Two favorite words of nearly every student are Field Trip, and for teachers, the words can bring a smile to faces or cause anxiety. Either way, field trips are an interesting and exciting way for students to learn something new or to enhance the curriculum. A field trip should be the extension of the classroom, and as with all classroom learning, extensive planning is needed before the field trip. The work involved may sometimes seem overwhelming, but with detailed planning, field trips of any duration – whether a few hours, an entire day, or overnight – can be an enjoyable learning experience for you and your students.
Before the Trip
First, decide what classroom learning experience you would like to enhance with a field trip. Some trips, especially at the end of a school year, are more for fun than learning, but most field trips should be connected to the curriculum. For example, if your class studies world history, a visit to a local history museum would not be recommended unless you can connect the trip directly to your curriculum.
Once you decide on a field trip, try to plan a visit to the site ahead of time when you could spend some time exploring on your own, learning about the activities or presentations provided to students, pre-trip handouts the site offers, and other features that would be helpful to know about. The more you know about the site your class or school will visit, the better prepared you will be on the day of the trip. This includes locating the restrooms and lunch options if necessary.
As with all trips, you will then need to follow your school’s procedures for finalizing the administration’s approval, financial details, bus and food services, medication needs of students, requests for chaperones, and paperwork for permission slips.
Next, develop a schedule of activities for the day of the trip, including the learning objectives for students. Include details about meals, a list of items students may (or may not) bring on the trip, clothing recommendations or requirements, rules (possibly a signed contract for students), and other trip-related details. The schedule for the day should be reviewed in class with your students and copies shared with the carefully chosen chaperones.
The chaperones must be reliable, whether as volunteers or hand-picked by you. They must know what is expected of them and what they can and cannot do. For example, some chaperones may be very generous and want to treat their group of students to a souvenir, but others may not. The chaperones’ duties and expectations must be consistent. Chaperones should also be provided with each other’s cell phone numbers, a list of students in their group, and other pertinent information for the trip. Remember to ask a few people to be backup chaperones as well to avoid any last-minute hiccups.
During the weeks ahead of the trip, begin to connect the field trip to the relevant daily lessons, including using the site’s pre-visit resources. The students need to see the value of the field trip and must not simply see it as a “day off” from school. The goal of the trip should be the opportunity for students to have fun while learning, and the experience should be as memorable as possible.
The Day of the Trip
On the day of the trip, you should be well-prepared; however, remember that things can go wrong. Do not panic if the bus is late to the school or a chaperone does not arrive. It is important to be flexible. Welcome each of the chaperones and consider reviewing key rules of the trip with them.
At the site, you may or may not be responsible for a specific group of students, depending on the activity and number of chaperones. You could be the one person who makes sure the students are moving from one activity to the next, their medications are dispensed, and the agenda is followed as closely as possible. You can also act as a troubleshooter, whether with a disruptive student or addressing a change in the agenda.
It is important for the students to stay on task. This does not mean they cannot socialize but should be regularly encouraged to connect the experience to learning. The chaperones may need these reminders as well. As time passes, things usually begin to settle, and everyone starts to relax and enjoy the experience. When the time comes to head back to the school, be sure the buses are in place and all groups of students have met in a pre-determined location. Always remember to do a final headcount before leaving!
After the Trip
Once the trip is over and the students return to the school, the school day will likely be near its end so you may not have time to discuss the field trip with the students. However, you can ask students some general questions such as: Did you have fun? What did you like best about the trip? What did you learn? It may have been a long day, and you or the students may not be ready to get into the details, but the students’ overall opinions of the trip should be encouraged.
The next regular school day is when the specifics of the trip should be discussed and further connections to classroom lessons made. At this time, you may use post-field trip resources provided by the site or your own follow-up lessons, activities, worksheets, and other materials. Distribute a questionnaire to your students to complete anonymously that has questions related to the field trip. You may model it after a feedback survey from a retail store experience or another customer service survey you’ve seen. Allow students to give their honest feedback, which then can be used for planning future field trips.
Finally, as you know, not all field trips are alike. Special considerations are necessary for overnight or overseas field trips. Some trips, like outdoor camping experiences, will need an extra level of planning and coordination. Additional and more-experienced chaperones may be needed, a layer of safety procedures outlined, and other more complicated logistics must be considered. Tailor your preparations to the specific trip to make sure you’ve covered all of your bases.
Whether your field trip is an hour-long visit to the local grocery store, a full day at a museum, or an overnight trip to another city, it is important to consider the planning involved before, during, and after. Despite all the planning, always remember to enjoy the experience along with your students. Be patient, address issues as they come up, and have fun!