Camille A. Farrington is a Senior Research Associate and Managing Director at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, where she studies how schools contribute to human development. Before earning her Ph.D. and becoming a member of the Mindset Scholars Network, she was a high school teacher for 15 years. She still loves going on field trips!
You became a teacher because you want to make a positive difference in your students’ lives, right? Well, field trips are wonderful opportunities to provide students with critical developmental experiences that have lasting impact, so design them for that purpose!
Last year, my colleagues and I at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research scoured the literature and interviewed experts in neuroscience, education, and psychology to understand how young people develop the factors that matter most for life and work success. In Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework, we describe five ACTION experiences and five REFLECTION experiences that are as important for kindergarteners as they are for high school students. All are important to keep in mind as you design out-of-school adventures for your class.
The next time you take your students on a field trip, make sure you build in rich opportunities to: encounter new places, concepts, people, roles, and perspectives; tinker with things or ideas in a low-stress environment; practice behaviors or skills to build expertise and confidence; choose among options for how to engage or what to learn; and contribute to something they value.
These five ACTION experiences provide awesome opportunities for growth and development, but by themselves they aren’t enough. Students might run around a science museum pushing buttons or crowd around an incubator watching baby chicks hatch, but then leave without having really learned anything. That’s because, as John Dewey reminded us, “We don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.”
To maximize the potential of field trips, intersperse action experiences with REFLECTION experiences. As much as they need to engage in doing, students also need opportunities to: describe their observations; evaluate strategies, behaviors, or solutions; connect their experience to other things they know or care about; envision how their experiences or discoveries might be helpful in the future or might apply in another context; and integrate what they’ve learned or done into the kind of person they might want to be.
Last spring I accompanied a group of high school students on a two-hour field trip, organized by Embarc Chicago, to a small business that sells fresh salads through vending machines. The students were greeted by employees who told them the salad company was debating whether to locate vending machines in Garfield Park, a low-income Chicago neighborhood. They asked students to help them conduct some research—and then distributed colored pencils, maps of Garfield Park, and lists of all the grocery stores, liquor stores, restaurants, and fast food places in the neighborhood. Students worked in small groups, marking the location of each business on their maps, then comparing Garfield Park to a map of the affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood with food places already colored in. Students then debated whether or not Garfield Park could be considered a “food desert,” using a definition provided by their teacher.
Next, the class broke into groups and rotated through opportunities to: interview company owners about their backgrounds and business plans; compete in pairs to see who could use a diagram to stock the vending machines most quickly, and then evaluate the strategies each team used; and to create and name their own salads, choosing from some 40 different ingredients. To close the visit, students ate their salads and reflected on what they learned—how it connected to other trips they had taken or other things they were studying. I was impressed that Embarc organizers included all 10 developmental experiences in two short hours!
Powerful field trips provide young people with opportunities to engage in meaningful activities and to make sense of those experiences—to actively build their story of how the world works and how they fit into it. Next time you bring your students into the field, use the developmental experiences framework as your planning guide!
From Education Week, Leveraging Field Trips to ‘Deepen Learning,’ by Larry Ferlazzo on December 12, 2016.