Novel coronavirus has made 2020 an incredibly challenging year. In the spring, many schools across the USA implemented online-only learning for the remainder of the school year. Some districts are considering extending virtual learning at least through the first few months of the 2020-2021 school year. Most districts are drastically reducing or even completely eliminating field trips due to coronavirus restrictions.

Why are field trips so common for schools? Let’s first briefly consider some benefits of field trips:

  • Exposure to new ideas/broadens the world—especially important for lower income students
  • Real-world learning
  • Opportunities to see professions in action

Academic impact/increased interest in a subject due to a field trip

If you can’t take students to a field trip location for the next school year, can you offer programs or activities at your schools instead? Here are some ideas to consider.

  1. Hire an outreach program to visit your schools. Outreach programs are commonly offered by science centers, children’s museums, private businesses, and/or zoos. Outreach programs are often on similar topics to what you would find on in person field trip, but they are far more cost effective (no school buses to rent) and easier for the classroom teacher to arrange (no permission slips to collect, chaperones to recruit, etc.). You can find outreach programs that offer small and large group programs focused on astronomy, biology, geology/Earth science, math, physics, environmental science, history, and more.
  2. Consider virtual field trips. These have the advantage of not limiting you to institutions in your area; visit anywhere in the world virtually. Entering the term “virtual field trips” in a search engine resulted in over 49,000,000 results, so you’ll have plenty of options.
  3. Invest in equipment that your school staff can use to provide atypical educational activities. For example, my company sells Digitarium digital planetarium systems for portable or fixed (non-portable) domes, as well as Digitalis inflatable planetarium domes. A portable Digitarium planetarium system and Digitalis Inflatable Dome can be shared across your entire school district. It takes one person only 10 or 15 minutes to set up or take down a Digitarium system and Digitalis Dome.

A Digitarium system allows audiences to not only view the sky as seen from their home location but from any point on Earth, from outside the Milky Way galaxy, and even all the way out to the edge of the universe: the cosmic microwave background radiation, about 13.8 billion light years from Earth.

You can time travel as well, to any date within about 1,000,000 years in the past or the future. Digitarium systems are extremely versatile and can be used to present programs to students of any age, preschool all the way up through grad school.

Even after restrictions and quarantines lift, your district’s Digitarium system will still be a powerful tool for STEM education. Continue to use the Digitarium system after field trips are allowable again, since having your own planetarium enables your teachers to teach exactly what they want when they want to teach it. Our emphasis on intuitive user interfaces means that you can even allow students to “drive,” which makes the experience all the more engaging. Students especially enjoy using the Xbox controller to explore the universe.

While our physical worlds may have shrunk due to coronavirus restrictions, we can and should continue to expand students’ horizons. We leave you with a comment from Saudi Arabian astronaut Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud on viewing Earth from space aboard the space shuttle Discovery in June, 1985: “The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth.”

You can look at the one Earth both literally and figuratively with a Digitarium system. In this time of divisiveness and quarantines, let’s focus on looking at the “one Earth” rather than just the small bit that we inhabit.

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2020 State of the Association

Full of challenge and change, 2020 was like no other year. NSBA's State of the Association provides a snapshot of the association's advocacy and member services work as well as our ongoing transformation.