For some, it is easy to make the case that field trips should be the first to go when a budget gets tight. After all, real substantive learning happens in the classroom right??? WRONG! Field trips are an opportunity to take classroom learning into the community and to take advantage of resources (people, places, and tools) that you and your students may not have access to in your school. Taking a field trip can be just the thing to spark a student’s interest in a topic or to create an emotional attachment to learning that will form a lasting memory. Field Trips are still about fun, but they are also about curiosity, challenge, new knowledge, community, and opportunities for growth. Field trips should tied to a unit or lesson and students should know why they are going and what they will be expected to do with what they learn. This will help them to be truly worthwhile learning experiences for students.
Here are some tips to make your field trips meaningful:
- Be thoughtful when choosing a site. Move away from “because we go there every year.” Why do you go there? Is there a reason? Is it tied to your curriculum or is it just a fun place to go?
- Visit the site in advance if possible. This will give you a better idea of what is there and how to tie it into your lessons. You can direct students to specific exhibits or areas that fit with the bigger picture when they are back at school.
- Find out what resources the site offers. Many museums, historical societies, nature areas, and state and national parks have education programs and staff who are dedicated to helping school groups add value to their trips. Often they have curriculum that they can share with you, or special lessons that they can do with your students on site.
- Have before and after activities. Prepare the students with some information so they can gain the most information and ask the best questions when they are at the field trip site. To insure that it is not just a day off, make sure the field trip ties directly to an activity students will be doing when they are back in school.
- Encourage your students to talk to and interview staff members and volunteers. These people can be very knowledgable and they usually love to talk about what they do! Make the most of the trip and give the students an opportunity to do some career exploration while they are there. This is especially beneficial with middle school students as they often connect to people more than ideas.
- Ask about going “behind the scenes”. Often students can gain access to areas that normal visitors cannot. Students will remember these opportunities more that a basic tour. I once worked at a school where students in our hospitality program got to go behind the scenes in a casino and large resort in Las Vegas! That was an opportunity that those students will not forget.
- Allow students time to explore on their own. It is great to have some direct links and a clear purpose for the trip, but encourage students to discover on their own. Each student will have different interests and be drawn to different aspects of a site. Build in time for this to happen naturally so a student doesn’t leave before they have the opportunity to build their own connections to the site.
Being intentional about your field trips and doing some extra planning can create a learning experience that your students can draw on throughout the year. Even with tight budgets, it would be difficult to turn down a request for a field trip where someone went through all of these steps and had a clear tie to their curriculum.
And of course, if you are looking for a field trip in our area, please check out our VINS Nature Center.