Gone are the days of hopping on a bus for a carefree outing every couple of weeks. Field trips are being limited in many schools as budgets tighten. The focus on State Standards and safety concerns also have added to the decline of these types of experiences. According to a study by the American Association of School Administrators, in 2010–2011, fifty-seven percent of schools anticipated eliminating field trips altogether.
I believe trips are more valuable than ever. In a time when we are cutting back on the arts and extracurricular programs to devote more time to Common Core Standards, we need to provide opportunities for children to experience life off of the school grounds. In my school, some students would never leave the neighborhood if not for a field trip. We have children who have never used a menu, seen a zoo, or visited a working office, much less enjoyed great works of art in a museum.
Here are five tips to help make your field trips as valuable as any hour spent in class, and to help convince your administration to sign off on your excursion.
Sure, a day at the beach would be lovely, but does it mean anything? When planning field trips, think about your content areas. What standards are you hoping to demonstrate to your students? How will this trip impact their life and learning? If you can make a connection to a classroom objective, you have a much stronger case for going on the trip.
History and science are easy sells for studying outside of the classroom, but there are other areas where making real-life connections can have a huge impact on your students. Technology, finances, and even the real-world workings of mathematics are important. Make sure your trip has purpose and reason, and you will increase your chances of making it happen.
Before going on a trip, we make a list of important and potentially challenging vocabulary. Students learn the trip-related words and work with them, much as we do our regular vocabulary. During and after the trip, students use the vocabulary while speaking and writing.
I can see a big difference in students' usage and understanding when they have the opportunity to connect the vocabulary to real-life experiences.
Of course field trips take a certain amount of planning, but how much do you really put into it? Start at the beginning of the year, when you are mapping out your objectives and units. Think about the types of trips that would tie in well with what you are already teaching in the classroom. How often have you visited a local museum only to think, “Gee, this would have been great when we were studying…” Think ahead and you are bound to create better integrated experiences for your students.
To get started, contact various museums and destinations of interest and ask for brochures. Many places send booklets at the start of the school year, but often it's one pamphlet sent to the school and you never see it! Planning out your trips early in the school year allows the administration to budget for them and also shows that you have truly thought about how they will fit into your planned studies.
One problem with field trips is that they can turn into a free-for-all or a disappointment. Parents sometimes use the day as a chance for a reduced-price hangout with their kids. Teachers have little support and are sometimes reduced to just trying to keep the "circus under the tent" out in public. I’ve been excited about trips, only to have a boring guide, which resulted in disinterested kids.
Combat this with engaging activities for your students. You won’t always have a chance to visit ahead of time, but if you do, write down what it is you really want your students to understand. Build this into pre- and post-trip lessons.
Create a scavenger hunt for students that requires some reading of posted signs or looking for specific relics. Have writing activities planned after the visit and challenge students to collect memories, words, or ideas for their work. Get students to focus on the important meaning behind the carefully planned trip, not what special lunch treat mom packed for the bus.
Field trips are not just one-day events. They should be learning excursions that relate back to the classroom. Follow-up activities are just as important as your pre-planning was. If you visited a science museum, have students re-create an experiment back at school. Or have them write: Field trips are so engaging, they make ideal writing springboards for a variety of topics. Subjects from the trip can also inspire great art projects.
Bring technology into your trip by taking pictures, sound bites, and video along the way, as fellow blogger Christy Crawford suggests in Field Trip Apps. Depending on your students, they can be in charge of capturing important parts of the trip. When you get back to school, create a short video or podcast to share your learnings with others. Post it to your school website and let parents take a look at their child’s adventures.
Field trips can be important and valuable learning experiences with prior planning and good follow-up. And remember, they don’t all have to take place outside of your school. Scholastic offers many virtual trips that can be made from the comfort of your classroom! No matter the type of trip, a bit of planning can turn a few hours of fun into impactful learning experiences that won’t be forgotten.
What’s the best field trip you’ve been on? Any horror stories from the road or advice for first-time trip takers?