George Lucas Educational Foundation
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I am writing this post from the mountains of northern Thailand, ten days into a four-week adventure with my seven-year-old son and husband. This is the first serious travel we've done with our son -- the first time in a country where we don't speak the language, don't have family, and don't understand many of the customs. Pre-child, I was a traveler.

I'd really like to slow down a little and surrender to a day at the pool -- and visit fewer temples and markets. These concessions, however, are unequivocally worth it. It's worth it to see my son experience a very different culture and learn about himself through this carefully planned field trip.

And that's what's loud on my mind these days: field trips! The awesome unique power of field tripping! Being a mother has made the perpetual teacher brain even harder to turn off. I can't stop thinking about how to maximize the learning opportunities everywhere. Prior to our trip, at the end of the school year, my son did a report on Thailand. Then, on the airplane, (I'm embarrassed to admit this) I made my son list everything he wanted to learn about Thailand. Yes, we are making a K-W-L.

And then, after several days of touring Buddhist temples and observing monks, I was spontaneously compelled to make a Venn Diagram and we compared Buddhism to our own religious tradition.

In the Field

Experiencing the Venn Diagram in this setting was absolutely thrilling because what happened was that my son found many more similarities than differences. Beautiful! I'd never seen the Venn Diagram as a tool for building world peace. Sure, we could have done this in a classroom, but to do it here and to learn in this way, I know the impact will be long lasting and have a unique impact.

So maybe we can't take our students across the world, but life-changing field trips can be done within our own cities and states. Last year, Lorena, a student I taught 15 years ago, contacted me through Facebook. She was in her final year of college and plans to be a teacher. She was in the third grade class that I took on a three-day trip to Yosemite National Park in the middle of winter. It was a magical trip and many of my students in Oakland, CA, had never seen snow. Lorena wrote, "You changed our lives with that trip. It's what made me want to be a teacher, to be able to give that same gift to other kids."

As a teacher, I sought all opportunities to get my students out of their familiar surroundings and into different neighborhoods, cities, and natural environments. We also did the usual museum trips and science center stuff, but I loved the trips which pushed them into unfamiliar territory.

Nudging them out of their comfort zones taught them about others as well as themselves. It helped them see the expansiveness of our world and perhaps inspired them to think about what might be available to them out there. Many of my students (all low-income, from deeply urban neighborhoods) had never left our city. I had many second graders who'd never seen the ocean, a 30-minute drive away.

So much happens on field trips: the learning is social, emotional, and academic. One year, my sixth-grade partner teacher and I took our 45 students to the Grand Canyon for almost a week. The academic content was connected to the science standards (landforms, erosion, etc.), and they learned a whole lot. But the social and emotional learning -- the bonding and connecting that happened on that trip -- was invaluable and definitely not something we could have replicated within the confines of the classroom.

Planning Ahead

Summer is a fantastic time for teachers to plan field trips. There are many opportunities that are free for schools if you sign up early enough. For the trips I did to Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, we raised thousands of dollars and easily got donations. But start asking early!

Planning field trips in the summer is also a fun way to start thinking through curriculum and connecting the classroom learning to real experiences. And trips don't have to be all entertainment. Field trips that engage students in experiential learning are also powerful; they become fieldwork.

Today, we're off to feed and bathe elephants a a sanctuary for abused elephants. It was founded and is run by a tiny Thai woman who we've been reading about. She's almost single-handedly saving thousands of elephants in Thailand. When we return to our hotel, my son will add to his long list of "What I Learned" on the K-W-L.

What do you see as the impact of field trips? What are favorite field trips you've taken kids on? When planning field trips, what tips do you have for teachers? Please share your thoughts and ideas!

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Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

Great post, Elena! Here is a link to a blog post, I did as a collaborator with Shelly Terrell on The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators #30goals
Goal 16: Change your environment...take a field trip! #30Goals
I saw first hand, as a chaperon for my son's teacher on this field trip, how it transformed those kids lives. Many had not been north of the 605 freeway in So very well protected lives in a small suburban town. Thanks for sharing the idea that field trips must continue to be shared. Even a small walking field trip to a local spot, can create tremendous opportunities for learning and fresh perspectives.

