The Value of Field Trips (January 2018)

kids-beach-1677894Scavenger hunts are popular ways to engage students with content they need to know. In this month’s excerpt from Education Week, Russel Tarr, a history teacher in France provides tips for a successful community scavenger hunt based on a local field trip he does with his class each year.

Response From Russel Tarr

Russel Tarr is head of history at the International School of Toulouse in France. He is also the author of ActiveHistory and and organizes the Practical Pedagogies Conference.

Educational field trips are some of the most memorable and enriching educational events that students will experience in their school careers, and do not have to cost an immense amount in terms of time and money. One of my favorite field trips in this respect is the local knowledge “Scavenger Hunt” which I help to organise right at the start of the academic year for students starting the IB programme here at the International School of Toulouse. This is a superb ‘team building’ exercise, especially important when new students might be joining the school, and it additionally provides a healthy dose of local knowledge that students are unlikely to be familiar with. Such field trips also have tremendous potential for cross-curricular links, regardless of the area in which you live, and are also remarkably easy to set up.

Simply put, on the very first day of the new academic year, all of the Year 12 students take a coach trip to the center of the city. When they disembark, students are divided into groups of 3-5 people and each team is given a ‘mission sheet’ consisting of a series of questions and challenges that can be answered by visiting different places hinted at in various clues. For example, the first challenge is “Go to the gardens nearby which are named after a famous French Resistance leader from World War”. Once they arrive there,  they answer a factual question relating to the place in question (‘Find a monument dedicated to a local mayor assassinated in 1914. Explain why he was killed’).

From this point, the ‘proceed to a place’ format can be repeated indefinitely: I used Google Maps to identify 10 key places around the city within walking distance, and then created a series of questions which guides them through clues from one place to another (“Proceed through the gardens till you reach a road named after the province regained by France at the end of World War One. Head West until you reach a square named after England’s patron saint” – and so on).

A final crucial ingredient is to provide a strict time limit. Teams must hand their completed sheets back to their quizmaster at the designated location before a specified time (so that we can all get on the coach on time, as much as anything else!). Failure to do so incurs a heavy penalty or even disqualification. In this way, an element of urgency is built into the event. There is always one teacher based at a central location in case students need to locate them urgently, and we also provide each group with the school mobile phone number.

One final tip for when you plan your own local scavenger hunt: it is not helpful to have all the teams following each other around in one large clump. Therefore, design the route in a broadly circular format consisting of several mystery locations (e.g. “Location A” through to “Location F”). Then, give each team a slip of paper which gives the actual name of a different particular place in the mission, and the question that it corresponds to in their activity pack. Each team then proceeds to its nominated location and works through the questions from that point forwards. In this way, all the students rotate through the locations independently and the chance of them following each other around is minimised. It also ensures that all of the key locations will be visited by at least one team, which is important for the class debrief when students return.

From Education Week, “Field Trips Are Powerful Learning Experiences,” by Larry Ferlazzo on December 10, 2016.

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