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Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers

Learning in Virtual Spaces

The goal of Learning in Virtual Spaces is for students to use technology tools to collaborate and interact with others in remote places. Virtual field trips can enhance social studies, history, science, or arts curricula.

Practice in Action

What Is It?

Learning in Virtual Spaces focuses on activities that use technology tools such as the Internet, e-mail, and video conferencing to deliver "virtual" learning opportunities. In this practice, technology serves as a "delivery vehicle" for instructional activities for students who are separated by geography or other barriers and unable meet face-to-face with peers, experts, or other audiences. Guided by specialists in their fields, students can make field trips to distant museums, watch expeditions to Mount Everest, and travel through space to Mars and the Moon.

What Do I Do?

Review the Resources page of this practice to find projects that are available and appropriate to curriculum goals and your students' needs, skills, and interests. You can also generate new project ideas or review existing ideas. Assess project scope, requirements, and desired outcomes before beginning.

Verify that you have the proper electronic connections and equipment to maximize the technology experience. If necessary, enlist the help of a knowledgeable support person. Carry out the activity and make adjustments as needed.

Remember that assessing student skills, completing the activity, and determining computer needs are all part of the planning process. Getting Started: Considerations for Activity Planning (PDF) will help you get underway.

Why Does It Work?

Learning in Virtual Spaces works when the activities are engaging, intriguing, and highly motivating. Technology tools provide access to resources and instruction for students in a variety of locations and circumstances. In this way, special needs, space, and time do not need to limit students' access to resources or instruction. This practice shows why the Internet has been described as a living, ever-changing resource for learning.

Planning Your Lesson

Great afterschool lessons start with having a clear intention about who your students are, what they are learning or need to work on, and crafting activities that engage students while supporting their academic growth. Great afterschool lessons also require planning and preparation, as there is a lot of work involved in successfully managing kids, materials, and time.

Below are suggested questions to consider while preparing your afterschool lessons. The questions are grouped into topics that correspond to the Lesson Planning Template. You can print out the template and use it as a worksheet to plan and refine your afterschool lessons, to share lesson ideas with colleagues, or to help in professional development sessions with staff.

Lesson Planning Template Questions

Grade Level

What grade level(s) is this lesson geared to?

Duration

How long will it take to complete the lesson? One hour? One and a half hours? Will it be divided into two or more parts, over a week, or over several weeks?

Learning Goals

What do you want students to learn or be able to do after completing this activity? What skills do you want students to develop or hone? What tasks do they need to accomplish?

Materials Needed

List all of the materials needed that will be needed to complete the activity. Include materials that each student will need, as well as materials that students may need to share (such as books or a computer). Also include any materials that students or instructors will need for record keeping or evaluation. Will you need to store materials for future sessions? If so, how will you do this?

Preparation

What do you need to do to prepare for this activity? Will you need to gather materials? Will the materials need to be sorted for students or will you assign students to be "materials managers"? Are there any books or instructions that you need to read in order to prepare? Do you need a refresher in a content area? Are there questions you need to develop to help students explore or discuss the activity? Are there props that you need to have assembled in advance of the activity? Do you need to enlist another adult to help run the activity?

Think about how you might divide up groups―who works well together? Which students could assist other peers? What roles will you assign to different members of the group so that each student participates?

Now, think about the Practice that you are basing your lesson on. Reread the Practice. Are there ways in which you need to amend your lesson plan to better address the key goal(s) of the Practice? If this is your first time doing the activity, consider doing a "run through" with friends or colleagues to see what works and what you may need to change. Alternatively, you could ask a colleague to read over your lesson plan and give you feedback and suggestions for revisions.

What to Do

Think about the progression of the activity from start to finish. One model that might be useful—and which was originally developed for science education—is the 5E's instructional model. Each phrase of the learning sequence can be described using five words that begin with "E": engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate. For more information, see the 5E's Instructional Model.

Outcomes to Look For

How will you know that students learned what you intended them to learn through this activity? What will be your signs or benchmarks of learning? What questions might you ask to assess their understanding? What, if any, product will they produce?

Self-Evaluation

After you conduct the activity, take a few minutes to reflect on what took place. How do you think the lesson went? Are there things that you wish you had done differently? What will you change next time? Would you do this activity again?

Sample Lessons

Ask an Expert (8-12)

Using "ask an expert" Web sites, set up a cyber study center where students ask online experts questions related to their assignments.