Abbey's picture

Elena, your trip to Thailand sounded wonderful and I couldn't agree with you more about the power of the field trip! I can also relate about the Venn Diagram/K-W-L thing, as I recently visited China and all I could think about was what a great teaching opportunity my trip was. I spent most of my time there taking notes on the culture that I could use to tell my students about it.

When I was in school I remember how exciting field trips were and how much I learned from them. It was always easier to complete assignments based on experiences, than from things you read in a textbook or saw on a video. It is a different experience entirely. I have noticed, when working in different classrooms, that it isn't even necessarily about leaving the school. I worked with a classroom that took a 'treasure-hunt field trip' all around the school and you could actually see the students processing and learning more than they had in the classroom.

All these kids need is a change of scenery!

Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

Elena, Wonderful and envious trip! How often I daydream wishing I could take my students so many places in Southern Calif.

I have taken my wonderful 7/8 graders to The Getty and The Tolerance Museum. I did not mind the paper work involved. But, the lack of faculty support was absolutely mind-boggling. My only rationalazation was that they were never on a field trip when they were in school and just did not know what they were missing. It was a nightmare fighting to take children to a museum...a museum.....

The other difficulty is the bus expense. We have no money and the bus costs are $600.00 per bus. There is no way to fund raise. Car washes just do not cut it. Student Council fund raises for Knott's Berry Farm.
I do my best to get into museums. But, I cannot find transportation. Not even on the metro.

I have your passion and enthusiasm. I wish we all had wings. Any suggestions?

Thanks Elena, on behalf of students who love field trips!!

Christyl's picture

What a wonderful trip!!! I love the magnitude the Venn Diagram had on understanding religion. It's unreal to think that such a simple strategy could have such a powerful impact. I was completely enthralled with the idea of having students complete these types of activities on the spot. As you stated, having done the activity in the classroom would not have produced the same connections or impact.

I too teach in an inner city school with extreme poverty, and I have often wanted to expose my students to more "everyday" type field trips. Our school is literally 20 minutes from the beach, yet I could count on one hand the total number of 8th graders that have actually seen the water or felt the sand. After reading your post I was curious about a couple of things: Do you go through an Educational Tours type program to organize your trips or do you come up with these itineraries on your own? Do your field trips take place during the regular school year (i.e. Are you limited by state testing schedules)? Lastly, how do you go about raising "thousands of dollars" for these trips? I would love any suggestions!
Awesome post! Thanks!

Tawny-Raquel Collins's picture

Thank you sharing your excellent "edu-vacation" strategies and experiences with us. As a home educator I believe that incorporating learning into our everyday situations vitally important. We are planning a trip to DC for the MLK Memorial dedication and to NY in advance of the 9-11 Anniversary for our family. The strategies presented--especially the K-W-L--are excellent ideas that we will be able to utilize. What I really appreciate is that this strategy can also be used in the virtual field trip environment. Thank you for the window into your fabulous trip!

Heidi Parker's picture
Heidi Parker
I am a gifted teacher and math coach at my school in Clearwater, FL

Elena, Thanks for letting us into your trip to Thailand. Your son with never forget these experiences. My daughters are small but I can't wait to start traveling with them.

I have always felt that field trips are one of them most meaningful ways we can get our kids emotionally invested in learning. The problem I have always had with it has been money. My fourth grade team took our classes to Kennedy Space Center. It was a great trip. We fundraised selling smencils all year and it really helped to bring the cost of the trip down for the students.

This past year my fifth grade team took our classes to DC using EduTours. We had a blast. Our team leader created a folder for each kid that we stopped and did as we went with journaling involved. It was a great experience.

This year I'm teaching gifted and can't wait to plan some trips with my little group of kids. Now with technology we have access to virtual fieldtrips which I also can't wait to dig into with my students.

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