April 30, 2010

The Facts about Field Trips

by Lynn K. McMullin

        Field trips cost money! When your family has two or more permission slips sitting on the counter and the checks need to be written, the tempting question is, “Are field trips really worth it?”   The answer is a qualified ‘yes.’  Yes, if they are planned with a clear-cut purpose and follow research-based principles.
        I remember as a 6th grader going to Old Newgate Prison in East Granby.  I vividly remember climbing down a ladder to the underground caverns and then experiencing the slimy, wet walls and lightless holes where prisoners were kept.  I remember the docent telling us that a prisoner, over the course of many years, had worn away a small bowl to hold water in the rock to which he was chained.  My feelings about the inhumanity of the place have never left me.
        My memories, and maybe some of your own, remind us that field trips are definitely worth it when they are experience driven, rather than information driven, and when they involve multi-sensory learning rather than language-based learning.  In other words, if kids get to see it, touch it, manipulate it, hear it, taste it, and talk about it, rather than read about it from a placard, field trips are well worth the cost in dollars and classroom time. 

What is the perfect field trip?
        Experiences that cannot be replicated in the classroom head the list of ‘perfect’ field trips.  I don’t want to throw a lot of research at you, but one study stands for many others: kindergartners who attended an interactive science museum had specific and accurate memories of the field trip for more than a year after it occurred (Wolins et al., 1992).  The study revealed that the teachers had used a high degree of anticipation – in other words, they got the kids excited before they went!   And a high degree of summary – they talked about, replicated, or play-acted the experiences at the museum for several days after their return.  The teachers had also capitalized on the social nature of the trip – they formed color-coded teams, they put friends together, they had students hold hands, they took photos, and so on.  It’s a juggling act – great field trips enable students to socialize about learning and yet still have a high degree of personal, independent involvement in the activities.  Follow-up review activities are another essential.
        Two of the “favorite” Canton field trips are detailed below.  Both of these trips show up in our students’ senior yearbook memories and graduation speeches.  Nature’s Classroom, a Grade 6 trip, marks for many students the first time they are away from home “on their own.” Washington, DC, in the 8th grade is a remarkable adventure, both socially and educationally symbolizing for many students a Canton ‘rite of passage.’

Nature’s Classroom
        CIS students have been attending Nature's Classroom for over 20 years with great success.  In a week-long adventure (5 days, 4 nights), they learn a variety of subjects – maps, compasses, orienteering, bridge-building, storytelling, Native American games and crafts, dissection, weather, etc. -- through hands-on explorations and activities.  By living and learning together, Nature’s Classroom also develops community awareness, social responsibility, independence, and self-confidence.  Usually, Nature’s Classroom is held on the property of Camp Jewel in Colebrook, Connecticut; but this spring, from May 3 to May 7, the students are travelling to Camp Beckett in Beckett, Massachusetts.  In the fall of 2010, Nature’s Classroom will be returning to Colebrook.

Washington, D.C.
        The Washington, D.C., trip has traditionally proven extremely popular with students and the learning experiences are closely related to the 8th , 9th, and 10th grade social studies curriculum.  One of the themes in the 8th and 9th grade courses in Western Civilization is the development of western democratic institutions.  A trip to Washington, D.C., brings to life the culmination of ideas and experiences which began thousands of years ago by Greeks, Romans, and many others in the long history of civilization.  In addition, the English, math and science teachers on the 8th grade teams incorporate ideas and concepts about Washington, government, and travel into their lessons prior to the trip.  But, aside from these important intellectual pursuits, the personal memories of this independent travel experience, embarked on together with classmates, will stay with the students for many years to come.

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