The Value of Field Trips (Series Continued)

Continuing the series of articles from Education Week, Mike Janatovich reflects on the importance of asking if students are truly experiencing the field trip they are on, or are they just filling out an assigned sheet of paper at a different location than school.

Response From Mike Janatovich

Mike Janatovich is the assistant principal of Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio, and an ASCD Emerging Leader:

The field trip is, in my opinion, one of the most important learning opportunities that students can experience in school.  It is an opportunity for them to become immersed in something that will expand or solidify their learning.  Within an educational setting, we must maximize the learning potential by allowing actual learning to take place. An “educational setting” is not just contained to the classroom.  An educational setting should and must  be all the areas of the world that students can access.

When I am on a field trip, I cringe when I see students carrying a clipboard with a worksheet that they have to complete on a field trip. To me, this is not learning.  This can be done from home on a Google search.  Wherever you are going, or whatever place you are visiting, we must let kids experience it.  If we require every student to do the exact same thing on a field trip, are individual students really “experiencing” it?  I fully understand having a focus on a field trip, but after that initial focus, we must let kids explore.  Allow kids to think, discover, and experience wherever you might be visiting.  

As educators we need to be prepared to recognize that all the intended “standards” might not be covered, but this is OK.  If we allow student choice and are excited about something, I can guarantee you that students will learn.  It will be up to us as educators to harness it.  I once heard an educator say in the Smithsonian American History Museum, “Don’t go into that exhibit, that is a 9th grade standard”.  How about let them experience that part of the museum that they find exciting and have them compare it to what they are learning in 8th grade?  How about using social medial to allow students to document their experience?  These are small things, but critical if we want kids to fully maximize their potential while exploring the world on a field trip.

Most field trips fall short when the field trip ends.  Too often, field trips are seen a culmination or a reward at the end of a unit/year. When this happens, we cut the learning short.  Upon returning from field trips there must be follow-up conversations.  All students to share and discuss what they experience.  To deeply cement learning, use the experience to create.  Have students contact the designer of the monument, curator of the museum, naturalist at the park, or whoever plays a key role where you visited and have the students questions that were created after they visited.  Even try to let this turn into a Skype call or a Google Hangout.  Imagine your students experiencing something and then having the opportunity to discuss it on a deep level.  Even if they do not respond, the act of formulating questions for a real audience will deeply motivate students. 

Keep one question in mind in the entire field trip process (planning, visiting, follow up): Are my students experiencing the field trip?  If you make your field trip an experience for students, learning will happen.  Standards will be covered, and if they are not, the skills they learned will make students stronger critical thinkers that will allow them to dive deeper into all learning in the future.


From Education Week, Leveraging Field Trips to ‘Deepen Learning,’ by Larry Ferlazzo on December 12, 2016.

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