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.


  1. I think educational field trips are so important. It's important to give kids real world hands on expereince. It may not grab the interest of all the kids but there will always been one or two that it reached out to and touches.

  2. It used to do my head in when teachers would take field trips and not warn all of the rest of us to not give tests that day. :-) I think they are great though...I used to take my seniors to see a play by Shakespeare every year. FUN! Especially for me... I'm a freak. lol

  3. Love field trips! Kids need 'em--that's most of what they remember, at least.

    But...I am not a fan of the 100 band field trips that seem to take place all the time. I mean, yay music, but do they have to miss every other week for it?

  4. Field trips are clearly the best part of school. Memorable ones for me: museums and historical sites. I am a history major, so I guess that's only natural. But I like seeing places people from a long time ago lived in and worked at. Any kind of museum is cool though. Art, science, history, aquarium, etc.

    I love band trips! I was a hardcore bandie for years, and I'm working at my high school's band camp this year as a returning alum. My school, though, only had a band trips once every two years, it would be during winter break, and our competitions were on Saturday. No school missed. Chorus trips were in spring, so they would miss school. Even so, it's worth it, because the two band trips I went on were the greatest experiences of my life--my band could go to a parking lot in Ohio and have fun; we were very close knit. I'll remember band trips more than I'll remember homecoming, prom, or any of those other traditionally important parts of high school.

  5. I'm just dropping in for a quick second to let you know that I tagged you for an award, "Queen of All Things Awe-Summm" on my blog and am hoping you will pass it on.

    No internet use at work (new edict from HR) means very little blogging time, but I will catch up this weekend.

  6. I remember not going to the King Tut exhibit when it hit town. At the time, I didn't want to do all that walking (I was on crutches). Now I wish I had.

    The only field trip that comes to mind was when we went to a local botanical garden and library (that houses the original Blue Boy painting). All I remember is rolling down the tallest hill we could find.

    I think field trips are good if you pick places that will hold a child's interest. Kids just love the fact that they're not in school.

  7. I loved field trips as a child. Of course I was really interested in science so loved going to the Boston Museum of Science EVERY YEAR!

  8. In my (long ago) school days, field trips didn't happen. But I see the advantages (such as a broader mind and more curioisty) that my nieces and nephew had with a more modern schooling, which included overseas strips, field trips and other interesting happenings beyond the classroom walls. So, I think its a good thing!

  9. There is using your ears and eyes to listen to words, and read words or pictures, and then there is touch, feel, smell, in addition to sight and sound. What an enriching way to learn :)

    But I can see your frustration as legit too, because the focus of your students is shifting more to summer than school, and you have a lot of materiel left to cover, and that is hard too.

  10. I think field trips are essential to both learning and for students to enjoy school. Kids need a break from routine just as much as we do. We got our son into an environmental sciences magnet program, in part, so he could get away from pure academics, and have some hands-on learning. He's also in the band, and involved in an active middle ages re-enactment club. The Marine Biology field trip sounded great!

  11. I cannot for the life of me remember going on any field trips when I was in school! But I know we must have!
    I think it's good to get kids out every now and then to see how the "real" world lives... and I think it's important to have field trips that will really influence them in some of their important life-decisions down the road...
    I am so glad you had such a great time, although I wouldn't have been thrilled about the whole boat thing... not a fan of water, ya see...