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My Love of Field Trips
Overall, I am a major proponent of field trips as tools in the arsenal of educators to best teach children. Personally, I have experience leading school based trips in the mid atlantic as an educational tour guide and throughout Europe as a teacher and coach. Among other destinations, I have led students to Rome, Budapest, Florence, Venice, Salzburg, London, Washington DC, Williamsburg and Gettysburg.
While working in the heart of Europe at The American School in Switzerland, my wife and I had the opportunity to create powerful learning environments through cross-curricular planning and experiential education through travel. One of many experiences I remember fondly was when I was able to plan and lead a trip to Rome for 9th graders through our school’s mandatory travel program. Prior to the trip in the spring, students studied this history of the Roman empire in their Ancient Civilizations history course while simultaneously reading Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar in their English classes. Preparation meetings with faculty and students in the weeks before departure helped set the stage for our travel and focus their studies on the relevance of the trip. Once on the trip, we were able to view the Circus Maximus, visit the Via Appia, explore the catacombs and tour the Vatican and other ancient sites in addition to the more modern attractions (last several centuries) of the city.
By drawing on students’ prior knowledge from their coursework, connections to their academic studies were made and learning was enhanced. Additionally, from these topics we could spring into ethical discussions on slavery with students at the Colosseum and human rights issues at Nero’s Golden Palace. Although these discussions must be catered to the students’ ages and backgrounds, all education must seek to serve the long-term development of the students and impact their future lives. Although each subject can be thoroughly studied in isolation for future applicability, powerful learning occurs when students can transfer knowledge to new situations, and few opportunities that exist for this transfer to their future lives are as valuable as character education.
Additionally, our studies easily appealed to different student learning styles as we were visually able to view great works of art, kinesthetically walk on the steps of Forum while discussing Julius Caesar and auditorily interact with guides about the history previously read in books; these experiences were then used in class upon return as students reflected in papers and discussion on what they had witnessed and learned. Furthermore, especially for students this age, we were able to integrate the learning with age appropriate “fun.” Gelato on the way to the Pantheon, the beach after a sweaty tour of Pompeii, and supervised free time in the Piazza Navona where students could further explore at their own pace helped link positive emotions with the material in order to create lifelong learners.
One of the many reasons that Sullins was such an attractive school for me and my family was the field trip program that it has in place. I think that intentionally designed experiences outside of the classroom can be extremely powerful and can make a huge difference in educating our students. Sometimes these opportunities are called experiential learning, place based education or a host of other names. While the nuances of the name may slightly differ for activity, as in any activity, whether in or out of the classroom, it must be linked to learning in explicit and intentional ways with clear learning outcomes. At Sullins, field trips are an extension of the classroom and prepped through work in the days prior to departure and processed back in the classroom upon return.
Although experiences like these require coordination, time intensive planning, and trips to Rome are not always possible, the same principles that made this experience valuable translate to the classroom on a daily basis. Cross-curriculum planning, hands-on learning experiences and engaging lessons that students view as “fun” take time in every subject but reap huge rewards for student learning and help spark a life-time of curiosity in each student.