March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

So You’re Going on a Field Trip. What Will the Students Accomplish?

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Jeff Orlinsky

Field trips can be a great learning experience for everyone. Most museums, zoos, aquariums, or “parks” have lesson plans or activities. Some have developed thematic lessons for use on site, as well as in the classroom. These are tried and true lessons, almost foolproof, and may already fit your lesson plan completely. You may also choose to use a teacher-created lesson; these are our pride and joy. Most teachers have been to the field trip destination previously and developed a lesson that may be a better fit with what they’re doing in the classroom.

Regardless of the developer, such activities can vary from scavenger hunts; fill in the blanks, to collection of data. The observations in the field are brought back to the classroom for discussions and incorporated into the curriculum.

With the Next Generation Science Standards, teachers have the opportunity to make science teaching more meaningful and can tie in well with field trips. Recall that there are 8 science and engineering practices:

  • Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Here are some ideas of how to combine these NGSS Practices with your field trips.

Visiting a zoo or an aquarium?

Visit Sportsman’s Paradise Online or simply Google search for any wild animal webcam or zoo-cam.

The goal of this inquiry lesson is for students to develop a scientific protocol to compare organisms from two or more different places and use current BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices). Once at the zoo or aquarium, the students will answer the question: are the animals we see on our field trip doing the same behaviors that we previously saw on the web cam? To prepare:

  • Have student watch animals on the web cam before your field trip.
  • Help students focus on a type of behavior they wish to compare.
  • Have the students brainstorm ways to collect the data once they are in the field.
  • While on the field trip, have the students make observations of the animals. If possible, have them form groups of two or three. One person views the webcam on their phone or tablet and makes observations while the others are observing the animals in the enclosure.
  • Upon the return from the field trip, debrief. Have the students discuss ways to improve their data collection and observations skills.
  • If you make this trip yearly, have the next field trip build on the work of the previous year’s data and observations.
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Heading to a Park?

The goal of this inquiry lesson is for students to compare their school grounds to the park you are visiting. This works great if you can identify the plants around your school campus. Ask the district’s groundskeepers for help.

  • Have the students develop and then use a protocol to count and measure the different types of plants and animals around campus. If you have the equipment, soil, air, and water tests provide more opportunities for students to develop laboratory skills.
  • Repeat the data collection process at the park you are visiting. It’s best to check with the park beforehand to make sure that you can sample and run experiments before doing this activity.
  • Upon your return, discuss the similarities and differences between the two locations.
  • The next time you go, use the previous year’s observations and data as the stepping stone to monitor changes over time.

On your way to the Museum?

Build a museum display. After your students have completed your lessons, have them pick a display and begin to critique the display in terms of building science literacy.

  • What is the purpose of the display?
  • What are the main scientific concepts that are being used in the display?
  • Does this display correct any misconceptions? Does it create misconceptions?

I hope these ideas have given you some ways to make your next field trip a different type of experience.

Written by Jeff Orlinsky

Jeff Orlinsky

Jeff Orlinsky teaches science at Warren High School and is CSTA’s High School Director.

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