In any school year, there are few things more memorable or worthwhile than a well organized field trip. When the excursion is to a place that offers students the opportunity for real learning it can reinvigorate the curriculum for teachers and students alike, and help to build essential relationships.
Too often, however, field trips are seen as little more than an excuse to get out of the classroom, with the highlight being a lunchtime visit to the nearest fast food joint. It is worth taking the time to plan the occasion thoroughly, however, by building a sense of anticipation and purpose, by organizing real-world tasks for the students to complete while they’re there, and by ensuring that the trip has lasting value for future learning.
Before the field trip
Permission notes will need to be dispatched to parents before the trip. These should not only ask for parental consent, but also include a comprehensive itinerary, so that students can discuss what they saw and did when they get home. Give your students an excuse to revisit the scene of their learning while it’s still fresh in their minds.
Younger students – and, perhaps, even older ones – will also need a complete school uniform. This makes it easier to manage the security of a large group of students, and reminds them that, yes, this is still part of their schoolwork and is to be taken as seriously as any other activity. Uniforms will also help staff at the location to recognize their new teaching responsibility. Perhaps as important as any of these reasons, however, is that the wearing of a uniform should remind all students that they are there as representatives of their school, and that their behaviour will reflect on the institution as well as themselves.
Before the field trip, try to offer students challenging and intriguing questions that will only be answered on the big day. Direct the lessons immediately prior to the excursion towards content that relates to what the students are likely to see and do while there. This may even involve presenting a slide show of the location. This gives them something to look forward to, and increases the sense that the trip is an extension of their classroom learning. It is imperative that all students have a clear understanding of what the field trip is offering as part of their education.
Students can also be placed into work groups at this stage, if there are tasks which will best be completed co-operatively. These give students the chance to discuss the trip beforehand, and perhaps even build their teamwork with a couple of smaller, related activities. Additionally, the teacher can find out what the students are most looking forward to, and have them propose a few questions of their own that they might like to ask during the trip.
During the field trip
Work groups will help to ensure the safety of all students, as they are an easy way to establish a buddy system for the trip. They also help all students to complete relevant worksheets. Nothing helps learning like teaching, and if participants in a group are discussing the appointed work with each other, they will be learning more thoroughly.
The actual worksheets should not be too cumbersome, as what the students witness and experience is more important, at this stage, than anything they might write. Sheets should be comprehensive in scope but not in detail, and, if possible, be in the form of a quest. By the end of the trip, the students should ideally have good notes, but they should also have more questions of their own which need answering. Provide some kind of clip-board if the worksheets are flimsy.
If the teacher has visited the location before the trip, he or she should have a good idea of relevant questions to ask. The best questions are those that relate to what the students have already learned, and to real world applications of the students’ experience.
After the field trip
Future lessons should build on the students’ new learning. They should be encouraged to reflect on the field trip, to ask further questions, and to think about how the trip has developed their understanding of life beyond school. If the excursion was truly of value, it should be referred to at various times throughout the remainder of the course. Photographs taken by students should also be proudly displayed, so that they have some ownership of the trip, and it stays in their memories with great fondness and excitement.