Why Take a Field Trip?

Museum* Field Trips as an Adjunct to Classroom Instruction

Why Take Field Trips?

Field trips offer opportunities to students that they may not have known existed, and expose them to learning experiences that can not be duplicated inside the classroom. These “out-of-school” experiences have been a tradition since the earliest schools were founded.

A number of factors have come into play in the past 10 years to interfere with the field trip element of the educational experience. Decreased funding across all government departments and educational systems have forced administrations to resort to the most economical educational experiences. Inflationary prices in fuel and transportation services have made the cost of traveling to a remote location nearly prohibited with prices for a school bus well over $100 and frequently over $200 for a single trip. Efforts to improve the educational system within the State of Maine and throughout the United Stated has resulted in a huge increase in the workload of teachers as they attempt to incorporate new curriculum plans and education methodology.

All of these factors combined, reduce the number of school that are taking field trips to museums, planetariums, and cultural centers, consequently depriving many students of a experiences that would enrich their education and, for some, provide motivation and insights that suit their learning style.

Although books and classrooms offer wonderfully comprehensive educational learning experiences, the citizen of the 21st century will be expected to learn and re-learn from their working and living environment. The skills for critical observation and comprehension from a person’s surroundings are essential lifelong learning objectives.

At the University of Maine, public school classes have visited a variety of different sites to enhance their learning experience ranging from a walk through the hockey arena to a tour of the universe at the planetarium, and a tour through UMaine’s unique museums. The feedback that we have received from the leaders of these groups suggests that this is a priceless opportunity for teaching with exposure to the “real thing”. It is also a chance for the students to get a first impression of the University of Maine and begin to think of it as an option for their educational future. The UMaine resources are maintained to offer a maximum learning experience to public visitors at a minimum of user cost. Where admission fees or use fees are required they have been kept low and reflect only a fraction of the expense to maintain the visitor experience.

In light of the precarious status of the field trip programs within the public school, the planetarium staff would like to provide as much support as possible for teachers endeavoring to take field trips as much as possible. The following text is from a booklet published by Museum Institute for Teaching Science (MITS), with the intention of explaining museum field trips (including field trips to planetariums). You are welcome to copy any of this text for use in field trip planning.

“A field trip consists of a group of students and their teacher going to a site other than their classroom to increase their understanding of and exposure to curriculum related topics. The trip may include visits to a facility to explore its collections, a walking tour to learn about some aspect of the surroundings or some other type of educational experience. The field trip should augment content, skills and processes as recommended for their grade level by the Massachusetts Frameworks.

MITS feels that field trips planned by teachers to augment their available classroom resources are an integral part of a curriculum for many schools. Such field trips do, or can be made to, complement the Massachusetts Frameworks and local curriculums. We have prepared this memo for museum educators to use to inform their administrators, trustees and other supporters about the value of field trips to their museum for the students of Massachusetts in hopes that they will inform the Board of Education. The Board needs to hear this from thoughtful, respected members of the community.

The case for field trips
The PALMS (Partners Advancing the Learning of Mathematics and Science) project at the Massachusetts Department of Education is based on the assumption that partners from the community increase the resources available for the education of students in schools. Museums were originally and are still among these partners.

The National Science Foundation and the US Department of Education, in their funding of school/museum programs, mandate that they be tied in to the educational reform standards. These include field trips.

The National Science Education Standards under teaching standard D states that “the school science program must extend beyond the walls of the school to include the resources of the community.”

The Massachusetts Frameworks for the Arts reads: Students will Participate in the Community’s Cultural and Artistic Life. A question to be explored under this is: What does my community offer to people who enjoy the arts?

Congress approved $40 million in FY98 for the US Department of Education’s program “21st Century Community Learning Centers.” This program supports efforts to expand learning beyond the school day and acknowledges the importance of building partnerships between schools and community organizations, including museums. It explicitly encourages schools to use the resources of community organizations.

Benefits to the Students
Field trips extend the resources available to students in the classroom. They expand learning by giving the student access to the real thing. They illustrate and permit experience with what has been read about, seen on television or computer software. Teachers include field trips in their units of study for this purpose. Field trips are linked to the classroom because they are contextualized within the classroom curriculum. Teachers choose from museum programs and exhibits to expand and reinforce desired concepts.

Museums have the artifacts and exhibits that provide opportunities for learning through direct experience, reaching the student who does not learn as well from traditional modes of teaching. Museums provide opportunities for students to practice observation skills which enhance the hands-on inquiry mode teaching. The Common Chapters of the Massachusetts Frameworks state that learning must be for all students. They chart various types of intelligence giving examples from the various frameworks which address these types of learning. They also give examples of strategies which may be used to help all students learn. Many of these strategies can be augmented and made more relevant through planned field trips.
Field trips can be used to provide students with research opportunities around a topic of study. They provide a setting for the practice of observational skills, to awaken curiosity and inquiry.

Field trips can contribute to many different disciplines of the school curriculum and demonstrate that mathematics is not separate from art, from science, from history, etc. The world is not segregated into neat little boxes with labels such as social studies and science. A field trip is an opportunity for learning in an interdisciplinary setting, to bring it all together and to start the process of thinking.

Field trips are appropriate for all grade levels of students. They are an opportunity for students to visit cultural resources which they may not have known existed. They provide a shared experience for all students. They provide an entrance into an unfamiliar world to which the students may be able to introduce their parents.

Lifelong Learning
The Frameworks advocate learning and teaching so that the opportunities for lifelong learning are opened up to students.
For many students the school field trip is the only opportunity to visit a museum. It is one more way to provide equal opportunity for all the students.

Field trips introduce students to different worlds which can be enjoyed throughout their lives.
School field trips provide an organized learning experience that is different from visiting a museum for entertainment purposes with parents or Scouts.”

* The term museum should be understood to include all informal education institutions and cultural resources maintaining a collection, and education staff and offering education programs to the public. Therefore the term includes botanical gardens, aquariums, zoos, historical sites, nature centers, planetariums, etc. all of which are considered part of the informal education network offering field trips.