Thursday, May 21, 2009

Contemplating Field Trips ...

The marine biology class at my school led a field trip today, and I had the distinct pleasure of going along. What a great day : ) !

Basically, a group of students undertook a marine biology enrichment opportunity offered through the school. These students did a great deal of research, created posters on various topics ranging from pH and salinity in the ocean to the nature of currents to sediment to the actual marine life existing in the waters off the coast of New Hampshire. The marine biology students acted as teachers yesterday and today, leading the freshman class (divided in half, hence the yesterday and today) through a series of activities aboard an actual boat on the actual Atlantic.

As we neared the Isles of Shoals, the boat's staff set out a trolling net, explaining the entire process. Students were captivated at the thought that the net would be on the bottom of the ocean, seventy feet down, and that we would see what was going on down there. After six minutes, the students worked together to pull the trolling net back up. The staff emptied the fruits of our labor into a small plastic pool filled with seawater so we could observe what kinds of creatures exist on the bottom of the ocean.

Most noteworthy, in my opinion, was the psychotic devil crab (my name for it). When they emptied the trolling net, this crazy crustacean was in the process of eating a fish:

Even after they disentangled the crab from its prey (and the fish was just fine, by the way), it maintained an aggressive posture that was almost comical because it looked like it was ready to do some boxing:

Anyway, I could go on for hours about all the neat things we saw and did. It was a truly remarkable experience that I will never forget--and, more importantly, neither will the kids, either the "teachers" or the freshmen.

What I can't stop thinking about, though, is how frustrated I was earlier in the week at the prospect of losing precious class time as the school year draws to a close. For all intents and purposes, I lost two full days of instruction time because of this trip. I have a lot of English curriculum still to get through, and it's hard enough trying to slog through without being interrupted by end-of-the-year field trips (and this is definitely not the only one ... it's just the one that impacted my classes the most).

That's part of why I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to go today ... it reminded me of the tremendous value out-of-the-classroom activities can afford. It was also gratifying to see the large amount of learning that went on, and the hard work of many people that enabled this venture to happen.

When I was a junior in high school, my American History and Government class went on a tour of the county--the county jail, the county nursing home, and (for whatever reason) the wastewater treatment plant. I can still remember many details from that trip, certainly far more than class lectures or papers I wrote or tests I took.

How important do you think it is for schools to strike a balance between field trips and classroom learning? What are some memorable field trips you've been on (and I have to note here that among my most memorable field trips are various visits to a nearby amusement park that was billed as a "reward" but had absolutely no educational value ... perhaps that's why I'm a little skeptical of the whole field trip thing)? Were they educational?

In general, what are your thoughts on field trips for students? I'm curious ... especially since I feel much differently on the subject following my experience today than I did a week ago.

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