Think about the last time you went on a vacation. Did you simply drive to the airport one afternoon, take the next available flight, and attempt to get your bearings once landed at your destination? Of course not! Most of us can agree that in order to have a meaningful vacation and to get the most value out of our travels, we need adequate preparation. This will likely involve reading guidebooks to appreciate the cultural or historical value of a given place, planning experiences to enjoy at our destination (usually things we could not do at home such as scuba diving or whale watching), and, if our travelling companion chose the destination, we might even need some convincing that this trip is worth our time and money.

While this may seem like “common sense” when applied to personal travels, when it comes to planning fieldtrips, too often teachers supply students with little or no “scaffolding” for the experience. Students are ill-equipped to fully appreciate the significance and value of their trip, and as a result, are robbed of a potentially-rich learning experience.

There can be numerous benefits to taking students on a trip. Fieldtrips have been shown to improve student learning (by promoting personal investment in a given activity), promote real-world connections, encourage students’ holistic development, and bond student groups. In order for students to reap these benefits, however, teachers must prepare students effectively, as well as helping them to “unpack” their experiences after the fact and ensure that they have found value in the experience.

Here, we look at three key benefits of fieldtrips, and note ways to prepare students effectively for such trips, as well as ways to check for student learning.

Anchoring Course Concepts

Fieldtrips to art galleries or historic sites enable students to see “the real thing”- to witness the authentic place or product being studied. This helps them to appreciate the context of the art or artifacts reviewed in class and further stimulates their learning in the given field. Similarly, trips to places like amusement parks or wind tunnels can help scientific concepts like gravity “come to life” and take on new meaning for students. In both types of trips, concepts from lectures and textbooks become situated in reality for students, infusing these ideas with more real-world significance and value.

Preparation Suggestions:

  • Show students examples/reproductions.
  • Study the history of the area.
  • Make sure the abstract concepts are understood.

Signs of a Successful Trip:

  • Students refer to their in-class experiences while on the trip.
  • Students can relate their future in-class learning to their experience on the trip.
  • Students wish to return to these types of sites to further their learning.

Using the Equipment of the Pros

While of course schools strive to provide students with the appropriate “tools of the trade” in each course, there is nothing like working with the resources of professionals. In the age of smartphones and video-editing apps, for example, students can easily create film footage in almost any context. Their creative capacities can reach new heights, however, when working with the boom mics, cameras, and editing technology available at a professional venue such as Toronto’s T.I.F.F. Bell Lightbox. Visits to studio spaces, performance venues, or even places such as court houses (for a Law or Civics class) can expose students to the equipment used in the “real world,” helping them to better appreciate the application of their in-class learning, and, often times, giving them the chance to use such equipment to create their own projects.

Preparation Suggestions:

  • Introduce students to models or illustrations of the equipment so they easily recognize it and appreciate its purpose.
  • Discuss safety concerns and other ways in which professionals care for the given tools.
  • If applicable, ensure that students have some understanding of how they will be using the equipment.

Signs of a Successful Trip:

  • Students can demonstrate an understanding of the purpose and value of the equipment.
  • Students can make connections between their in-class resources and those used beyond the classroom.
  • Students have used the tools available to improve achievement of curriculum expectations.

Experiencing the Professional Application of Course Concepts

All too often, there is a gap between students’ understanding of how curriculum concepts are applied within a given course, and how these “come to life” in the professional context. Students can study a play in class, read a script, and even watch a recorded dramatization, but until they are physically a part of a professional theatrical space, they may still not fully appreciate the context and culture of performance. The same gap may occur in students’ study of careers within subjects like Math or Science. A visit to a lab, in that case, may help students to understand the day-to-day realities of a career in the sciences, and give students a fuller understanding of where their studies could lead.

Preparation Suggestions:

  • Involve students in a study of careers within a given field.
  • Discuss with students the value and purpose of the venue they are about to visit.
  • Use study guides or other resources provided by the given institution to improve student learning and to enrich the value of a trip to the site.

Signs of a Successful Trip:

  • Students are able to describe the requirements for given careers in the field.
  • Students seek further opportunities to learn about careers in the field.
  • Students display piqued interest in curriculum concepts.

Ready for Your Next Trip?

By being mindful of appropriate preparation and educational scaffolding, teachers can ensure that off-campus trips are meaningful, valuable, and unforgettable. At Fieldstone School, administrators and teachers work together throughout the year to plan trips to venues such as arts organizations, historical sites, municipal courts, and centres of conservation and outdoor learning. Our students’ feedback on these trips, and the enthusiasm of both teachers and students, assures us that we are on the right track. Through experiential learning that is well-thought-out and carefully executed, we improve student learning and fulfill our goal of preparing our students to be future global leaders.

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