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Spring Is Here...Start Planning A Meaningful Science Fieldtrips!

March 21, 2017

By: Dan Wyrick K-8 Elementary Program Consultant and Director of Nature by Design Acampo, CA

Get ‘EM OUT!

If you think back through your school experience, it is likely you will have forgotten what went on during many school days. They seem to blend into a multicolored and multitextured quilt. But it is likely that if you do remember something specific about your school experience, it will be a particular interaction with a teacher or other student, a particular celebration, or a field trip. As I think back, I remember a field trip when I was in the 2nd grade, to a Rainbow Bread Bakery and the Granny Goose Potato Chip factory. I also remember a field trip to California’s Gold Discovery Site in 3rd grade, a birding field trip in 4th grade, a field trip to an art museum in San Francisco when I was in 6th grade, and an all-day insect collecting trip when I was in 10th grade (the insect-collecting trip convinced me that I wanted to be a biologist, which I am). The point of this stroll down memory lane is that if you look at your own school experience, you will likely remember the field trips you took and what you learned.

When I have an opportunity to talk with teachers, I often spend time talking about the value of field trips as vitally important learning experiences for students. Books may be better than nothing, pictures are better than a book, and movies/DVDs (or the current permutation) are better than still pictures. However, none of these is better than actually being out in the field.

Throughout my 40 years of teaching, I have relied heavily on field trips to excite students about learning and to expose them to first-hand experiences in science. The following are some of my field trip tips, which I hope are helpful.

• For me, field trips are NOT EXTRACURRICULAR; rather, they are an integral part of my instructional program, and students are given an academic grade for their participation and completion of the field trip activity (more about this later).

• MAKE A DIRECT CONNECTION between the field trip and the science content the students are currently studying. When studying earth science, focus your field trip on relevant aspects of earth science. Use the field trip as an introduction to the topics or as a wrap-up to the students’ study of the content. Both ways work, and both ways have advantages.

• Make reservations early. GET WRITTEN CONFIRMATION. If at all possible, call and talk directly with the person in charge of scheduling and/or setting up school reservations. If you have to leave a message, follow up on your call if you have not heard back within two to three days. Also, send out an email (if an email address is provided), and mention your call and request a reply. Keep a record of your communications and the names of people you talk to. When you receive your confirmation, put it in a file that you take with you when you go on the field trip. I would also recommend calling the site a week or so in advance to confirm your appointment/reservation.

• BE GRACIOUS AND APPRECIATIVE when finding out information about setting up a field trip and when making a field trip reservation. Making a favorable impression is always to your advantage.

• MAKE A PRE-VISIT TRIP to the site four to six weeks before your scheduled field trip. Use this visit to gather information and materials that you can use to develop your student field trip activity.

• UTILIZE AVAILABLE EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES. Many field trip sites put in considerable effort to provide teacher and student resources. Many of these resources are available online; you can use the material as is, or modify it according to your needs.

• UTILIZE DOCENTS/GUIDES if available. These individuals do what they do because they love it. They are knowledgeable about their subject and excited about what they do. Let them share their passion with your students.

• DEVELOP A PEN-AND-PAPER ACTIVITY PACKET for your students that focuses them on what it is you want them to learn. Most material that can be used for this is available on the particular site’s webpage. Be sure to grade and record the student activity and include it as part of the course grade. Encourage students to work in teams; I find that teams of two to four work well. Any more than that is crowded and counterproductive. I also use a system that allows me to include each student’s quality of engagement and behavior in their overall academic grade for the field trip.

• TAKE AN ADEQUATE NUMBER OF CHAPERONES. I usually take enough for a ratio of four to six students per chaperone. NO CHAPERONES = NO GO. Develop a chaperone responsibility form that your chaperones will sign in order to help with the field trip.

• DEVELOP A DRIVER PACKAGE for your drivers. Include easy-to-read maps (not all places have accurate satellite navigation), your phone number, the site’s phone number with the name of your contact there, and any other relevant information.

• WEAR NAME LABELS. Most sites request that students and chaperones have name labels. Some places require name labels and will not allow entry if your students and chaperones are not wearing these. Name labels should include first names only, along with your name and the school’s name.

• LEAVE A TIP OR DONATION TO THE SITE, if your site visit is free. I usually tip or donate $1.00 to $3.00 per person, depending on whether the site provides a guide/docent or a specific educational program. When you get back to the classroom, have your students write thank-you cards and send them to the site.