions were given to us for the students’ response.”

To respond to the ranger, a student would talk into the small computer on the teacher’s desk, answering her questions or commenting about what was seen on the display.

The Denali park and preserve covers 6 million acres in central Alaska about 125 miles south of Fairbanks. The Denali mountain peak is considered one of the most striking features on Earth. It towers 3 1/2 vertical miles above its base, making it a mile taller from base to summit than Mount Everest in Asia, which begins on a 14,000-foot-high plain, then summits at 29,028 feet.

Permanent snow and ice cover more than 75 percent of the Denali mountain, and enormous glaciers, up to 45 miles long and 3,700 feet thick, spider out from its base in every direction. It is home to some of the world’s coldest and most violent weather, where winds of over 150 miles per hour and temperatures of 93 degrees below zero have been recorded.

This was the second virtual field trip this year for Kuhlmann and her students. In late 2017 they “visited” the Desert Dome at Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, learning about plant and animal adaptations.

Kuhlmann received a grant from the Nebraska Educational Technology Association to cover the $100 cost of the zoo field trip.

Trips to national parks, like the one to Denali, are free to schools, she said.

When students can actually see the places they are learning about in an interactive format, they pay more attention and provide feedback that helps the teacher determine how much information they are retaining.

“Virtual field trips are a great way to ‘take’ students places that we can’t get to on a bus,” Kuhlmann said.

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Information from: Hastings Tribune, http://www.hastingstribune.com

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