Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, are you ready to embark on a sensational adventure? Taking a field trip, whether actual or virtual, offers a plethora of benefits. From a historical adventure where students travel back in time to the colonial period of St. Augustine... to an excursion through Florida's scrub habitat... to virtual explorations where my students can be transported to other places in the United States and world, I feel field trips expands my students' schema, piques their interest in local history and promotes reading a greater variety of literary genres.
The benefits of field trips are numerous. Here are several suggestions for field trips you can take, how you can provide enrichment for concepts that were covered during the trip, and ways to fund raise for off site learning.
Historical Field Trips
"In 1565, founded was the first European settlement..." I hear my students sing softly as our charter bus heads up the interstate to "America's Oldest City", St. Augustine. Every May, my fourth grade students head to this intriguing destination to visit the 165-foot lighthouse built in 1874, ride the sightseeing trolleys, explore the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument constructed of coquina rock, and tour Ripley's Believe it or Not. It is an amazing testimony to hear five years later that the St. Augustine field trip was the most memorable field trip my students ever took.
Historical field trips are of extreme importance to me since I teach in a Title I school. How many of my students have seen a fourth-order fresnel lens, cannons being fired, or remains from a shipwreck prior to visiting St. Augustine? It is incredible to see how my students learn about reflection, refraction, different fort-related words such as terreplain, coquina rock, and so many more vocabulary words during the trip.
Think about the area in which you live. Do you have any local forts or historical societies? Are you within a few hours of an amazing city like Boston or our nation's capital? Perhaps you can utilize a company like Historic Tours of America, which takes students on a trolley tour through Boston, Key West, San Diego, Savannah, St. Augustine and Washington D.C. You may also enjoy checking out a website like the one from the National Park Service (NPS), which informs you about all the national parks in the United States. You may also not be far from the home of a famous person in history like Thomas Alva Edison or Betsy Ross. Google.com provides a decent search for finding a field trip. I type in "historical field trips Tampa Bay area" to see what results come up.
How does taking a historical field trip relate to state standards and testing? The trip my students take to St. Augustine, for example, addresses over TEN Sunshine (Florida) State Standards. Glancing at FCAT preparation booklets, Social Studies related standards are included as well. When students make a "personal connection" through field trips, they build their schema and are able to connect with the content a great deal more.
Here are a few pictures from last year's field trip to St. Augustine, taken by the incredible photographer Meghan Stewart (http://www.meghanstewartphotography.com)-
Environmental Field Trips
Hernando County Schools is fortunate to have the Springs
Coast Environmental Center where students embark on a nature walk
through the scrub habitat surrounding the Weeki Wachee River. Older students in middle and high school have the opportunity to use microscopes to examine microorganisms and kayak on the river. Of course, students are able to expand their scientific knowledge. Think of what may be located near you. Do you know of any opportunities where students can go on a boat ride? Is there a place where they can go kayaking? How about places that offer the opportunity to walk on a nature trail? Never hesitate to check Google.com, as I mentioned before.
There are also opportunities where people can come to your school, of course. Many museums can travel as much as a few hours to put on a demonstration at your school. Lowry Park Zoo in Florida, for example, put on an incredible presentation with exotic animals at my school. Additionally, you can purchase "field trips in a bag" from websites such as Home Science Tools so you can put on a demonstration of your own. You can also walk out to the wooded area at your school, if you are fortunate, and make castings with Plaster of Paris.
Of course, there are also museums. A few of the greatest museums I have visited are the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois and the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Exploratorium in San Francisco, California is also sensational.
If you can't get to a museum, then use museum-like thinking and design to set up a student created museum in your own classroom! Students can set up wax museums, design brochures for displays, and complete small science experiments around the classroom. During my first year of teaching I visited a colleague's classroom and watched her students put on a science demonstration with several mini-projects, including how a lung inflated. Remember, if you do not have a museum located near you, do not lose heart because your students can have a great deal of fun in coming up with one of their own.
Of course, the websites below have MANY, many wonderful ideas for in-class experiments as well-
Virtual Field Trips
Of course you can take virtual field trips as well. Scholastic has a wonderful resource hosted here, Eduscapes discusses trips at this link, and I have some links at my website here.
After the field trip, capitalize on this experience by bringing home some of the engaging features of hands-on learning. Here are a few suggestions you can try:
- Help your students produce a play that not only retells, but focuses on the hands-on learning experience that students were most excited about. We put on a 40-minute play after the St. Augustine field trip every year.
- Design brochures that explain the lessons learned from the hands-on learning experience.
- Facilitate students to create a museum experience for other students in your grade level.
- Produce raps or songs that cover the concepts from the trip.
- Create imaginary stories about the trip: For example, my students spin a fictional tale about a "haunted experience" on the St. Augustine field trip.
- Design more hands-on opportunities in your classroom. We build wattle and daub houses as well as wigwams and thatch houses in our classroom. I often search lesson plan ideas from historical societies and science/history museums online.
Funding Your Trip
Now that perhaps I have tickled your fancy, you must find ways to fund your trip. In this economy, it is a challenge. Your students may not even have the chance to travel outside the district or even leave the school premises due to budget cuts. Speak with your principal and bookkeeper about what you can do to raise money. Every principal has different opinions about what should be done. One year we raised $1,100 with a car wash, another year we sold pretzels through Auntie Anne's and raised about $600. I honestly do not know what we are going to go this year, yet I will speak with my administration to determine what we can do to raise money for field trips.
Good luck with any adventures you take this year! Tell me about where you go and email me with any questions if you need any guidance. Five years so far of going to St. Augustine has meant 25 hours on a charter bus and about $9,000 spent, yet I would not trade the joyful expressions on my students' faces for the world.