The Value of Field Trips (Part 2)

In our ongoing series of articles previously published by Education Week on important field trip topics, educators and other experts tackled the question of how teachers can maximize the learning potential of field trips.

Last month we heard from educator Jennifer Orr. This month professor Herb Broda tackles the same question by providing insights for before, during, and after the field trip.

Response From Herb Broda

Herb Broda is an emeritus professor of education at Ashland University. His books, Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning and Moving the Classroom Outdoors (Stenhouse Publishers), reflect Herb’s passion for helping teachers see ways to use the schoolyard as a teaching tool:

Field trips are still one of the best ways to provide concrete examples of abstract concepts. They are effective at all grade levels and in every content area. Since shrinking budgets have reduced field trip opportunities, it’s critical to maximize the experience. Here are a few thoughts to consider:

Pre-trip considerations…

  • The curriculum should drive the field trip location. Maximum learning occurs when a field trip reinforces prior instruction or introduces content that will be expanded soon after the visit.
  • Most historic sites, nature centers and museums have pre-visit materials adapted to different grade ranges. Check these out as you plan a visit. Some sites have beautifully crafted, grade-specific sessions, while others may have more generic “school group” presentations that need to be adapted for maximum learning.  
  • If you are going to hike at a public park or other outdoor location that is not staffed, be sure to visit the site within a week of your visit. It’s possible that your favorite trail may be closed, littered with undesirable items, or storm damaged. 
  • Show your class pictures of the field trip site. Pictures clarify the purpose of the visit and create a comfort level for students. Many sites offer virtual tours to build interest.
  • Prepare your chaperones! The reality is that chaperones can cause problems as well as provide help. Simple tips like don’t use phones, be enthusiastic about the topic and engage with the group may sound unnecessary, but parents appreciate clear direction when placed in a somewhat unfamiliar role.

At the site/during the trip…

  • Try to keep travel time short.  The park fifty miles away may offer a few more amenities than the one twenty miles down the road, but is it really worth the extra travel time? That time could be spent doing a few more activities.
  • If the ride was lengthy, plan a movement activity soon after you get off the bus.  A few brief stretching exercises will release a little energy and make it it easier to focus on a tour or presentation.
  • Have small groups pre-arranged. You know best what personality mixes should be avoided!
  • Review behavior expectations before the activities begin. Site staff will also go over their rules, but duplication is reinforcing. It also is a comfort to the program leaders!
  • Before you leave, have two or three student representatives thank site leaders on behalf of the class. A personalized gesture like that means so much to frenzied staff who see a blur of young faces every day.                                                                                               

After the trip…

Often the default post trip activity is simply a discussion of “who liked what”. It’s important to find out what made the biggest impression, but stopping there misses the rich curricular connections and concrete examples that make the trip educational.      

Effective post trip activities provide the opportunity to reinforce content, expand content, or use the content to explore in new directions. Based on the nature of your trip, consider:

  • Writing activities that capture key learning
  • Webquests relating to the topic of the trip (student or teacher designed)
  • Follow-up experiments for science related trips
  • Concept mapping
  • Project-based learning
  • Independent research

Field trips provide rich exposure to environments and vibrant locations that reinforce what students learn in classrooms. The abstract comes alive through concrete experience!

From Education Week, Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo, by Larry Ferlazzo on December 10, 2016.

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