It’s About Experiences

How is knowledge relevant to math or science constructed? How is it possibly generated in these networked communities?

Knowledge of math or science is constructed through a variety of experiences both personally and socially (Driver, Asoko, Leach, Scott, & Mortimer, 1994); experiences that we acquire from the beginning of our existence. While we might not label them or differentiate them as “math/science”, these interactions with our world become part of our knowledge. We want to expose our students to many different experiences, and these networked communities are one such avenue.

As we are all well aware, we each have different life experiences. My experiences with a family very comfortable with the outdoors gave me different experiences than my friends who never went hiking, camping or star gazing. I got to attend the “ultimate fieldtrip” to NASA to study science when I was in grade 11 and got to experience and construct knowledge in a much different way than others who did not attend. Fieldtrips and experiences such as these are not accessible for a number of reasons such as safety and expense. Even at my school in the Fraser Valley, going into Vancouver to go to Science World or the Vancouver Aquarium is too costly to take our students. Though not everyone will have these experiences, I believe that everyone deserves the opportunities to learn, and virtual fieldtrips allow educators, parents, and anyone else who wants to learn, that opportunity. As was shown in Spicer & Stratford (2001) students feel that these virtual fieldtrips should not replace fieldtrips, where possible, but could offer pre- or post-trip learning opportunities. As they also outlines, virtual fieldtrips (VFT) are “good but not a substitute”.

When these in-person opportunities are not available to our students, I think that many teachers get creative. While not a virtual field trip, Science World offers Scientists in Schools ( where real scientists or professionals in STEM subjects come into your classroom and do hands-on activities with your students – free of charge. I’ve had some amazing experiences with these professionals and students get hands on inquiry learning. Students have the opportunity to construct math/science knowledge in a very different way than what many teachers are doing in their classrooms and via the guidance of experienced professionals.

Informal learning environments such as The Exploratorium ( are excellent digital resources. The variety of experiences that students can participate in, from apps to videos to activities, gives students the opportunity to involve themselves, either in the context of a lesson, or purely out of interest was phenomenal. The connectivity to real world happening (this summer’s Solar Eclipse for example) provides students with context and real-world application of knowledge.  These learning environments, extend “learning opportunities outside of formal school” and assimilate, ‘IT technologies transforming them into new practices and applications to support their curiosity and interests” (Hsi, 2008). They also allow students to bring home their learning and converse with parents, as they are also able to access the materials that their children are using. In school, the important social connections can still be made through careful planning by the teacher.

While I do not believe these virtual experiences should replace traditional field trips, they can afford students and others new, meaningful, and experiential science/math opportunities. With rapid advances in technology the possibilities are “endless”.



Driver, R., Asoko, H.,Leach, J., Scott, P., & Mortimer, E. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational researcher, 23(7), 5-12.

Hsi, S. (2008). Information technologies for informal learning in museums and out-of-school settings. International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education, 20(9), 891-899.

Spicer, J., & Stratford, J. (2001). Student perceptions of a virtual field trip to replace a real field trip. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 345-354.



  1. Thanks for your sharing Natalie. I agree that Virtual fieldtrips should not substitute real experiences for situated learning, though in the absence of being able to physically travel to certain places, technology broadens opportunities. Inviting speakers to visit provides a feasible alternative, helping students interact with professionals in our respective fields.


  2. As you stated students need to bring the learning home to share with their parents. I always think of our education structure as a triangle between student, parent and teacher. If students can bring home work they are excited about pursuing outside of school time we have a better chance of having parents investing time and energy into helping their children enjoy their time at school.

  3. Natalie

    I like the fact that you shared a couple of different resources for science teachers to use. BTW…science world is going to be used for a social event for the PSA super conference ( this fall. I also, like how you shared your personal experience with the outdoors — whenever my brother inlaw visits from Arizona and we go for a walk in the UBC forest or Stanely Park…he finds the biggest stick he can find to fend off the bears he might encounter. Then again in the news, there have been bears found in the city of Vancouver in the last few years.

    I wonder if students in your own classes could create virtual science tours that could then be added to a larger community?

    A good next step might find student created virtual science tours. Could one create a virtual tour with Google Earth or tool?

    To keep the conversation going — make sure to respond to at least two other learners as well respond to all learners that respond to your own post. When responding to other learners, please use references to support your ideas/thesis/concepts etc.


    1. I think students creating a visual tour would be amazing. We have a creek with spawning salmon that runs by our school which is right in the middle of a huge development. It would be incredible to have students film that ecology that still exists within the dense urban environment and share out to the world. I’m going to look into the tools that we have that could support this.

  4. Great post Natalie,
    I like how you connect to your childhood experiences and acknowledge the impact they had on shaping you. While I agree that there is no replacing the real thing for a field trip I am encouraged by the use of Virtual Field Trips. I am going to check out the Science World link:) I do know that for students who have never experienced something, say a certain biome when we study them in science that using a virtual field trip to give students a base knowledge to start from is invaluable. I too grew up travelling, experiencing thanks to adventurous parents, but I am always stunned every year, you would think I would not be by now, when I have students who have never left Victoria in my class. Virtual Field Trips are certainly a great addition to a classroom.

  5. Hi Natalie,

    I agree that it is difficult to substitute real life experiences with virtual tours, but I believe technology like the Exploratorium and virtual field trips have an even larger impact on rural, or low income communities where the option to visit these locations are extremely difficult to impossible. These virtual experiences may be the best that teachers or educators can offer these students.

    1. Hi Gary,

      If these virtual experiences are what is available to teachers – then I agree – let’s give them these experiences! I think that we need to be doing a better job to share these virtual experiences with educators who may not know about them.

  6. Hello Gary,
    You made a good point: VFTs cannot replace real field trips. The experiences are not as rich and are too predictable. If we stop to think about it, no two real field trips are the same – even when we go to the same place after a period of time, we have a different purpose, meet different people, or are led by a different teacher.
    By contrast, with virtual reality we feel that things are too programmed and too predictable.

    However, virtual and augmented reality have their place in a teacher’s the tool suite. They can effectively supplement real trip experiences, especially when teachers and students do not have access to resources afforded by real field trips.

  7. Hi Natalie,

    Thanks for your post. I agree with your statement that VFTs should not be seen as replacements for real field work and experiences, and I also feel that it’s important to remember that students can be provided with opportunities that would not be available to them without virtual/online options. As Hsi (2008) states, “through direct experience and manipulation with virtual objects, the informal learner builds their intuitions about basic scientific phenomena.” Although this does not provide as rich an experience as reality based, authentic opportunities would offer, virtual activities could be one piece of more comprehensive learning in science and math.

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