Fielding in Panama Brings New Perspective to Field Trips
Field trips. As a classroom teacher one of the things I have been charged with doing for my students is planning their field trips. I teach 6th and 7th grade science and each grade level takes 3 trips a year. This results in quite a bit of paper work, many communications home, collecting money, nametags, bag lunches, finding chaperones and if you’re me, sick kids and a chance of a broken down bus. Since returning from Panama, my view of field trips has changed a bit. While traveling in Panama we had both cultural experiences and field experiences. We worked collaboratively with experts in their respective fields who showed us respect and wanted to help us learn and appreciate what they studied. Looking at my trip as a series of experiences got me thinking about how I could give my students experiences similar to those I had in Panama. Experiences that would get them thinking about things, questioning, and wondering; trips that would leave the kids feeling inspired to learn or do more. It is very easy to pick a field trip that is loosely related to the curriculum and comes and goes without much discussion in the classroom. I decided that I owed my kids great trips and set out to give them some unforgettable experiences.
Make the Most out of Field Trips
Make the trip based on the curriculum; consider cross-curricular topics
Find specific standards that apply to the classroom. Just like you use learning targets and objectives in the classroom, let the kids know what they can expect to learn on the field trip. Have a briefing before you depart on the trip and a debriefing when you return. Each day in Panama, Bruce would speak with the group and run through the day with us. This let us know what to look for, things we could expect, and often times he would pose a question for us to consider throughout our day. Each evening we would debrief, sharing our thoughts on the day, sharing pictures, and often times journaling. Encourage the kids to write a quick reflection when you return to school. If that is not possible, share photographs from the trip with them on social media or create a slide show to remind them of their experiences on the trip.
Get the kids outside
Let’s face it; none of us spend as much time outside as we want to. Despite very hot and humid conditions in Panama, we had incredible learning experiences. The key was making sure that we were prepared for the activity we were doing. Proper clothing was essential, as was sun block and bug spray. Allowing students to learn outside helps them forge a relationship with nature and ensuring that everyone is properly outfitted keeps the focus on learning and not discomfort.
Create a research experience
Allowing students to experience the participate in research type data collection connects the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices with a meaningful outdoor learning experience. It allows students to plan and carry out investigations, ask questions, construct explanations, and analyze data. Many local organizations provide this type of fielding experience for school aged students; the hard part can be finding them. This year I worked in conjunction with the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network (FYCCN) to find an outdoor field trip that was close to our school and met the needs of my students. FYCCN works in conjunction with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida and leads effort to reconnect school-aged children with outdoor activities. Our field trip was lead by biologist and certified naturalist who were well versed in the subject matter and able to hold the attention of an enthusiastic group of 7th graders. The students learned about how scientists survey an area for biodiversity, then used seine nets and dip nets to collect samples. The students worked hard and learned more from their experience in the field than I could have covered in the classroom during the same amount of time. Their experiences and knowledge came into the classroom and fueled meaningful discussion and student directed learning.
Make it fun
As teachers we must lead by example, our excitement about the activity and subject matter can often set the tone in the classroom or on a field trip. When I take my students on a field trip, I participate in the activities with them. Look at the schedule for the day of the trip; do the kids have time to socialize, is there a hands on activity, is there a time for a teambuilding activity?
On a recent trip, my kids had two distinct portions to their day. First was a nature hike with a museum tour and the second was seine netting in Tampa Bay. The students had a blast. Instead of touring the museum with a docent and listening to someone talk about each of the exhibits, I have the students work in groups to complete a scavenger hunt in the museum. The scavenger hunt allowed me to group students with others they may not have had the chance to work with frequently and got them looking carefully at the exhibits to find clues on the hunt. Remember, don’t reinvent the wheel, many museums offer lessons or activities on their websites that are ready for you to use.