The Great Escape

I can recall as an elementary school student the excitement that arose when our teacher would announce that we were going on some type of field trip. YES! We get to leave the school! We get to do something fun! We get to see something awesome! I loved field trips! Some were to the art gallery or perhaps a community event, but my favourite were our outdoor expeditions. I loved being outside and exploring somewhere and learning new things. But, now as I reflect back on all of those great experiences, what was the connection back to our classroom? What did we really learn other than that the one-off experience of the day was fun, or perhaps some interesting facts about where we had visited?

Field trips are a tricky thing. There is great potential for them to be an avenue to take the learning from the classroom, build upon it, generate even more excitement about it, and carry that excitement through to more classroom projects or learning, but I think that this is seldom done, despite the tools being there for teachers. I know that many field trips and special experiences offer direct connections to the Saskatchewan Curriculum, but I wonder how often that is actually done. Regina Public Schools Outdoor Education offers amazing trips, and they have direct curriculum links listed! My mom worked with this department as a consultant for as long as I can remember, so I had the tremendous opportunity to learn from her throughout my childhood, and get the connections at home that perhaps my teachers weren’t making. Now, as a pre-service teacher, she is also there to remind me of how great these trips are…as long as you make the connections in your classroom both in preparing the students for the field trip, and in following up afterwards with it.

While I think that outdoor field trips are inherently fun and exciting, a lot of learning can also happen at museums and art galleries. The problem can come again if there is no pre or post discussion, and/or if students are given counter-productive activities to do during the visit. In our trip to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum yesterday, we had the opportunity to examine the worksheet for grade 4-8 students and give it a thorough critique. Quite honestly, I would not give my students such a worksheet for a museum or gallery visit for a few reasons. First of all, the visit became more of a scavenger hunt to find all the answers and little regard was given for simply becoming immersed in the gallery itself. While I think that some type of task or goal is needed for students to gain something tangible from the visit, it needs to be in a constructive way. Secondly, the sheet we were using for the First Nations gallery resulted in quite a one-sided and very past-tense view of First Nations people. While that could even be said of the entire gallery itself, I think that a better version of a student worksheet would give students the opportunity to build on previous knowledge discussed in class and to generate questions. As our class discussed, there are so many ways that you can then take this visit back to your classroom and have students actively critiquing what they experienced, what they would change, and the thoughts and feelings that they had during their visit. This certainly would take some work both pre- and post-visit.

Photo Credit: Barrett.Discovery via Compfight cc

This article outlines some of these concepts about utilizing field trips better and ensuring that students are prepared. She suggests turning a field trip into a research expedition, where students have done some pre-planning and are visiting the exhibit to conduct research for a project. I think that this is a great way to make the field trip an extension of the classroom…which is what I think a field trip should be! While doing a project like this would require a lot of preparation on the part of the teacher to know the museum or gallery and its current exhibits very well in order to guide students’ topics, it would also allow the teacher to directly find links to the curriculum and the class topics and content. The trip then becomes not only a fun day for students, but one where they can show their independence and really dig into the exhibits presented. When they have spent the allotted time on their own topic area, students could also be encouraged to find other areas of interest and generate questions, perhaps that could be used to question their classmates who may have chosen that area for their project. I think that with great lead-up and follow through of the projects that this method could be a really great way to utilize any type of field trip.

Another article, from Edutopia (one of my favourite educational blog sites), gives “8 Ways to Lien Up The Museum Field Trip”. Similar to what I have been discussing, it gives ideas of ways to more actively engage students in a trip by having them do tasks that are of interest to them and will enable to them to interact with the place they are visiting. Ideas 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 I think are the most valuable for students, as they have them bringing in their own thoughts, opinions, and perspectives on what they are encountering. These ideas suggest having students connect to art pieces and write poems or narratives, documenting their experience through photos (perhaps doing some photo journalism type work?), identifying and exploring what is represented (or not represented) in the gallery, and exploring the meaning behind the pieces. I think that all of these can give students the opportunity to continue to develop their critical thinking skills and personal opinions. Number 5 goes back to the scavenger hunt, which I think is problematic as students will just look for the clues or answers than truly experiencing the gallery. Number 7 I think may work well for younger students, and number 8 is really more of a tip rather than a way to make the visit more engaging.

While Regina may not have the most amazing galleries to take students to (after seeing so many amazing galleries in London this summer I know this is true!), there are still opportunities to help students learn something from them, even if they have been there before. Student engagement I think is the key to the whole concept of education, so it certainly needs to apply to field trips too. They cannot (or at least should not) be just a “fun day” with no connection to what is going on in the classroom. The connections are out there, it is just up to the teacher to find them and help the students see them too.

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