Friday, July 20, 2007

What Makes a Good Field Trip?

Yesterday I completed a week long science course called the Southwest Ohio Science Institute. The purpose of the course was to give area teachers the knowledge we need to implement an inquiry-based approach to teaching science standards. During the week we covered such topics as the properties of water, the cycles of the earth and its place in the solar system, and thermal energy. Activities were often conducted using inquiry, meaning they were hands-on and followed a series steps--engage, explore, explain, and elaborate. The only day that we did not learn through this was approach was Tuesday.

That day, by far the most enjoyable for me, was field trip day. Sixteen of us were given a tour of a wastewater treatment facility and the Bolton Water Treatment Plant with a trip to the Great Miami River to do some stream testing tucked in the middle. The tours of the treatment plants, conducted by knowledgeable representatives, did far more for my learning of the water treatment process than any diagram, explanation, or even video could have done. Physically moving around the facilities and seeing the different steps involved engaged me at a different level.

The trip to the river was even more powerful. As a teacher, almost ALL of the learning I do is pedagogical. The goal of so many courses or workshops for teachers is to improve our teaching by introducing us to new instructional strategies. On Tuesday, I had a different experience--I got to do the work of a real scientist.

Our group got to do some basic water quality tests on the river. We did this in two ways: (1) wading into the river and searching for certain pollution tolerant macro invertebrates and (2) running chemical tests on the water, looking for certain pollutants. It might not have been sophisticated work, but it still gave me the feeling that I was doing something a real scientist might do.

The whole day got me thinking: What makes a good field trip? It seems like so many of the field trips I've been on with my students were planned with good intentions, but were really no better than a watching a video (museum tours). Other trips were planned because the experience was one we thought the kids should have (watching a film on an IMAX screen). However, are these the type of trips kids should be taking? Would a scientist consider a trip to the movies field work?.


zac said...

We often assume that our students can easily abstract meaning from books, websites and videos.

However, as you point out...

"the field trips I've been on with my students were planned with good intentions, but were really no better than a watching a video"

Your own experience in the river was powerful because it was physical, hands-on and experiential. Get your students out doors, away from the books, conducting real science. That's how they'll learn most effectively.

meeyauw said...

Good question. In my very rural school I find the administration and staff favoring field trips to the big city because the kids don't get out. Well, they have seen more movies than I see, and go shopping more often than me. They know where every mall and MacDonald's is in the state.

Stating educational goals does not overcome this desire by the adults to "help" the kids. Something more is needed.