‘Tis the season for field trips! Often, teachers view this as sort of a holiday. We may divvy up students among vetted parent volunteers and spend the day with only one or two of our students, looking around and enjoying the scenery.
This is nice for us, but there are ways to get much more education value out of the experience. Students enjoy engagement and just the right mix of risk and challenge, so when we enhance the experiences had on a field trip, we are likely to have better student (and adult) behavior in public and a deeper overall learning experience for everyone.
Here are some of our favorite strategies that our teaching community has used to enhance field trips.
When preparing for a field trip, don’t stop planning with the booking, arranging payments for fees, or sending home permission slips. Extend the planning to create lessons that will be demonstrated and supported by the field trip.
For example, field trips to zoos can combine information about animals, their habitats, what (or who) they eat, whether they are hunters or prey, what their main characteristics are, what genus and species they are classified as belonging to, and so on. All of this information in most science standards for grades K-5, the grade levels at which most zoo field trips are taken.
In addition, you can also cluster math standards (measurement, data, operations, patterns, just to name a few) and address them with the field trip. You can use ELAR and other languages to gather research, write about topics, and formulate questions that can be answered with the information they’ll be learning.
Social studies standards about geography, the economic uses of animals, ethics, and the physical and social aspects of an ecosystem can be addressed.
When planning, tie as many things into the field trip as possible, and find a way to address these concepts and remind students about what they learned in the classroom as they are viewing and participating in discussions with real-life and real-world examples just feet away.
Spend time planning exactly how you want them to interact with the information they’ll interact with during the trip. Here are several of our favorite ways to do that.
Whether your location is an interactive or passive experience, you can create a scavenger hunt. Prepare students to complete the scavenger hunt by letting them know well in advance that you’ll be doing one.
As you teach vocabulary and definitions that will be part of the experience, have them make notes and highlight them in a particular color, or organize notes from each subject that they’ll be using for the experience in a particular place.
Arrange with parents and other teachers to be prepared to take and share pictures. Investigate the best ways and lowest prices for getting pictures printed in an efficient amount of time after the field trip so you can add them to finished displays sharing what students learned.
Make the field trip the “assessment” or stage for your students to use all their prior knowledge to solve problems, answer questions, and apply their culminated learning throughout the year so far.
If you take a trip earlier in the year before you’ve had the chance to delve deeply into much information, make it the kickoff or introduction to what you will be learning. Make it the place you demonstrate and create question-asking skills. Find as many mysteries as you can and set yourself up with experiences that you can draw from and revisit in order to answer big questions throughout the school year.
Make It a Competition
Nothing makes learning so fun as a little friendly competition.
There are a few ways you could do this. First, external rewards are not usually the focus of education, but in order to increase the challenge, you might consider a reward for the group who finds the most information, participates the best, and/or shows excellent school spirit through their behavior.
If you’re going as a grade-level, each class could participate separately, or you could go it alone and divide the class into groups (especially easy if you’ve got parent volunteers who can help monitor and help groups be successful).
One way you can do this is by using a rubric and dividing groups into “houses”. They can earn points, and then houses can use points earned for special things like an extended recess, a special treat like popsicles on a hot day, a summer online meetup party, a board game day, or something else that’s meaningful to your particular group. Older students may want to compete for getting their name in a drawing for a gift card to a favorite place to eat or a local place to shop (these can be donated if you contact the establishment ahead of time and ask about their requirements for donations to nonprofits).
If none of these are options, bragging rights can also be pretty motivating for some students. Don’t overlook that as a possibility.
Another favorite way to create some competition is to do so in the style of the television show “The Amazing Race”. This will take more planning and prep, as well as the participation of either parents or other volunteers who can arrive earlier at the venue, or staff that agrees to participate, but it will definitely be a field trip to remember. You can do this with any age and with any subject.
Plan a set number of stations where students are required to answer questions, do an activity, participate in something, or learn and demonstrate something at each station. Once they’ve adequately done what the station requires, the parent or staff member from the venue will hand the clue that tells them where to go next.
If you have a large group, you may consider choosing either different starting activities or placing starting activities in different physical areas so that students don’t all clump up in one place, making it difficult to complete the activity and possibly blocking the flow of traffic.
Other considerations are making sure that the stations won’t require more time than students have at the venue. You might need to create a time limit at the end of which any students who aren’t finished will be given the clue and made to go on regardless of whether they completed the task (you can always have them complete unfinished tasks back at the school).
Finally, be sure you stress the importance of safety, especially if students might get overwhelmed with excitement and lose all sense of practicality (you likely know precisely which students we’re referring to here). You may even apply penalties to running away from the group, running in general if the venue will be crowded (to avoid injuries), climbing on or touching things they shouldn’t, or for any other likely misbehavior.
You can give penalties in the form of waiting at the station, sitting and doing nothing fun for 3 to 5 minutes, before they are able to move to the next station.
Divide and Conquer
When you add in travel time and you are visiting a larger place, sometimes there’s too much to do and see in one day. Most people have at most about three hours for a field trip, including the time needed to eat lunch. There just isn’t enough time to do or see all you’d like.
In this case, divide into groups either by class or by smaller groups led by vetted parent volunteers and aim to cover just part of the place with each group. This way, you’ll get more literal ground cover and be able to study each area more deeply without feeling rushed from one spot to another.
If there is a favorite spot (for example, one of our writers says there is a giraffe feeding area at her zoo which costs extra but students love it and would certainly fight over the opportunity if that area was given to only one group), make that a stop for everyone by including it in their ground to cover. Everything else can be divided.
If groups finish early, they can explore the other areas on their own.
Sharing Knowledge Afterward
All of the planning and preparations are really not meaningful if, after the field trip, you come back home and never mention it again. Providing a way for students to display the information they’ve learned can increase the impact exponentially.
Students can share the information by using the photos taken and compiling all the information they’ve learned into presentations. This can be as traditional as photos and presentation boards, or you can be as creative as you want. One fun suggestion is for students to create their own zoo or museum at school replicating the ideas they learned on their trip.
Zoos can be made using stuffed animals, animal murals, or shoebox dioramas with clay hand-made animals.
Museums can hold any type of art.
If students saw a play, they can recreate the one they saw or make another of their own. The possibilities are endless.
Schoolwide Field Trip Expo
In addition to deciding what information to share and how to share it, think about who you can share it with, as well.
If you involve your administrators, you might be able to have a “field trip expo” at the end of the year, displaying student products for everyone in the school by using a shared space like the gym or cafeteria. Students can work their “booth” in shifts, telling what the group learned, while others peruse all the other displays. In this way, everyone is able to share in the learning.
Inviting the Public
In addition to sharing with all members of the school family, don’t underestimate the impact of sharing with the public. Include family members, board members, vetted neighbors of the school, and even students from other schools who can return the favor with an invitation of their own to a schoolwide event.
Many districts request that schools participate in creating public science, math, or reading nights. Some do expos where all of the schools gather for science, reading, or math activities. A field trip expo could be a combination of all of the above, bringing the learning found during outside events home to the community.
When the community sees how impactful trips like this are, they are far more likely to want to contribute to the cost of and encourage participation in meaningful field trips.