Digging deep for virtual learning

(Last Updated On: April 15, 2014)

isuue_53p31Digging deep for virtual learning
Two virrual field trip programmes this year aim to get students involved with nationally important road projects – ‘Memorial Park’ and ‘Waterview Connection’. Both provide teachers a rage of activities and experieces that will deepen learning across the curriculum, writes Wayne Erb.

A section of State Highway 1 through central Wellington is being rebuilt underground to make room for the National War Memorial Park. It’s a huge undertaking with diggers and trucks at work all hours, and rush hour traffic diverted to temporary lanes.

However, far from being off limits to anyone without a hard hat, a series of virtual field trips is giving students the chance to get up close to the action. The first part of the Memorial Park Virtual Field Trip was last November; the next takes place in May. From seeing inside tunnels and roadways as they’re being built to talking to engineers, designers and even digger drivers, it’s already proving a big attraction. Here’s what some primary and intermediate students have asked so far:

  • What research was done to ensure the structure design was the safest?
  • How was it approved?
  • What happens if it is not completed on time?
  • Will the noise from the tunnel come through to the park?

Meeting up with Alice
In total, four field trips to Memorial Park will occur in the run up to Anzac Day 2015, centenary of the Gallipoli landings.

Also part of this year’s LEARNZ programme, virtual field trips to Auckland’s Waterview Connection start in August. Four trips will enable students to enter the construction site. They will get to go underground as Alice the giant tunnel boring machine grinds her way through hundreds of metres of hard rock to build motorway tunnels to complete the city’s western ring route.

Linking to literacy
Students in Katrina Laurie’s Year 2-4 class at Clifton Terrace Model School in Wellington took part in the first Memorial Park trip last November. It was her first year using the LEARNZ programme and the fifth virtual field trip they joined. She used the experience as a basis for developing her students’ oral language and other literacies.

“They’ve developed skill at writing and taking notes, and listening at the same time, which is quite a high-level set of skills for Year 2 to 4s. I’ve seen such a transformation over the year.”

Laurie says the destination has national significance while also connecting to her students’ everyday lives (many had already seen the roading project in person when driving by).

“The vocabulary, their new understandings and their excitement of what they’ve been learning had a follow-up effect in the home as well, with parents reporting back on conversations spurred by the experience.”

Laurie’s class will continue with virtual field trips and her experience has convinced the school to use them with its senior class, too.

More positive learning outcomes
Feedback from other schools indicates teachers adapt the field trips to suit their students. A class in Whangarei followed up with an inquiry project on how to re-route a road. A Wanganui teacher said high-needs students used the videos as an accessible information source. And in general, teachers noted a wide range of skills were being used, such as critical thinking, questioning and presenting ideas.

Field trip teacher Shelley Hersey says she does plenty of preparation before each trip to ensure students get experiences to build on in the classroom.

“Adults can be a little sceptical about virtual field trips but the kids really get into it,” she explained. “It leads to more learning because it connects students with experts in the field and provides so many different experiences through video, images, and written and spoken words.”

So, what was it like for the field trip teachers to go down into the trench at the Memorial Park site?

“Overwhelmingly busy!’ admitted Hersey. “There’s a lot happening and you have to be aware of not getting in anyone’s way!”

Wayne Erb is a freelance writer.

Details of the ‘Memorial Park’ and ‘Waterview Connection’ field trips can be found on the NZ Transport Agency’s education portal. Here you will find resources – including photos, maps, videos, and text descriptions – on both projects. nz/field-trips

The next virtual field trips are:

  • Memorial Park: 13-15 May
  • Waterview Connection: 26-28 August

The virtual field trips programme is organised by LEARNZ. For more information and enrolment details go to

© INTERFACE February 2014

Categories: Article, Issue 53