We’ve all been there as teachers. Educational field trips to places like museums get old and boring quickly, especially for high school students. We want our students to appreciate the art of van Gogh or archaeology as much as we do, but most of them have different interests. So, how do we provide educational trips that are also fun and engaging for our high schoolers? Here are four field trips even your pickiest of students will love.
The Local Courthouse
If you live in a medium to large sized city, a trip to the county courthouse to watch court proceedings can be an exciting and entertaining adventure for your students. My students had the opportunity to see how the criminal justice system works by watching a variety of cases, some of which were fairly high-profile. An experienced judge took questions from the group and a corrections officer visited to talk about working at the local prison.
Students who were interested in studying law enjoyed the chance to see the inner-workings of court system and speak with professionals in the industry. Other students found themselves engrossed in the various court cases, some involving drugs and violence, which mirrored the things they see on TV or in their neighborhoods.
The corrections officer took a “scared-straight” approach to his talk; he talked about some of the violence that had been inflicted upon him during his many years working at the county prison and some of the harsh realities of what prison life is like. No doubt, a small percentage of your students may benefit from hearing about prison in ways that are not glamorized, like it is on TV and in the movies.
Our county courthouse also houses a historical museum dedicated to the history of the Old Allegheny County Jail. History fans loved seeing and stepping inside old jail cells and reading newspaper articles about famous jailbreakers in the early 1900’s.
Overall, I found that most students learned something of interest during this field trip. This trip was successful because it had so many different facets that appeal to different types of students.
Many court proceedings are open to the public, but you may want to call ahead to make sure they can accommodate your group. Also, you may have to ask if a judge, lawyer, or corrections officer would be available to speak to your group during the time you plan to visit.
The Public Library
If you’re lucky, you have a great public library or network of public libraries near you. Most of my high school students have never been to the public library and have no idea the plethora of resources from which they can benefit.
Public library field trips can be tailored to the class or subject you’re teaching. On a recent trip to the library, my seniors met with librarians to learn how to use various research databases for the final research papers of the year. Librarians also gave them instruction in evaluating reliable sources online, showed them how to trace their genealogy, and taught them how to use interlibrary loan. Most students had no idea that they could borrow any book found in the city, county, or even state! Everyone learned essential skills that they could take with them to college and beyond.
Other public library field trips might focus on the history or architecture of the building. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Oakland branch is a beautiful, complex building that was built by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose rags-to-riches story can be a great inspiration to immigrant children and anyone who wants to learn entrepreneurship. The library regularly gives tours, but you can set up an appointment for your class to tour as well.
For students who aren’t interested in history or agriculture, many libraries have lending libraries of musical instruments, board games, and even art supplies that they can use.
I’ve found that once students understand all of the benefits using the local library, they realize that it’s not such a boring place after all. Everyone can learn something new at the library, which makes it a great destination for an educational trip.
I encourage any teacher to call your local library or contact a librarian online to see what services might be best for your students. You can make an appointment to meet with a librarian yourself, and then schedule a time for your class to visit. Most librarians have been friendly and welcoming to my students!
Historical Sites and Reenactments
One of the most successful field trips at our school involved the history and social studies teachers taking their classes on a day trip to Gettysburg, PA. Students got to miss an entire day of school, but with the added educational benefit of touring the Gettysburg battlegrounds and seeing reenactments. I wasn’t on this particular field trip, but I loved hearing my students talk about their adventures when they came back. Something about spending all day in a van or bus with your classmates and teachers makes a trip more fun and memorable than driving ten minutes to your local museum. The juniors (who are now seniors) bonded so much during that trip.
Even if you’re not in close proximity to a major historical site, I’m sure there are hidden gems in your backyard. For example, I grew up in Altoona, PA, a small city full of railroad history. As a kid visiting the Horseshoe Curve, I learned about the Curve’s significance in carrying troops and materials during World War II. It was even a target of Nazi Germany in 1942!
Students love learning surprising things about their community and seeing how their little piece of the world fits into local, state, or national history. Check with your local historical society for some student-friendly options that are related to your content area. History and English teachers alike can take advantage of local historical sites.
Last year, our physics teacher took her students to a local amusement park for their final test. Students rode a variety of rides and roller coasters and performed calculations related to things they learned in class. Students who didn’t like roller coasters were provided with an alternative assignment, but they still got to experience the fun of the local amusement park and its food.
I can imagine so many possibilities for math and science classes at local and major amusement parks. If I had Physics at an amusement park when I was in high school, maybe I would have actually understood it!
Contact your local amusement park to see if there is discounted admission for larger groups or school groups. You’ll have many teachers who want to chaperone if the weather is nice!
Sometimes, making a content area interesting is a matter of taking students out of the school environment and putting them in a more fun and engaging one. All of these field trip ideas provide numerous opportunities for learning across multiple content areas while keeping high school students active and entertained