Recently I hosted 20 teachers in my school district at the zoo for an afternoon. The idea was to explore how we might use iPads during a field trip. It was certainly an exciting form of professional development. Instead of sitting at a desk and listening to someone like me talk about what you could do, we just went out and did it! Teachers had a lot of fun, and many ideas were shared. Below are some of the activities that we (I co-hosted the afternoon with a colleague, Diane) gave to the teachers, as well as some ideas that came to mind throughout the afternoon.

Some of the best experiences we give our students happen during field trips; the zoo, a museum, nature walk, etc. Mobile devices can enhance this experience by allowing for the documentation, review and reworking of the experience long after the field trip is over.

Pre Field Trip

For many schools, a day or two at the zoo is The big field trip of the year. By integrating the technology along with some project, you can get the excitement building for the days and weeks leading up to the field trip by doing some pre-field trip prep.

Part 1: Camera Prep

While an iPad and iPhone are great tools for taking video, some tips can make the outcome more enjoyable. Here they are.

  • Take video in ‘landscape mode’, with the iPad positioned ‘sideways’ instead of up and down’
  • Make sure orientation lock is ‘off’ so that as you move your camera from landscape to portrait, it can spin freely
  • Use the switch to change between photo and video.
  • Point the camera at what you want to show
  • zoom with your feet. Digital zoom creates a loss of quality, so you are better off just getting closer.

Part 2: Interview Skills

Instead of just showing the animals and exhibits at your location, try having the students interview each other. If they can learn to ask open ended questions as well as how to answer them effectively, they can use that footage to tell a story from a really interesting perspective. Here are some things that we talk about with kids to make them stronger with interviews (even kindergarten kids can do this with some practice and support).

  • When interviewing, ask questions that can’t be answered with a yes or now. These are called open-ended questions. “John, tell me about what you learning about”
  • Have follow up questions in mind to get the interviewee to expand on their answer. If they say “I am learning about tigers”, your follow up might be “ok, what have you learned so far?”
  • When interviewing, show the persons face, and pan (move the camera) so that you show what they are working on or looking at. For example, If they are talking about the tigers, start with the camera recording their face, and then turn the camera to show the tiger.
  • Another trick with camera angles: stand so that the camera can see both: the person you are interviewing, and the animal/subject they are talking about. For example, stand so that John and the tiger are both in your camera shot at the same time.

Part 3: Give Students A Clear Task

Make the task clear in advance, and consider having a cheat sheet printed or written on  some sort of card stock of things they need to do. If I want students to create a video using iMovie of what they learn using interviews and voice over, I give them a short checklist to cary around. Here is an example for a zoo field trip.

Part 4: Practice

Doing a couple of practice sessions where you get kids to take some video, do some interviews, and use iMovie will greatly enhance the success of your field trip experience. I think you could practice the same skill set on top of almost any other project. If, earlier in the school year, you have students working on diorama’s, creating posters, or doing a science fair project, you could have them take the same process with the iPads and interview skills to create short videos of their science experiment. This will not only help students prepare for the field trip, but it will also increase their engagement on the science fair project.

You could look at this practice as optional, but if the field trip is a ‘big event’ in your class, it is worth the time to fully prepare in advance.

Check out this post and video on how to use iMovie.

During Field Trip

You shouldn’t need to do a lot during the field trip if the students have planned and practiced – just a few reminders here and there. If they have their checklist, just keep refering them to that. If there ever is some downtime while they wait for an interpreter or anything like that, they could start working on their iMovie. I found that I had most of my video clips cut and inserted into my iMovie timeline before I ever left the zoo. All I had left to do were voice overs and title screens.

Post Field Trip

Post field trip is likely to be mostly students working on their iMovie project. What I like most about this type of work is that it gives you as the teacher the chance to have conversations with the kids, and they can tell you about their project, what they learned, and you can spend the time coaching them to do as good a job as possible.

Remind students to:

  • We used the language of keeping the movie ‘interesting’. And so all video clips have to be chosen only if they are interesting, and the uninteresting parts are cut our and trimmed away
  • Add title and title screens to help tell the story of what you learned
  • Use voice over to enhance the video. Be descriptive and explain in the voice over what you see in the video. Use your notes to decide what to say.
  • Flashy isn’t better. Clean and simple is best. Less is more.
  • Music helps create emotion. If the experience was fun and up beat – choose fun and playful music. If the field trip was something competitive, such as some sort of obstacle course, the music might be more intense and fast paced.

Other Apps and Activities


  • iMovie
  • Strip Design
  • Book Creator
  • Puppet Pals (Director Pass)
  • Notability

Activities Students Could Do

  • A day in the life of an animal (animals perspective maybe): iMovie, Comic Life, Book Creator, Puppet Pals
  • What I saw at the zoo: iMovie, Videolicious
  • Animal Profile:
    • Where I live, who hunts me, and who I hunt/what I eat
    • describe life/growth from egg – young – adult
  • Make a commercial about the zoo: iMovie/Videolicious
  • Themes:
  • - Endangered Species at the zoo/Waste
    • Compare and contrast animals (Hot/Cold, habitat)
    • Identify Requirements for Animal Care -
    • Wetland Ecosystems – how the zoo helps preserve wetlands
    • Day in the life of a zoo keeper

A Final Word

I love the idea of using the iPads during a field trip. I believe that learning happens through experience – and the more effectively you can reflect upon those experiences, the more depth and longevity your learning will have. This type of assignment allows students to have a real experience, interact with technology and each other, recall what they learned and experienced afterwards, communicate their understandings, and enjoy the overall experience more than they would have otherwise.

We would love to hear from you, and how you have used iPads as a layer on top of some other experience. Please share in the comments below, or e-mail me if you are interested in guest posting on 
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