Most student field trip experiences involve visiting local museums or seeing plays in theaters. While these field trips have their merit, some students may still feel like they are still in the classroom. Sometimes students need something where they can get out and get rid of some of the energy they have built up from sitting all day.
Every year I take my students on an excursion into nature. Sometimes we go to a park that has some nature trails and where park rangers will let the kids interact with some of the wildlife. Other times we may take a mini-road trip to visit a cave and learn about the rock formations and “pan for gold”.
Our cave exploration trip is one of my favorites, as we go to Squire Boone Cavern in Indiana. The cave is named after explorer Daniel Boone’s brother, an explorer in his own right. Squire is also buried in the cave, and one of the highlights is the coffin in which he is buried in that students can see.
The importance of this field trip is clear when my students walk away from the trip smiling and with a new appreciation for nature and an experience they will remember for years to come. I’ve often been told by my students that it is one of the best field trips they have ever went on.
These field trips are increasingly important for my students as they grow up in an urban environment. Growing up and living in the city, many of these kids will not take trips like this on their own or with their parents. Their parents often work and may not be able to afford the gas or have the time to take their children to these places. As a result, the students may only experience things in their neighborhoods or in the city itself. Some of them may not have a real interest in visiting places like that either.
With busy parents, having field trips like this allows for their children to experience things they may not be able to expose their child to. Using an online permission slip app, the parents also do not have to worry about their child forgetting to give them the form, or misplacing it. With a few clicks of a button, they can give their child an opportunity to have a great experience outside of the classroom.
Usually, our nature trips are when the students are learning about the rock cycle or the environment in science. Often times the students are not as enthusiastic about learning about these things. Rock formations may not intrigue them, and they may have never set foot in the woods. As a result, we have disconnected students who zone out and do not have an understanding of the content.
These same students however walk through the caves, jaws half-opened, as they marvel at stalactites and stalagmites in open caverns. They resist the temptation to touch the living rock as the guide explains that doing so can damage the caverns and point out dead spots where visitors had damaged the cave before. The students emerge from the cavern laughing and smiling with a new appreciation for how the world works. Some take the opportunity to pet the goats in the mini petting zoo, something else that these children may not have had the opportunity to do as well.
Visiting nearby parts and forests also give these students an opportunity to experience nature. At one of our nearby parks the students took a nature walk that ended at a nearby creek. There they had a scavenger hunt to see if they could find fossils left by the ancient ocean that covered the Ohio Valley. Many of my students had contests to see who could find the biggest shell. A few of my students even decided to pick up some of the trash that others had left behind, displaying their appreciation for the environment. One of my students taught some of his classmates to skip stones, and soon there was a rock skipping contest amongst the students. A few of my students found they had a skill they never knew they had.
When we returned to school the next day, the students did a small written assignment, reflecting on the things they learned and the importance of our field trip. Before the trip, this was content that the students learned in the classroom and struggled with. After our trip, the students did much better on their assessment due to the hands-on experience they had the day before.
Allowing students to visit places they would not normally go can have a huge impact on them. These important field trips allow them to see the wider world and appreciate things that are much different from their everyday life. More importantly for the students’ learning, it takes them out of the normal environment of the classroom.
Many students don’t learn well in the sit-and-get routine of the classroom. They need visual stimulation and hands-on experiences. Also, it allows the students to experience something they can connect with. This can be crucial, especially when it comes to testing.
If the students are asked a question during a state test about a farm, they may not be able to make the needed connections to answer that question well. If they have never visited or seen a dairy farm, they will struggle with answering questions about milking cows. However, if there is a nearby dairy farm, the students can take a trip there and make some real-world connections that will hopefully stick with them.
Many of these boys and girls would never have skipped a rock across a creek if their classmate hadn’t shown them how to. Many of them would not have set foot in a cavern and seen amazing natural rock formations. These experiences stick with these students.
I had several students come up to me years after being in my class and tell me about how they still remembered our trips to the park, the caverns, or to a local pumpkin farm where they got to choose their own pumpkin for Halloween. Their eyes light up with the memory, and some tell me how they begged their parents to take them to these places so they can experience them again.
So, the importance of field trips is clear. They not only take the students outside of the classroom, but also out of their normal environment. And in many cases, that new experience will stick with them and create a love for the natural world.
This new land of virtual school thrust me head first into the fire that awaits me next school year: a hybrid position split evenly between classroom teaching and teacher support. I cannot pretend to be an expert in virtual school, but I can share some wisdom from the front lines.
If you’d have told me in January 2020 that just a few short months later, I’d be saying farewell to teaching my students physically, I’d have thought you were crazy. But that was early 2020, and as January progressed to February and March, the COVID-19 situation escalated far faster than I could have imagined.
Teaching a class from home has a very specific set of challenges that many educators are now facing daily. Some of the most common challenges are a proper network set-up, a reliable and safe platform to use, making sure students can connect, engagement and a quiet location to teach from.