Monday, June 12, 2017

The Value of Field Trips (aka the 'real-world') in Education

I have been working on some ideas and plans for our science group for the next academic year.  Our kiddos want to touch on a wide variety of topics (genetics, engineering, chemistry, geology, ecology, biochemistry, and the list goes on and on) and I have all sorts of ideas on how to broach some of the topics.  I want to do some rockhounding, visit some mines, and hike glades and prairies.  And I have a list of museums to go to.  Just thinking about all the adventures to be had made me think about the value of field trips in education and how it looks for homeschoolers.  So I have decided to write a small series of entries about those very subjects.  I intend on starting with exploring the value of field trips in education then moving on to how it might look for homeschoolers, including how it has looked for our family.  Finally, I hope to compile and share a list of possible field trips, particularly in my state of Missouri.

Just the thought of field trips conjures up memories of my school years.  I can vividly recall the excitement of a field trip day and the intense anticipation that would mount as I would board the school bus.  Part of that excitement was surely due to the field trip breaking up the monotony of the routine of school but also because, it seemed to me, that we were being allowed to have a peek into the broader world, the world we would one day enter fully after graduating from school.  I loved field trips - the different sights, sounds, smells and experiences seemed to fill me up in a way that was not typical while at school.  After graduating and entering that broader world I didn't give much thought to field trips until my older children entered elementary school and I began chaperoning their field trips.  I loved these moments watching my kids actively interact with the world.  I intuitively understood that all of these interactions, including those provided at home, aided them in relating to the knowledge they were being to exposed to in school, in their texts, and more readily allowed them to make connections.  I believed in the value of field trips and didn't give it more thought until I began homeschooling.  Although I intuitively knew that they were valuable and that I definitely wanted to include them in our educational journey, I was now faced with the reality of logging hours and being able to defend to the state why I logged what I logged in the event of an audit.  So I did what would become one of my favorite exercises in my early years of homeschooling - I looked at it through the lens of the traditional school.  I asked, and then researched, what is the educational philosophy behind the use of field trips.

Apparently field trips, as we know them in modern education, were introduced in 1827 by George Shillibeer at a Quaker School in London.  A field trip is defined as any teaching and learning excursion that is outside of the regular classroom.  It is oftentimes more experiential than what takes place in the classroom.  It is used to facilitate the learning of abstract concepts and seems to increase interest and curiosity.  Field trips deepen knowledge.  The literature repeatedly states that field trips provide students with real-world learning.  A fairly recent study showed that field trips increased retention of knowledge, increased critical thinking and historical empathy and tolerance.  Another study suggested that field trips may improve test scores and yet another study, referenced in this article, suggested that youth who take field trips have better grades, higher graduation rates from high school and college, and a greater income.  This article also shares a quote from Margy Natalie, acting onsite learning manager at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.  She states, "Field trips give students the opportunity to learn in a natural environment and experience things first-hand and from primary resources, rather than texts; real objects rather than photos."  This article states, "As teachers, a field trip is one of the best tools that we can use to provide every student with real-world experiences.  Whether that's a trip to the local grocery store, waterfront park, a library, a museum, a theater, a community garden or a restaurant, each experience that a student participates in contributes to their understanding of the world.  When students leave the classroom, they see the connections between what is happening at school and in the 'real-world'.  They begin to see that what they learn within the walls of the classroom can help them solve the problems they see in the world around them and can have a direct impact on who they become as people."

The research that the traditional schools draw upon clearly supports field trips, or exposure to the 'real-world', as a valuable part of education with many benefits.  That research supports what I intuitively knew many, many years ago.  Quite frankly, most of that research just supports common sense, doesn't it?  The affirming thing about this is that homeschoolers naturally and routinely have their children interacting with the 'real-world' and more readily have the ability to get out from behind the desk to go on field trips.  Now, with a firm understanding of the educational philosophy, and the accompanying research, behind field trips, I could defend my use of them if that ever became necessary.  Next, and what I will elucidate in the next installment, I had to determine what constituted a field trip for us as homeschoolers and how would I log them.

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