There are a number of field trip opportunities for our students throughout each school year for students young and old. Ranging from day trips to weeklong excursions abroad, all of these trips are intentionally designed by our teachers to extend learning beyond classrooms. These trips provide unique opportunities for students to learn in a new environment and make real world connections to the knowledge they’ve gained in class.
We caught up with Gail Griffin and Denise Vacca, Grade 3 teachers at Whitby School, so we could really understand all the benefits associated with well-designed field trips for kids. Note: This interview is based on a transcript of a group discussion.
How Field Trips for Kids Can Extend Learning Beyond the Walls of Elementary School Classrooms
Interviewer: First of all, why do we have field trips? Why do they even exist?
Gail and Denise: I think that they exist to help bring the learning that we're doing in class to life. The kids will see it presented. We'll cover the material in class, but then they see other people talking about it so it helps make it more real for them and they can begin to apply some of the understanding in class in a different setting.
What are some examples of something that you've done in class that was complemented by a really valuable field trip?
Our Botanical Gardens trip was a great example, because we were working on ecosystems. We were also planting in the garden here, so we had started planting seeds for the garden and then when we went to Botanical Gardens, we had a Plant Adaptations unit, so they took us to a rainforest ecosystem and the children analyzed the different types of plants that lived there and how their leaves were suited for that ecosystem.
Then we got to go to the desert ecosystem to analyze those plants and those types of leaves to see why they would be better suited. I thought that was a great extension of what we were doing in class.
I also thought the on-site field trip that we did with the Audubon to the pond also complimented our ecosystems unit really, really well and the kids got hands-on experience in catching native animals from the pond. It was really fun.
Tell me more about the day trip to the Botanical Gardens.
Well, we had the bus ride down there, which was an adventure in itself. Even that is nice because they were with students from another Grade 3 classroom, which is great for community building.
Once we got there, we got to take a little walk through the garden, which was nice because of the Chihuly exhibit. Earlier in the year we'd had an art expression unit, and a lot of the kids remember Chihuly from Primary, so they were really excited to see some of his work in the garden. That in itself was engaging — just to take that walk.
Then we went to the huge conservatory where a tour guide met us. She took us through the conservatory, we got to see more of the Chihuly, and then she took us to a rainforest ecosystem. She gave the kids little graph paper and they could choose one plant to sketch and then they had to analyze why that plant would be well suited to the rainforest, and they discussed that. Next we got to walk to "the desert", which was also in that same building. And again, they sketched a particular plant and the tour guide really broke down why that plant could be able to live successfully in the desert.
Once the field trip was over, how did you tie it back into what you were doing in class again?
After the Botanical Garden trip, we really got into talking about native species and invasive species. They noticed what was around them, what was supposed to be there, and we were pointing out things that really didn't belong in our backyard and the benefits of sticking with native plants, even when you're planting or landscaping. So that was a really interesting conversation after.
That's great, so that's really complementing what you were doing in class with that field trip, and then coming back to your class again to talk about it. Now, what are the benefits of having an overnight field trip, like your recent trip to Mystic, Connecticut?
I think the biggest benefit of the overnight is the community building. When we did a reflection, we came back and said, "What did you love about Mystic?" The first thing one of our kids said was playing on the green with kids from another 3rd grade classroom because they really saw each other in a different way. And for the boys to all be in their cabin and the girls to all be in their cabin, they really do get to know each other really well. And we get to know them in a different way too, which is also important. It does foster such community right away.
I also think it's a great first overnight experience, at least for 3rd graders, in that a lot of the time they feel such success when they're away and they do okay and everything's going well. They come back with a renewed sense of independence, which is really good for them. A lot of confidence building.
Can you talk about what you were studying in class, and how this tied into the Mystic field trip?
This trip was a little bit different. Probably the closest academic connection was to our exploration unit, which actually was at the beginning of the year. We learned about the Viking ship that we saw that was there. We had talked about explorations, and how people had to navigate over sea. So that really was the closest curricular connection, but we were also able to apply it in their program, the way they designed it, for the life in 1876.
We're starting our conflict resolution unit right now, which is more of an American History focus. So even though 1876 is just after the Civil War, it just gives us a bit of a context for what you're doing. That was another connection that we could draw, so at least it will set the time frame. We're a little bit after the Revolutionary War, after the Civil War, and prior to Civil Rights.
Also there was a good connection with our economics unit. When we went into the little store and they found out how expensive butter would have been back in that time, they were so interested in that and trying to figure it out. We actually got a sheet where they're going to compare the prices, and the butter was sort of a delicacy then. Now it's really not. I think sugar was another one. But they really recognized that, and I thought that was really interesting, the value of money. Even when the old ship captain was talking, and he was talking about how much his salary was, I think that brought that point to life too.
It really was culminating for a lot of our experiences this year.
Do you have any student reflections you can share?
It’s really valuable to hear the students reflect on the experience. One of our students, Lily, reflected saying, "I knew what it felt like to be a sailor. I could picture what it's like when they were sleeping in the bunks now, and I can picture what it's like to be climbing the ropes. What I hadn't really put all together was, just climbing the rigging was challenging enough, but to think when the boat was moving, and there was weather happening ...”
And there was a reason they were doing it. It was for a purpose.
Another student, Oliver, said: "I overcame my fear of heights." No, "I faced my fear." That's what he said. "I faced my fear and I did it." So I thought that was great, too. That’s great.
In terms of community building, what do these trips do for students in your classroom?
That's a good question. I think it just creates a different level of safety for the kids to take more risk with each other. I think the way that they were cheering each other on —that just made everybody feel so safe and part of this community in a different way that I haven't seen before. And I think if you feel that way, then you can learn better. I really think that's the value of it. I was just thinking that it definitely deepened friendships.
I also think there are some kids who are more open to making a connection with somebody else on the field trip. It was just a different environment than the classroom, and some kids that you don't really see interacting socially in the classroom are interacting there. They had maybe a different focus? I don't know, I thought that was really valuable for them.
Any final thoughts you'd like share?
I think what makes our field trips most meaningful is if you put them in an environment that they're not used to being in — because I think these kids are very unique, living in a really affluent community — there's a lot of value in taking them out of their comfort zone. It really shows you a different view of the students, and they see their teachers differently too. I think it's really powerful that way.