There is little that is more exciting to school children than a field trip! They can’t wait for a change of pace outside the classroom walls. However, the same can’t always be said for their teachers! Noisy buses and what seems like a never ending number of unforeseen management crises have, in the past, left many a teacher exhausted by the end of the day! Next week, I embark, with a lot of excitement and admittedly a little trepidation, on my class’ first field trip of the year. How did I learn to be excited about these chaotic days? I offer you a list of 6 tips that I have learned, through much trial and tribulation, are necessary for a successful field trip. Read on.
TIP #1 BUILD SCHEMA BEFORE YOU GO
Students need to be prepared to absorb the information and activities they will encounter once at the field trip destination. Trouble will be brewing if you just walk out of the classroom door and into a different place of learning with little or no preparation. Expose students to appropriate vocabulary and relevant ideas to think about, even as much as a week or more before. Next week, my class and I will visit an art museum. In order to build a mind set for our visit I will use art as a common lesson theme throughout the week. We will celebrate Van Gogh during our “Failure Party.” We will read fiction and nonfiction with an art theme. We will solve math word problems that have an art connection. Students will use a famous piece of art as a writing starter. Check out our Field Trip Vocab Sheets at our YouCan2 store for a helpful way to help build that academic schema and student motivation.
In addition, students can’t be expected to just know how to behave in each of the new situations they will be exposed to during a field trip. We must build schema there as well. Then practice… practice makes perfect!
TIP #2 BUS TASKS
Some of the worst moments of my teaching career have happened on a school bus. They are noisy, chaotic places. My experiences with buses completely changed, however, when out of desperation before embarking on a much dreaded 2 hour bus trip with 3rd graders, I created a bus scavenger hunt for students to complete during their journey. The kids were engaged and … quiet! The first scavenger hunt, while entertaining, didn’t really address academic standards. Sure it was fun to see who could spot the most out-of-state license plates, but I had overlooked the fact that bus trips have the potential to provide some very valuable time to get extra practice on the things that we as teachers care about. Check out this Field Trip Fun Activity Packet from The Simply Fab Classroom. I will be using this common core aligned activity packet next week to keep students engaged on the bus trip to the art museum. I will supplement the packet with a content specific field trip vocab sheet found at our YouCan2 store.
TIP #3 PARTNER POWER
I always, always, always pair students into partner groups. First, it provides a much needed safety buffer. Students must always know where their partner is and if they have lost track of them they must let me know right away! Second, partner groups are an excellent way to build engagement on the bus and throughout the field trip . I have students work in partner groups to finish the activity packet. The partner groups who complete the activity packet with zero errors receive a small field trip related prize. I try to provide activity packets that are just challenging enough so that getting all the answers correct would be difficult but not impossible. My experience is that one or two partner groups are able to complete the packet with zero errors. The students are super motivated by the competition and I see a lot of positive team work take place throughout the day. An added bonus: Choosing student partner groups and then asking them to work together on the activity packet while on the bus allows me to create a seating chart for the bus without the students even knowing it! Score!
TIP #4 LEADER OF A GROUP- NOT
I usually group two partner groups together into a group of four students and then have a parent volunteer oversee this larger group. In the beginning of my teaching career I naively made myself a group leader. I have now learned that, if possible, it is a good idea to allow yourself the ability to oversee the entire group by not assigning yourself to one specific group. In this way, if a problem arises you are able to freely manage the situation regardless of which student or students are involved.
TIP #5 NAME TAGS
Every year we visit Glacier National Park in Montana. The rangers there require students to wear a name tag. After seeing the common sense of that, I have continued this practice during all of our adventures. It is so helpful if all adults are able to call students by name. Saying “you kid in the black shirt” just isn’t as effective! Such a simple thing, but it delivers big for the adults that have so graciously agreed to accompany your class.
TIP #6 THANK YOU NOTES
I have always struggled with how to hold students accountable for what they have learned on a field trip. I have discovered that asking each student to write a thank you note is a great way to do this. I request students to provide specific examples of what they learned and enjoyed in their letters. Reading their letters provides me a glimpse of what they found important and enjoyable. Not only that, it provides a much needed authentic writing activity for students. Not to mention, it is just good manners!