Getting the Most from your Field Trip
Taking learning outside the classroom is a vital part of the educational experience. Whether it’s a visit to a museum, art gallery, national park or the local shopping centre, field trips effectively turn the world into a living, breathing classroom.
But field trips take a lot of planning and execution – and often they don’t come cheap – so it’s important to get it right.
How do you ensure you get the most from your field trip experience? How do you keep students engaged and interested during the trip itself?
And how do you keep the learning going long after you have returned to the classroom?
We spoke with some of Australia’s key educational venues about how to get the most from your field trip, and they offered some great advice:
Sydney Living Museums is a group of 12 museums, houses and gardens that take visitors on a remarkable journey through time and place to experience a whole other life.
Edward Washington, Audience Development Officer - Learning, The Mint said planning was key to keeping students engaged and interested during a field trip.
“Don’t try to plan too many activities on the one day as students will not benefit from simply hitting as many locations as possible; and carefully consider the time required for moving between sites as museums have set times for their programs. If you arrive late you might miss something fantastic!” he said.
“Lunch is also an important part of the day for students, and planning an appropriate lunch break will ensure they’re able to engage throughout the afternoon.”
Edward said it was important to undertake pre-planning to prepare students for their learning experience.
“Pre-visit activities that build on prior knowledge can be a huge benefit for the students. Many of Sydney Living Museum’s education programs have simple and effective materials for teachers to use in class as either pre-visit or post-visit activities. For example, a Stage 2 group visiting Elizabeth Farm for Transported in Time can take advantage of the online pre-visit material and allocate students a ‘convict identity’ from the muster list to research. On the day students then take on the role of their character, immersing themselves in the experience and learning about life as a convict assigned to a private estate.” Visit slm.is/education for more detail.
Sydney Living Museums runs 28 education programs across eight museum sites, for students from Stage 1 to Stage 6. The syllabus focus for these programs is History, however there are also programs dedicated to Creative Arts, Commerce, Legal Studies, Ancient History and Food
“Our ethos is to create a student-centred learning environment, provide opportunities for ‘hands-on’ and place inquiry-based learning at the heart of any program. Sydney Living Museums offers a travel subsidy for Stages 1,2 and 3 as part of the Unlocking Heritage initiative (available for schools with an FOEI of 100+), is a partner in the Museums Discovery Centre at Castle Hill and is working with Aboriginal cultural organisation Murru Mittigar, which is now delivering programs led by dedicated Aboriginal education guides at Rouse Hill House and Farm.” (Visit murumittigar.com.au/school-programs for more detail).
Edward said the learning can continue back in the classroom: “Develop a class investigation, project or task around your visit and make sure students are aware that the activities they will be doing throughout the excursion will be important sources of information for the classroom activities that will follow.”
Andrew Pearce, Learning Manager for Ballarat’s Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE), said educators played a key role in keeping students engaged during a field trip.
“It’s tempting to simply hand the students over, but the best way to keep your students engaged is to be engaged yourself. If a teacher tunes out from the program, students see this and it creates expectations. If you show you’re happy to be there and excited, this filters to the students and helps them get excited and want to participate too,” he said.
To maximise learning, Andrew said it was critical to prepare students for their field trip before the trip itself.
“We’re here to support learning in the classroom so it’s not very effective if there’s a disconnect between the two, be that bringing knowledge from the classroom or taking learning back to the classroom. If students have some background knowledge or expectation it empowers them to ask questions or answer questions and get involved, which in the long run enhances the whole experience for all involved.”
MADE has five programs that all enrich the learning experience of students beyond simply walking into MADE.
“We are particularly excited about our newly created ‘The Power to Inspire’ program which gives students not only the opportunity to see good speeches in action and how they have shaped nations, but also to have a go themselves and see how the power of words can influence and inspire others.”
Andrew said the best way to keep the learning going after the excursion itself was to value what happens on excursion and keep the conversation going back in the classroom.
“What did your students like or not like? What did they learn? Tell them what YOU liked or learnt and get them thinking about what they have seen or experienced. An excursion should form part of a learning journey for students, connecting learning before, during and after. Having extra resources for teachers available online or given on excursion also helps to further the connection back to the classroom.”
Natasha Watson, Marketing Manager for the National Capital Education Tourism Project, outlined the importance of mixing learning with physical exercise on a field trip.
“The cultural institutions and attractions in Canberra have developed highly engaging programs for students at varying age levels. Teachers should provide adequate preparation for their students on what they will experience during the trip to provide context and an initial level of understanding. The programs at Canberra attractions are also often jam-packed with activities, encouraging students to engage their minds.
Teachers should incorporate time in the daily program for students to expend some physical energy by either choosing an outdoor attraction or allowing time for this during breaks. Fresh air is great for clearing the mind.”
Natasha said teachers could prepare their students by discussing the themes and concepts they would experience during the excursion to increase their engagement levels.
“Many of the cultural institutions in Canberra have pre and post visit material. In addition, as the home of government, Canberra is often a focus of the news and current affairs. Students should be encouraged to watch news and read newspapers to be exposed to the places and people they may see on their excursion. This can lead to many wonderful light bulb moments as students make the connection.”
Natasha said the cultural institutions and attractions in Canberra provided a varying range of programs. These included interactivity with real objects, role plays, mock debates, digital activities and visits to important government buildings.
“These programs have been developed with the curriculum in mind, using a range of teaching techniques and providing a complement to classroom learning. Some of these activities can also be translated into the classroom providing a further connection between the excursion and learning outcomes.”
She said the Canberra excursion experience in itself provided an excellent foundation for ongoing learning.
“Research recently completed by the University of Queensland on civics and citizenships excursions to Canberra found that students who had participated in the excursion, on return, had more of a general interest in world and local news, how parliament works, their local community and how they can be better citizens. The cultural institutions and attractions in Canberra have wonderful digital resources that can assist teachers re-introduce themes into the classroom throughout the remainder of the year, and for future school years.”
Field trips take time, patience and preparation. But the pay off for students and educators alike is a vibrant outdoor classroom learning experience. Good luck and enjoy!
Prepare name tags for your students before you leave. This will help staff at the field trip destination better interact with your students.