Tag Archive | Field Trips

Best Field Trip Ever!

We had a rather impromptu field trip today to view The Wall That Heals.  This week the traveling version of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial is in the town that I teach.  I was planning on exploring Memorial Day with my students anyways. And absolutely leaped at the opportunity to bring the true meaning of Memorial Day to my students. 
I honestly did not know what to expect when we got to the wall, but had a feeling it would be an excellent learning experience.  Our visit exceeded that!  A trailer was set up with basic information about the Vietnam War, short biographies about those killed and action, and examples of war correspondence.  The children were in awe of how young the soldiers were, something that they couldn’t grasp from the books and conversations we had.  Upon realizing this, their understanding of the importance of this wall changed.
Shortly after we moved up to view the artifacts.  Two Vietnam Veterans were stationed with the artifacts.  These gentlemen were incredibly gracious with their time!  They shared their experiences with us, in an age-appropriate way.  They answered every question our students had, and would have continued answering them all day if we hadn’t needed to return to school.  They demonstrated how some of the equipment was worn and used, captivating all of the students.  You could hear the relief from one of my students when he said, “Finally, something normal that we use everyday!” when he was told that the “brown thing” was a towel.  But he learned how important a towel was when someone is at war in a humid climate.  
 Finally, we made our way up to the wall.  The children were eager to see it.  Before seeing it they were wondering just how similar it was to the one in Washington D.C.  One of the Veterans who was speaking to us by the artifacts traveled with us to the wall.  Patiently waiting in the middle while the children explored the replica.  He came up to share the history of the wall.  The children were captivated!  And the Veteran explained the importance of the wall in a way that third and fourth graders could understand, making it clearly relative to their own lives.  We easily could have spent the entire morning there!  

If The Wall That Heals comes to your neighborhood, I highly recommend you go.  It is a perfect way for all of our students to honor the men and women who serve our country.  However, with Memorial Day coming up there are a variety of other resources to use with students.  A couple of books that I enjoy reading are The Wall by Eve Bunting and Postcards from a War.  Another great resource is Virtual Wall, a website designed to help users search those honored on the wall as well as share short biographies about those killed in action.  BrainPOP! has a video about the Vietnam War along with activities.  There are other resources on Ben’s Guide, National Geographic Kids, DPL KidsBlog, and National Parks.  I am lucky to have a gentleman who served in the Korean War who works in my classroom as well as having two relatives that served.  But if you are not as fortunate, Skype or invite a Veteran in to your classroom.
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Forcing Field Trips

I am a huge advocate for field trips.  I think we have been on five just this last week (including virtual trips and nature walks).  We have a couple of more field trips coming up over the next two weeks and have even more virtual trips and nature walks planned.  Yet, within this I have a query. 
Field trips are an extension of learning.  They are enrichment.  An alternative route for children to acquire knowledge.  I believe that field trips are a crucial piece to the learning process, and every child should be afforded the opportunity the participate.  
Let’s take money out of the equation for a moment.  If field trips are all of these things, and more, can we require children to participate in them?  If we have a trip planned to go to the ballet and a child does not desire to go, can we demand that they go because it is part of the curriculum?  If we have a trip planned to go to a ball game can we threaten a child with a mountain of paperwork if they choose not to go?  
There’s a part of me that says they should have the choice.  If they choose not to participate in a shared experience wouldn’t it be a consequence of that decision to be unable to fully participate in any learning experiences that follow?  The other part of me says it is our responsibility to convince the children how unfortunate it is for them if they choose not to participate in a field trip until they relent and go.  We need to do a better job engaging them in the content so that they want to go.  Should we force children to attend field trips?

Every Day Should Be A Field Trip

Field Trips can be debatable.  
  • Testing.  How can teachers justify taking children out of the classroom for something fun when there are standardized tests that need to be passed?  
  • Money.  Some kiddoes, schools, or districts just can not afford to go on trips.  What happens if so and so can’t pay to go?  How can we possibly leave them behind for something out of their control?  Particularly in tough economic times like these, how can we ask or expect parents to dish out money for a field trip?
  • Curriculum.  What about everything I’m supposed to teach?  How am I going to teach x, y, z when we are not in the classroom?
Each concerns, of varying degree, to many educators.  But, my question is, “How can we not do field trips?”  And not do them often?  I love field trips!  How can you not love a field trip?  
With field trips we get to take children on adventures.  Adventures than many, if not all, would not be unable to take outside of school.  How many students have never been to McDonald’s?  The movie theater?  A museum?  A nature walk?  You would be surprised.   Each year, I have a few children who have never been to the local library or a movie theater, and were thankful to have had the experience.
Even if they have done those things, isn’t there some way that we can involve them in the experience that is an alternative to their typical experience?  Sure, they may go to McDonald’s, but how many kids actually get to pay for their own meal?  I used to walk kids down to the local ice cream shop and the thing they loved (even more than the ice cream) is being able to pay the cashier themselves.  There was a huge sense of pride in handing over that dollar and receiving change for their purchase.
Not all field trips have to cost money.  One of the things I love about my school is its location.  Like many schools it abuts woods, and it’s just a short walk down to the local pond.  During most times of the school year we can stroll through the woods and observe nature: our local ecosystem (temperate forest), its inhabitants, and how they adapt.  Or we can walk just a bit further up the road (using sidewalks and crosswalks) to see how the geese in the local pond have been effected by human beings (wings have been clipped by guns).  And we can also see how that some pond dams out to the local river which then streams into the Connecticut river.  
Then there is the history!  I can walk out my classroom door and walk my class down to the area where the Native Americans used to ‘camp’ in the winter.  Providing them with a unique tour of their town’s history supported by a fantastic story.  We can walk across the street to the town hall, post office, or bank and get a guided tour to discover how these important pieces of the community work.  Or, we can walk through the town (using sidewalks and crosswalks) seeing all of the living history!  Our town is bursting with the old mill, Opera House, and pharmacy turned restaurant.  Not only do I get to tell them all about how their town came to be, but get to share a bit of my family history with them!
Or…what about those days we just take them outside?  Not to play.  Not to read aloud.  Not to enjoy the nice weather while working on something.  But to take a trip as a writer.  Guiding our students how to ask questions about their environment to fuel writing.  Closing their eyes and closely listening to what is happening around them to filter those images in their writing.  Focusing in one place or space to pick up every detail to build a setting.  What is more powerful than teaching our students how to take a field trip in their mind?
And then there are virtual field trips.  There are so many places we would like to talk our students, but just can’t.  There is no way I can take them to the Pequot Museum in our state.  It’s just too far away, but what the museum has to offer is perfect to build an understanding of Northeastern Native American culture, and what it was like to be a Native American child in the northeast.  I would love to bring my students to the Rain Forest, Savannah, or Coral Reef.  Obviously, we can not afford it.  I am thankful to have virtual field trips to do just that. 
Most importantly, what about all of the other skills that are / can be embedded?  Today we went to see African Cats.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.  I was listening to my students as they were processing the documentary.  They were naturally checking for comprehension, asking questions, and synthesizing (not to mention they jokes they were connecting to the film).  Two hours after watching the film, they remembered more than me and were able to pull out the important ideas of the film to reconstruct the documentary’s story structure (the film does a good job of showing how nonfiction writing can be like telling a story).  And then, they were able to take a critical stance on the film and use specific details from it to support their stance.
Really what field trips do for our students is create experience.  But not just any experience.  Authentic experience.  Something that can be easily transferred to their every day life: today and tomorrow.