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Student Engagement

Teacher-Less Field Trips: Classroom Extension Made Easy

When you offer students extra credit to take field trips without you, you give them agency to bring related classroom content alive in new ways.

July 14, 2015

Most of us love field trips, especially our students! But who says that we have to go with them in order for these experiences to be valuable? In my own classroom, I've found that "Teacher-Less Field Trips" (TLFTs) are a great way to help my students dig deeper into the subject matter and get them excited about learning.

Who Benefits and How

My dad once told me not to let college get in the way of my education. While it was great advice then, I think it is advice that we should actively try to instill in our secondary-level students as well. I do this by encouraging my students to take TLFTs to local museums, festivals, university guest lectures, and more. I incentivize them to go on these educational excursions by offering them extra credit, because it allows me to extend the classroom experience in ways not often possible given today’s time and budgetary constraints. These trips allow for a greater appreciation of my subject matter than is possible in the school setting, and perhaps best of all, there's little to no planning involved.

I've found that students who take advantage of TLFTs are evenly split between those whose parents would normally afford them these types of opportunities and those who would never step foot inside a museum without an incentive. I believe these trips benefit both groups. For those who would go anyway, it doesn't bother me if they end up with a 110 percent for the year, because they gave 110 percent in the class! The benefits for those who wouldn't normally go on trips like these are even greater, as I've found that some of my lower-performing students are often those who simply didn't care much about the content matter until they experienced it in a different light.

If you want to try this yourself, I suggest two criteria. My first requirement is that TLFTs should directly relate to a unit that we're currently studying or have already covered. I want my students to dig deeper into something, investigate it, and appreciate it more fully, but with some foundational content knowledge that they can use to navigate and enrich the experience. After lecturing on Dynastic China, for example, I encouraged students to check out the Dayton Art Institute's great collection of Chinese art over spring break. One student went above and beyond by creating a Venn diagram contrasting the Indianapolis Museum of Art's and Dayton Art Institute's Chinese exhibits.

Student's extra credit assignment from going to a museum
Image Credit: Arch Grieve by Sophia and Kathie Lucas (view large version)

My second requirement is that I believe TLFTs should consist of trips that bring about greater awareness of students' local communities. I want them to know about these local opportunities not only for their personal enrichment, but because their visits help strengthen and validate the hard work of these local organizations and groups.

TLFT Opportunities Are Everywhere

If you're having trouble coming up with ideas, consider the following:

  • Have students attend a talk at a local university. The University of Dayton is close to my school and regularly hosts Speaker Series Events, which are free, open to the public, and cover a wide array of subjects.
  • Students in language courses can go on TLFTs by attending local festivals, like Dayton's annual Hispanic Festival or the World A'Fair international festival, providing them with a culturally enriching experience.
  • There is an abundance of science, fitness, and history opportunities at your local parks. Locally, we have the Five Rivers MetroParks, a system that includes places and experiences as diverse as the Cox Arboretum Butterfly House and the Dayton Inventor's River Walk.

For more ideas, check out your local historical society or travelers bureau, or just ask your colleagues. Better yet, explain to your students your dual criteria of going deeper into the content that you cover and fostering greater community awareness -- and allow them to propose their own trip ideas to you. You'll be surprised by what they come up with.

Finally, once students make the trip, verifying their experiences is the fun part. The ways to accomplish this are endless, but my favorite method is to have them take a picture of themselves on their TLFT (which has the additional benefit of providing me with some great pictures for my class blog). TLFTs are often great family experiences, too, and your students' parents will likely thank you for the opportunity to get their students to go on a family outing.

I have one final word of advice. While it's tempting to assign a long list of things for students to do or see on their visit, please avoid doing so. You want them to enjoy this experience for the same reason that reading teachers want to get kids to read anything, which is that the skill of reading is valuable in and of itself. So is taking your learning into your own hands. Have faith that some day they'll begin to see the value in these experiences without being motivated by an external reward. Now go Google "your latest unit" + "your city" to find what TLFT opportunity awaits your students on any given weekend.

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