September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

More Than a Just Field Trip

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Mary Whaley and Lacey Moore

Image courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Image courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Museums, zoos, aquariums, parks, even that local field or stream are engaging sites with which to deepen your science curriculum. Informal science education (ISE) centers and settings offer educators a variety of professional development (PD) and curriculum resources. From field sites for authentic science investigations to resource-rich environments with tools, equipment, live animals, science experts, and technology, these sites offer teachers what the classroom often cannot.

With the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), now more than ever, science-rich institutions can be a trusted resource to provide effective curriculum support. They often showcase the interconnected nature of science in practice and the importance of depth and application of scientific knowledge. (NGSS Appendix A, 2013) All across California, ISE centers are working to align their current curriculum and PD opportunities with NGSS and creating robust offerings to strengthen their implementation.

Students Looking Through Binoculars

Image courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

There are several benefits to visiting ISE centers. They lead to increased student engagement and increases to content knowledge in science, provide a way to re-emphasize science instruction in the classroom, and can promote teacher reflection on their practice through observation of a center’s educators (Kisiel, 2009). Additionally, visits to ISE centers offer learners opportunities for collaborative, student-centered learning and first-hand experience with real objects, phenomena, and animals (Bitgood, Serrell, & Thompson, 1994; Falk & Dierking, 1992; Hein, 1998).

How can teachers maximize this experience for themselves and their students?

Research suggests there are specific ways teachers can make the most of their visits to ISE centers including effective planning, development of explicit goals, and use of pre-/post-activities. This article highlights important reminders regarding these methods to help you integrate such visits into your curriculum

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Getting started

  • Determine your budget. Some centers and locations offer free programs in addition to their fee-based ones. How much will transportation cost? Small grants are sometimes available to help, such as Target’s field trip grants.
  • Timing is everything. Although it is tempting to wait until after testing to take a field trip, consider going earlier in the year to support a specific curriculum topic. A content-aligned trip deepens students’ learning experiences. Often, availability is greater and crowds are smaller in the fall.
  • Visit the site first. A pre-visit allows you to determine exactly how the site does or doesn’t meet your specific needs. Some centers will allow teachers a free pre-visit.
  • Plan repeated visits if possible. A field trip is a novel and exciting experience for students. Often this excitement can override the objectives. Multiple visits allow students to become familiar with the setting and focus on the learning objectives—especially for outdoor field investigations. Visiting field sites several times over the course of a unit, or even the year, provides a deeper connection to that setting and a greater understanding of objectives.

The proof is in the planning.

Students touching starfish.

Image courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“A well-planned trip to a local playground can be more meaningful and educational than a poorly planned trip to a museum.” (Nabors, Edwards & Murray, 2009) Just as in the classroom, planning (or lack of) can make or break a trip to an ISE site. In a study examining elementary teacher motivations for science field trips, Kisiel (2005) describes how the learning outcome is more powerful if a teacher reflects on and identifies motivations for the field trip. The teacher is then more effective in using the informal setting to enhance instruction.

  • Investigate available resources. Centers often provide resources such as curriculum, equipment or artifacts for pre-/post-visit use. Research what other opportunities are offered such as public shows, films, and interpretive talks.
  • Establish and communicate learning objectives. Clearly explain the trip’s purpose and outcomes to students and chaperons. Decide which NGSS practices, disciplinary core ideas and cross-cutting concepts will be your focus. Make sure groups understand their expected assignments and roles.
  • Develop prior knowledge. Organize pre-activities that will prepare students for your objectives. Provide opportunities for students to use new technology or field equipment so they become familiar with it.
  • Inform chaperons ahead of time. The more prepared they are, the more support the chaperons will provide you and your students. If meeting in person isn’t possible, send a letter detailing your expectations with a schedule and map. Create chaperon groups ahead of time. Ask them to assist with activities. If possible, let them choose or suggest ways that they can be helpful in order to make them feel like an important resource.
  • Familiarize students and chaperons with the site. Show a map of exhibits or trails. Identify key areas such as bathrooms, classrooms, and field site boundaries.
  • Plan for the unexpected. What will you do if the weather changes or your program doesn’t start on time? Have filler activities ready for any unplanned down time.

During the visit

  • Contact information. Be sure to have the site’s contact information in case of traffic or bus issues. Make sure chaperons have your and each other’s contact info. Provide student rosters for their groups.
  • Take extra items with you such as maps, sunscreen, umbrellas, technology devices, etc. for those that may forget them.
  • Have all medical and emergency contact information on-hand. Familiarize yourself with the site’s emergency procedures.
  • Designate a meeting place and time.

Post-visit

  • Often the most neglected part of the experience, meaningful follow-up experiences will help students make sense of their learning, apply it in new ways, and develop connections to other content.
  • How will students synthesize their learning? How does this experience connect with prior or future units of study? Consider how you will analyze data collected, use claims and evidence, reflect on learning objectives and summarize the experience.
  • How will students communicate their learning? Consider using technology as you develop activities and assignments that require students to organize and communicate what they took away from the trip.
  • How will you reflect on the experience? Take time to make notes about what worked and what didn’t while the experience is fresh.

Making well-planned visits to ISE centers or field sites an integral part of your curriculum will lower your stress level and enrich your students, allowing everyone to have more fun.

We hope to see you at a local ISE site soon! Find out what’s happening in your area:

www.creec.org/custom

astc.org/sciencecenters/find.php

References:

  • Kisiel, J. (2005). Understanding elementary teacher motivations for science fieldtrips. Science Education, 89(6), 936-955.
  • Kisiel, J. F. (2010). Exploring a school–aquarium collaboration: An intersection of communities of practice. Science Education, 94(1), 95-121.
  • Nabors, M. L., Edwards, L. C., & Murray, R. K. (2009). Making the case for field trips: What research tells us and what site coordinators have to say. Education, 129(4), 661-667.
  • NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press
  • Phillips, M., Finkelstein, D., & Wever‐Frerichs, S. (2007). School site to museum floor: How informal science institutions work with schools. International Journal of Science Education, 29(12), 1489-1507.

Mary Whaley is the Teacher Programs Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Informal Science Education Director for CSTA.

Lacey Moore is the Senior Curriculum Specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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