Friday, April 29, 2011

Every Day Should Be A Field Trip

Field Trips can be debatable.  
  • Testing.  How can teachers justify taking children out of the classroom for something fun when there are standardized tests that need to be passed?  
  • Money.  Some kiddoes, schools, or districts just can not afford to go on trips.  What happens if so and so can't pay to go?  How can we possibly leave them behind for something out of their control?  Particularly in tough economic times like these, how can we ask or expect parents to dish out money for a field trip?
  • Curriculum.  What about everything I'm supposed to teach?  How am I going to teach x, y, z when we are not in the classroom?
Each concerns, of varying degree, to many educators.  But, my question is, "How can we not do field trips?"  And not do them often?  I love field trips!  How can you not love a field trip?  

With field trips we get to take children on adventures.  Adventures than many, if not all, would not be unable to take outside of school.  How many students have never been to McDonald's?  The movie theater?  A museum?  A nature walk?  You would be surprised.   Each year, I have a few children who have never been to the local library or a movie theater, and were thankful to have had the experience.

Even if they have done those things, isn't there some way that we can involve them in the experience that is an alternative to their typical experience?  Sure, they may go to McDonald's, but how many kids actually get to pay for their own meal?  I used to walk kids down to the local ice cream shop and the thing they loved (even more than the ice cream) is being able to pay the cashier themselves.  There was a huge sense of pride in handing over that dollar and receiving change for their purchase.

Not all field trips have to cost money.  One of the things I love about my school is its location.  Like many schools it abuts woods, and it's just a short walk down to the local pond.  During most times of the school year we can stroll through the woods and observe nature: our local ecosystem (temperate forest), its inhabitants, and how they adapt.  Or we can walk just a bit further up the road (using sidewalks and crosswalks) to see how the geese in the local pond have been effected by human beings (wings have been clipped by guns).  And we can also see how that some pond dams out to the local river which then streams into the Connecticut river.  

Then there is the history!  I can walk out my classroom door and walk my class down to the area where the Native Americans used to 'camp' in the winter.  Providing them with a unique tour of their town's history supported by a fantastic story.  We can walk across the street to the town hall, post office, or bank and get a guided tour to discover how these important pieces of the community work.  Or, we can walk through the town (using sidewalks and crosswalks) seeing all of the living history!  Our town is bursting with the old mill, Opera House, and pharmacy turned restaurant.  Not only do I get to tell them all about how their town came to be, but get to share a bit of my family history with them!

Or...what about those days we just take them outside?  Not to play.  Not to read aloud.  Not to enjoy the nice weather while working on something.  But to take a trip as a writer.  Guiding our students how to ask questions about their environment to fuel writing.  Closing their eyes and closely listening to what is happening around them to filter those images in their writing.  Focusing in one place or space to pick up every detail to build a setting.  What is more powerful than teaching our students how to take a field trip in their mind?

And then there are virtual field trips.  There are so many places we would like to talk our students, but just can't.  There is no way I can take them to the Pequot Museum in our state.  It's just too far away, but what the museum has to offer is perfect to build an understanding of Northeastern Native American culture, and what it was like to be a Native American child in the northeast.  I would love to bring my students to the Rain Forest, Savannah, or Coral Reef.  Obviously, we can not afford it.  I am thankful to have virtual field trips to do just that. 

Most importantly, what about all of the other skills that are / can be embedded?  Today we went to see African Cats.  If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it.  I was listening to my students as they were processing the documentary.  They were naturally checking for comprehension, asking questions, and synthesizing (not to mention they jokes they were connecting to the film).  Two hours after watching the film, they remembered more than me and were able to pull out the important ideas of the film to reconstruct the documentary's story structure (the film does a good job of showing how nonfiction writing can be like telling a story).  And then, they were able to take a critical stance on the film and use specific details from it to support their stance.

Really what field trips do for our students is create experience.  But not just any experience.  Authentic experience.  Something that can be easily transferred to their every day life: today and tomorrow.