In a standards-based, data-driven time, educators are consistently seeking ways to bring learning to life for their students. One way this happens is by utilizing field trips. Not only are field trips a great way to bring leaning to life, they are also an excellent way to provide a real-world experience, that students may not have otherwise. When preparing for a field trip the quote by Benjamin Franklin rings true, “If you fail to plan you are planning to fail.” School field trips, although fun and exciting, require an immense amount of planning. If a trip is not adequately planned, the fun and excitement will be surely be replaced by confusion and chaos, thus losing the purpose behind the trip. Included in this post, you will find helpful tips, tricks and hacks to ensure your school field trip is a success.
Before planning a trip, you need to ensure it is purposeful. One of my favorite field trips to take students on was to the zoo. I know you may be thinking that is an easy trip. Everything is there, you just secure transportation, tickets, chaperones and walk around for the day. In part, this is correct, but there is a large degree of planning that goes into “just walking around.” When planning to go to the zoo, determine first what is the curriculum tie in? I guarantee administration will want to know this before approving anything. Once that is established set the date and contact the zoo to get ticket prices. The zoo is open year-round, so dates are typically not an issue. Keep in mind the time of year you are planning the trip though. When temperatures start to drop, several animals are no longer on display, which may or may not cause an issue. After logistics are set up with transportation, fees and dates, it is time to create a permission slip. Typically, the permission slip is a simple form stating the trip, date, time, fee and simple instructions for the day of the trip. This form can either be created independently or pulled up from a field trip app. If you have never heard of a field trip app, you are missing out! Think about all of the time you spend sending and retrieving the elusive permission form. I’m not sure about you, but the number of copies made is nearly double because you will inevitably have several students that lose their forms between home and school or they get misplaced with the busyness of home life. If you choose to become tech savvy and use a field trip app there are no printed copies to send home or keep track of. You simply input the field trip information and if a payment is required or not. The form can then be sent to a parent’s cell phone, and they are able to sign everything, pay for the trip and submit it to you. If you’re like me, there is comfort in having a paper copy in hand as well, especially when you are on the trip. The app is great because you can download and print out signed copies with all the relevant information on it.
When the logistics of the trip are taken care of, it is time to put a plan in place for the day of the trip. Because the zoo is a public venue it will not be exclusively open for your school field trip. Remember this when you are planning for the day. How many chaperones will you need? How many students do you want in each group? These questions may seem simple, but chaperones can make or break a trip. Choose chaperones that are responsible. It should go without saying, but not all chaperones are in it to supervise the group they have been put with but rather spend the day with their own child. Pick trustworthy parents. Break your students into manageable groups. When going through the zoo, it is a busy place with a lot to see. In this situation smaller groups are better. Because the zoo is such a large area, it is important to exchange cell phone numbers with the chaperones in each group. They need to be able to reach you in case of an emergency. The next thing to think about is the layout of the zoo. Go to the website and pull up a map of the zoo. This map is going to serve two purposes. The first purpose is for you to determine what exhibits are available at the zoo and the second is to solidify the purpose for the trip. What objective are you going to meet with the trip? Do you want students to plan their route through the zoo? Do you want to assign specific starting points and lunch locations? When deciding these things, keep your chaperones in mind. Are they able to think ahead to ensure lunch is eaten at the proper time? Will they get through all the exhibits? If the answer to these questions is uncertain, make it easy and prepare a plan. If the zoo is like ours, many families have annual passes and visit frequently. Because of this, there is familiarity and they may not explore the zoo the way you would like them to from an educational standpoint. Do you want them to pay attention to specific exhibits? Tell them what your expectations are. When you are planning anything to do with exhibits be sure to go to the zoo website and check to see which exhibits are open or closed for that day. Sometimes you can find out prior to the day of, however some zoos don’t update their website until each morning.
It is also important to check the weather frequently. Make sure your students are prepared. Even on an early fall day the weather can be cool in the morning and blazing by the afternoon. Layers are perfect for a zoo trip. Wear sneakers! This is a non-negotiable. The amount of walking during the field trip warrants comfortable shoes. No matter what the temperature, flip-flops won’t cut it and will ensure an afternoon of complaining if they are allowed.
Remember the zoo is a public place and there are several options for food and snacks. Unfortunately, this is not a feasible option for a large group of students when time is limited and there are surely allergies. Because of this, it is important that students take a snack with them. If your class is used to eating snacks at a certain time, make sure they eat at, or as close to, the same time as possible. It is also important that the chaperones know they are not to purchase food items at the zoo. There is nothing worse than passing a small group from your classroom eating ice cream, when the expectations have already been set. Consistency is key to a successful trip. Along with a snack, make sure the students have water bottles available either with the chaperone or in their own bag. They will be eating lunch in the zoo, so it’s important that they bring disposable bags and drink bottles. This will eliminate the need to carry lunch boxes for the remainder of the day.
Decide prior to the school field trip how you want to check learning that occurs. For some groups it works to take mini journals they can record their learning in. For others, it helps to have the chaperone write down thoughts they have as they are moving through the zoo. Either way, make sure you have a focus that can be brought back up the next day in class. This is way to truly gauge the learning that has occurred.
Most importantly, have a fun trip! Check out new and exciting exhibits. Set expectations that cannot be misinterpreted and make it a true learning event for your students. When you return from the zoo, make sure you reflect with your students. Yes, you are exhausted, and they are probably ready to go home, but take the time to add closure and set up the lesson for the next day. Maybe there was an animal or exhibit that was fascinating to them and they would like to do more research to share with the class. Let them do this. Take time that seems non-existent and provide a deeper learning experience for your students. They will appreciate it and you will find the true value in the field trip experience.
Do you need some field trip ideas? How about visiting an animal shelter? Many children want to have a pet, but don’t realize how much work goes into caring for one. This trip will show them what it takes to care for a pet and how selfless volunteers use their time for a great cause.
Photo scavenger hunts are a great way to allow learners to use technology in nature. This idea is widely supported in nature-based learning. It helps learners develop a hybrid mind by exposing students to the natural world and integrating technology into the learning experience.
Free field trips for classrooms do exist. With budget cuts that many schools have undergone and families that are struggling to make ends meet, it is still important to provide students an opportunity to learn through different experiences.