Duration: Ongoing

Learning Goals

  • Complete and turn in homework on time
  • Correctly address homework instructions
  • Evaluate information provided from online sources
  • Express questions in writing accurately and responsibly

Materials Needed

  • Teacher computer with Internet access and projection to large screen or interactive whiteboard
  • Student computer with Internet access
  • Bookmarked list on homework help sites

Preparation

  • Prepare a list of the best "ask an expert" sites. Following are favorites:Arrange for an adult or older student volunteer to assist students with the "ask an expert" process during homework help time.
  • Instructors should be familiar with any software or equipment used in the lesson or enlist the help of a volunteer who is.
  • Remember to talk with your students' day-school teachers to find out for which topics students need to consult the experts.

What to Do

  • Engage students by telling them you are going to show them how to find answers to their most challenging homework questions. Show students the list of "ask an expert" Web sites and explain how to access those sites.
  • Review the rules on "how to ask" that are common to most of these sites (perhaps go over the rules on Pitsco's Ask an Expert). askanexpert.com. Remind students that these experts will not do their homework for them, but are resources to help them do their own work and to learn from that effort.
  • Cite experts' contributions as appropriate to projects or papers written by middle or high school students.
  • Post a copy of your school's Internet usage policy and rules close to the student computer.
  • Begin the activity by having the student computer on and ready with bookmarked expert sites ready for the students to use. If several students have the same question, allow them to work as a team to get an answer from the experts.
  • Assign an aide to monitor and help with this new resource.

Teaching Tip: When to Ask an Expert

As you implement your "ask an expert" online homework help program, consider how it will fit into your existing homework sessions. If you have a limited number of computers available for online help, you might consider having a signup sheet. As students become familiar with asking for online help, you might also want to have them record in their journals steps they have already taken to solve a specific problem before turning to an expert, thus enhancing their problem-solving skills.

Extension Activities

  • If you have more than one online computer available for student use, consider broadening the scope of your "cyber study center" by stocking additional computers with appropriate, high-quality learning activities. Check with regular day teachers to see if computer enrichment games are available with the textbooks students are using during the school-day. Web sites such as FunBrain and Gamequarium provide links to many fun, free online learning games.
  • Another important addition to this center would be a computer dedicated to homework sites such as: B.J. Pinchbeck's Homework Helper, Homework Spot, and Kidbibs Homework Help.

Outcomes to Look For

  • Students complete homework on time with increased accuracy and understanding
  • Students develop problem-solving skills
  • Students learn to evaluate and cite Internet resources
  • Students use Internet technology responsibly

For more information and ideas to support this lesson, see the Resources page.


Discovering the World Virtually (K-12)

Students can have unforgettable adventures in exotic places and join real-time expeditions without ever leaving school—thanks to the Internet.

Duration: Several sessions

Learning Goals

  • Engage in adventures and expeditions with working scientists and researchers around the globe
  • Use technology tools to watch events unfold, analyze resources, assist in answering scientific questions or problems, and participate in other real-time activities
  • Use the Internet for investigation and study

Materials/Technology Needed

  • Computers with Internet access
  • Video conferencing equipment for live interactive video events

Preparation

Students should have basic computer and Internet navigation skills. Instructors should have basic computer and Internet navigation skills, and some familiarity with downloading files, video conferencing, and the use of Web cams in live events. Content area knowledge is also helpful.

  • Select an ongoing or upcoming online expedition from a site suggested on the Resources tab.
  • Collaborate with the school-day teacher to select an appropriate activity for student participation. Or let students help choose.
  • If required, register the students in the activity.
  • Determine your needs for technology and for technical support or assistance.
  • Review the expedition overview or guide and prepare any supporting materials needed.
  • Review with your students the rules of online etiquette, called "netiquette," when interacting electronically with others. Guidelines for netiquette can be found on the Resources tab.

