Thursday, January 26, 2017

Microsoft Canada Celebrates #Canada150 with Skype Virtual Field Trips

2017 is an exciting year for Canada, as our great nation turns 150 years old. The occasion is being marked in a multitude of ways by both public and private enterprises, and I'm looking forward to celebrating throughout the year. This week I began my celebrations by attending a media event where I was able to learn about and experience Microsoft Canada's #Canada150 initiative - Explore.Teach.Build.

What is it all about? Well, the base of the idea is to use technology to help K-12 students across the country to virtually visit and learn about a variety of historic sites and attractions. In this way, students from coast to coast to coast can be exposed to other Canadian regions they might not ever get to see. What a great way to celebrate Canada's milestone birthday!


The "Explore" portion of the program uses Skype to take the kids on Virtual Field Trips, without ever leaving their classroom. On one end of the Skype session are the students and their teacher, while on the other is an expert, interpreter, or other educator, providing them with a tour and teaching them about the site and the work done there. It's a Skype call, with video of course, so it's all very interactive. The students can pose questions and have them answered, and the session leader can speak to them directly and build off their expressed interests, just like an in-person field trip.

The Skype Virtual Field Trips were lanuched at our event. This first one provided an introduction to the Toronto Zoo's Great Lakes Program, to a group of grade 3 and 4 students in Port Alberni, BC. This class joined in on the tour from half-way across the country. Zoo staff showed them around the fish lab, and taught them about the life stages of Atlantic salmon, and how they were extirpated from the Great Lakes, with efforts now underway to reintroduce them. Here's a clip of the field trip, courtesy of the Toronto Zoo.

You can see that the equipment required is minimal. Access to the Internet, and a Windows 10 device running Skype. The Zoo educator is working off a single Surface, on a stand, plus a headset and mic. At the school, they have one laptop set up and are projecting the video call onto a larger screen.

Representatives of the Toronto Zoo and Micorsoft Canada watching the Skype session
If schools do not have the required equipment, they can submit a request to Microsoft Canada to have loaner equipment sent to them. Microsoft can also arrange for a Microsoft Teacher Ambassador  to come and assist you, or, if you have a brick and mortar Micorsoft store nearby, you can request a time to bring your class there.

All of this, btw, is free of charge.

"We believe that technology in the classroom creates new learning opportunities, regardless of their location," said Janet Kennedy, President of Microsoft Canada. "In celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary, Microsoft Canada is helping to break down barriers in an innovative way and inspire students to explore every corner of this great country."

Teachers can book their Skype Virtual Field Trips online, choosing from a wide and growing selection of offerings: historic sites, National Parks, sunken ships, research labs, and more.


The Microsoft Educator Community has developed a series of lessons plans to go along with each Skype Virtual Field Trip. Teachers can download these lesson plans to use in the classroom and build upon the learning gained on their virtual trip.


This one's pretty cool, especially as we all know how popular Minecraft is. Did you know there is a Minecraft Education Edition? Yep. And this program is encouraging students to use it to get creative and build their own version of their favourite Canadian historial sites or experiences. The school in Port Alberni already has their idea in place.

"Our class studied salmon last year, and this year we are making connections about fishing and salmon to our Social Studies unit on the West Coast First Nations People," says Kristine Clark, grade 3/4 teacher with Wood Elementary School from Port Alberni, B.C. "We figured out the perfect link among programs - using what we learn from class, to create a Minecraft First Nations village that centres on seaside living and fishing. The students are beyond excited about all of it!"

Classes can even enter to win 1 of 4 HP classroom prize packs by submitting their creations to the Explore. Teach. Build. Challenge website. (Coming Soon!)

With such a milestone birthday this year, it's a great time to focus on learning more about our country. Canada is huge and most people never get to see the whole of it in their lifetimes. These Virtual Field Trips provide a wonderful access to a personal experience in far-flung points of interest. It's more than watching a video or reading a book. You can actually interact with the expert on site and have questions answered in real time. I wonder if Boo's school will take part in this? I'm going to slip them the promo materials I received when I go in there next.

For more information on this program, please visit, And you may want to pass it on to any teachers you know. Activities are there for the full K-12 range.

What do you think? What special location would you recommend getting involved in these Skype Virtual Field Trips? As a Newfoundlander, I really hope they can set something up with Cape Spear National Historic Site. It is, after all, the most easterly point in North America. Not everyone gets to say they've been there or seen that. Plus there's important military history there, with barracks and cannons to explore, and a beautiful lighthouse. Fingers crossed!

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