Field Trips Science Social Science Education Smithsonian Washington DC

Virginia teachers can readily explore nearby organizations that specialize in science education.   The state is filled with different aspects of science education.  Some have educational workshops in which the organization sends a visitor to a classroom.   That is all well and fine.  A cumulating experience from months of SOL study, a place to consider a field trip is the Smithsonian Museum.  Though costly for some school districts and parents to invest a day or overnight trip, it is an eye-opening experience for all students, whether they are college-bound or career-ready, interested in science, math, English or history.   The following is based on a perfect situation: a budget that allows for a chartered bus and relatively low fees for students to participate.  Realistically, field trips allocations are being reduced and eliminated from school budgets.

Consider the possibilities that can be achieved in trying a day trip to the Smithsonian.  First, a majority of students have never traveled to our nation’s capital, let alone outside the city limits.   That is a consideration to the administrative leaders.   Secondly, each museum integrates the core curriculum classes into an exhibition.  Students who never considered a career may be inspired to explore one from the trip.  Lastly, learning is more than a school-classroom discussion by specialists.  Students need an opportunity to use all five senses to benefit from the joy of learning. 

For students to travel by interstate is a lesson in itself.  Each day, the interstate is congested.  Imagine the scenarios to introduce—urban versus suburban, pollution, and deforestation.   Subway lines are used by thousands each day to travel.    Students can ponder the following on their way to the Smithsonian.  Does it solve the economic and ecological costs of living within 50 miles of Washington?   What was the intentional use for the interstate system?   It is an interdisciplinary lesson where a teacher can discuss national security, the intentional plan for the interstate initiative during Eisenhower’s two terms.  The military needed a more efficient route for travel.  Instead, the new roads provided an opportunity for Americans to travel nationwide.  In turn, state economies benefitted from tourism, particularly Virginia’s and Maryland’s.  

In college, the university’s science class traveled to Washington.  The goal was to integrate science-integrated learning from particular exhibitions for a five page paper.  A number of classmates, including myself, were liberal arts majors (English, Public Affairs) and pondered how science related to each field.  An exhibition included the AIDS quilt, which we all were overwhelmed by its size, texture, and construction.  From individual points of view, we explored the economical, political, and scientific implications of the virus.   The science majors discussed research, while government majors, such as me wondered about the financial means to slow the spread and effect of AIDS and HIV related cases.   For fun, the field trip included a visit to the National Zoo.  At the time, Hsing-Hsing, a gift from the People’s Republic of China in 1972, was the main attraction.  It was there where the class observed a despondent Hsing-Hsing, missing his late longtime companion, Ling-Ling.  From a scientific viewpoint, questions resulting in animal behavior mimicking humans were raised.   The dialogue from the trip raised the level of quality instruction and the professor was pleased.  Imagine what a trip for high school students to the Smithsonian would enhance a classroom setting! 

Finally, the sights of both the Smithsonian and the nation’s capital itself would enhance the learning experience for all students.  Each individual can see the facets of Washingtonian life, from the corporate to the inner city.  Each museum highlights contributions of every walk of life that created our country.   Visitors can feel the energy in Washington, from the national representatives, the main offices of various organizations, and the people who either reside, work, or visit the area.  It is a waste to near relatively close and not travel to the Smithsonian during a lifetime. 

In closing, all Virginia students should have a learning experience, regardless of affluence or poverty.  Funding for educational trips need to be allocated to local districts who want to change educational focus and scope.  Washington is a beautiful city during the spring and fall months.  There are many activities other than the Smithsonian that Washington offers to school groups.   Visiting the museums is one aspect of Washington; it happens to be nestled among spectacular scenery.