What to Do

  1. Prepare students for an online expedition.
    • Engage students by asking them to imagine having a friend on an adventure to China, in the ocean underworld, or climbing Mt. Everest. Then ask them if they'd like to share in the expedition or scientific exploration by receiving stories, pictures, maps, and information. Even better, what if they could e-mail questions and answers to each other during the adventure?
    • Continue by explaining that, thanks to the Internet, we can have unforgettable adventures in exotic places without ever leaving school. We can join real-time expeditions to far-off locations and observe daily activities and read field dispatches. Best of all, we can interact with real-world adventurers as they re-enact—or even make—history.
    • Emphasize that this is a real-life experience occurring in real time, and as such, you have no idea what they may learn. Tell students that by the end of their expedition or exploration, they will enjoy the accomplishment of turning information into knowledge they can convey to others—in geography, history, science, math, language arts, and many other curriculum areas.
  2. Introduce students to their expedition.
    • Note: The following expedition, "Operation: Monster Storms," is a featured expedition from The JASON Project. It has been chosen for this sample lesson. You may choose another from the suggestions listed on the Resources page or one you find elsewhere.
    • Students work alongside The JASON Project researchers in locations across the country, from Tornado Alley in the Midwest, to the Gulf and southeast Atlantic coasts. As a member of the exploration team, students examine some of Earth's fiercest weather events, including hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms and lightning. By collecting data on the ground, using instruments in the sky, and analyzing satellite images from outer space, students become weather and climate researchers.
  3. Carry out the project.
    • During this exploration, students meet real scientists from NOAA, NASA, and the National Geographic Society. Through hands-on activities and labs students:
      • explore weather systems and how they are formed;
      • chase tornadoes;
      • take a ride in a NOAA P-3 "Hurricane Hunter" airplane;
      • study how extreme weather impacts humans and the environment;
      • develop new tools and technologies to improve weather forecast methods; and
      • help us prepare to survive "monster storms."
  4. Reflect and assess outcomes.
    • Culminating events, such as an end of project presentation, are a part of the Operation: Monster Storms curriculum. Principal investigators and students discuss and share results and provide ideas for solutions to problems.
    • Plan your own reflection activity for the expedition.

Extension Activities

  • Explore expedition possibilities in other content areas, for instance, world geography and culture, health, civic responsibility, reading, and language arts.

Outcomes to Look For

  • Student participation and engagement
  • An understanding of relevant content areas
  • Ideas and answers that reflect new learning about a problem, location, or culture

Research Findings

Ringstaff, C., & Kelley, L. (2003). The learning return on our educational technology investment: A review of findings from research.San Francisco, CA: WestEd Regional Technology in Education Consortium in the Southwest.

Jonassen, D. H., & Stollenwerk, D. (1999). Computers as mindtools for schools: Engaging critical thinking.NY: Pearson Education.

The following resources are related to the "Discovering the World Virtually" sample lesson.
Netiquette: Online etiquette for students

On-line communication may seem like talking or writing on paper but it's a bit different. It has its own set of rules or manners, called net-etiquette, or "netiquette". Here are some tips and guidelines to follow.
Netiquette

Resources and ideas

ThinkFinity
Previously known as MarcoPolo, this site offers a searchable database of lesson plans and resources focusing on literacy, education, and technology.

Expeditions and Activities Multiple content areas:

Global Schoolhouse Network

Science

The JASON Project

The Field Museum in Chicago
Interact with field museum scientists from all over the world through their field reports, video reports, interactive maps, photos, and e-mails.

Bugscope
The Bugscope project provides a resource to classrooms so that they may remotely operate a scanning electron microscope to image "bugs" at high magnification. The microscope is remotely controlled in real time from a classroom computer over the Internet using a web browser.

National Geographic Expeditions
Xpeditions activities offer younger and older Xpeditioners the opportunity to use geography to complete a variety of missions with interactive features—to complete the tasks and to visit related annexes in Xpedition Hall once their mission is through.

Art

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Virtual online tours of several exhibits.

The Louvre, Paris
Selected paintings and sculptures from the Louvre in Paris

History

Colonial House
Learn all about Colonial Life with several interactive projects.

Interactive video conferencing clearinghouses and provider lists:

Center for Interactive Learning and Communication
CILC offers an extensive list of organizations, such as science centers and art and history museums, that offer video conferencing events. Also provides ways to contact other schools to set up collaborations.

Global Leap
An organization that offers video conferencing events around the world.

Knowledge Network Explorer from Pac Bell/SBC
A free, searchable database of K-12 videoconferencing sites and includes contacts, program descriptions, and equipment information for over 1343 sites.

The following resources are related to the "Ask An Expert" sample lesson.

The best "ask an expert" sites:
Pitsco's Ask an Expert
Ask Dr. Math
The Math Tutor
Ask Dr. Universe
Ask the Grammar Lady
Jiskha Homework Help
AllExperts
Infoplease Homework Helper