The words “field” and “trip”, when spoken together, often bring joy to a child’s mind, stress to a teacher’s, and anguish to the fast-food manager or park ranger who wasn’t informed that a group of seventh-graders was about to descend upon their place of work. To avoid the two latter issues, teachers need to set aside the time to plan the trip in much more depth than the average field trip request form. While this may seem daunting – especially to teachers who have never planned a field trip before – it pays dividends for student learning. Your ace in the hole: an on-site educator – an employee or volunteer who works at the destination of a field trip and takes on roles such as guiding tours, leading activities, teaching about exhibits or facilitating experiential learning.
Planning to Plan
Just as with any other learning activity, quality field trips must start with the learning goal in mind. Oftentimes, a formal field trip request requires the teacher to list the state’s content standards that will be addressed on the trip. In truth, a field trip opens the doors to authentic learning beyond that which is covered in most state standards, but it’s always good to have a base point to start. It will be important as the process continues to discuss whether or not the location chosen for the trip is the best match for the learning goals.
The opposite can be true, as well, of course. Sometimes the trip can start with the destination idea with learning goals worked in later. Every region of the world has sites that would make awesome field trips, and these are the perfect places to utilize on-site educators. If that’s the case, rather than planning specific learning goals, have a few age/grade appropriate goals in mind before meeting with the on-site educators, but be open to connections that could be made to your curriculum.
Before meeting with an on-site educator, be sure to know what information will be required to fill out your field trip request. By having a clear idea in advance of what you’ll need to know, you will ensure the planning process proceeds smoothly. Your destination site may also have a field trip request form; oftentimes, these ask for many of the same points of information as your school/district required forms. As such, you should have basic information about your group size, student age, and any special needs represented in your group before making your field trip request or planning with an on-site educator.
Planning with Partners
Once you have your learning goal and basic information in mind, you’re ready to meet with the on-site educator or education coordinator at your destination site. Depending on the site’s proximity to you, you may choose to visit the site to meet with the partner(s) involved in coordinating your trip. A farther-flung destination may require coordination via phone or email. Either way, your first meeting with the on-site educator should build the relationship between your group and the site, collaborate on the learning goals, and determine the next steps for planning your visit.
Some helpful questions to ask in your initial site visit/meeting:
- What educational programming does your site offer for student groups?
- This question will help you determine if there are already educational programs in place that will fit the needs of your students’ learning.
- Is the programming customizable for specific learning goals and age groups?
- Rarely, a field trip site may offer programming that is either too complicated for your group or too simple. Most on-site educators are able to adjust the level and focus of the program with enough notice.
- What does the site need from the teacher in order to schedule the group’s visit? How far in advance should this be submitted?
- Be sure to submit this information! This will help build the relationship between your group and your new partner!
- Are there entrance fees or program fees the group will need to pay? Does the site require a waiver to participate in the activity?
- It seems self-explanatory, but sometimes sites don’t advertise group rates or fee waivers that are available. Some activities (especially those involving water or high places) require a liability agreement.
- What materials/supplies will we need to bring on the day of the trip?
- For example, the site may advise that your students wear certain clothing or shoes to be comfortable and safe on-site.
- Where should we check-in upon arrival? Where should we park? What amenities are on site?
- Again, seemingly self-explanatory, but it could cause some complication upon arrival at a large state park if you’re unsure whether to check in at a visitor’s center or other location.
Once you and the on-site educator have formed a plan, be sure to keep them up to date on any changes or adjustments to the trip. An illness going around your school could prevent half your class from attending your trip or you may need to reschedule due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. Keeping your partner informed of your needs will ensure a positive relationship in the future!
Ducks in a Row
Between one and two weeks prior to your field trip, you’ll need to be sure all your ducks (students) are ready to line up and enjoy their next learning adventure! Your permission slip should include all pertinent details and, if required, any other parent forms or waivers for the trip. If your district allows, you may want to introduce a permission slip app to your students’ families. These permission slip apps enable parents to easily give their permission and submit paperwork electronically. The apps help teachers stay organized and save a little paper along the way! If you have your families submit electronic copies of any forms that your on-site educators will need, ask in advance whether they will accept an electronic version or if you’d need to submit hard copies.
At about the same time you send home permission slips, make contact to confirm all of your reservations for the trip are in order, including with your on-site educator. Remember that you’re dealing with humans and we all make mistakes: a single scheduling snafu could send the trip down stressful highway with a stop at tension depot. It’s better to catch issues early than deal with them during the trip!
Permission slips are standard and required for high school field trips in the United States. Yet, what about high schools in other countries? As a teacher who has taught in Europe many years and in China for one year, I went on many field trips outside of the U.S. What do they do different and why?
The educator’s task to arrange a field trip, get all the parent permission slips, then deal with students outside of the classroom and school environment never crossed my mind doing my graduate work.
One thing that is rarely ever covered in new teacher training is how to do what many of us in the profession consider to be “the easy stuff”. Things like how to use the copier, how to set up a classroom, and how to create and send out a movie permission slip.