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How to Infuse Your Field Trip With Critical Thinking

03.31.14 | Classroom Tips | 0 Comments

Have you thought about extending your classroom and its learning opportunities to your local museum as a way to hook your students and enhance their learning experience? Follow these steps to make sure your students get the most out of it.

1. Begin with the end in mind.
The first time I took my students to one of the local museums, I was excited to see what they would learn. I carefully planned the trip by downloading the materials the museum had put on its website, making copies of the scavenger hunt and the learning logs for each group, and providing materials to the parents who would serve as chaperones.

When the day of the field trip arrived, I remember thinking how great the event would be for the students. And then it was over. When we got back to school, I asked my students to reflect on what they had learned at the museum. The most common response I received was how fun the trip was and how great it was to be out of school. As I continued to reflect on the situation, I realized maybe I had missed a key element in the planning stage. What really was the purpose of going to the museum in the first place? How did it tie into what I was currently teaching?

I realized I had been so focused on getting my students out to this great resource that I had forgotten to design a way to incorporate the museum experience into what I wanted my students to know, understand, and be able to do upon the completion of the unit. I decided I would try to develop another museum experience for my students.

Using my state standards as a guide, I identified what I would be teaching. Immediately, I saw that a set of standards I would be teaching in the spring would lend themselves to using our local aquarium as a resource. Because the school at which I worked did not have a nearby forest, I realized the aquarium’s new forest/wetland habitat exhibit area would be perfect to use as a hook for the unit.

2. Go for a test drive.
As I walked through the exhibit, I realized it was a perfect opportunity to have the students continue to practice one of the thinking routines I had been using with them. Called See, Think, Wonder (check out the Visible Thinking Project at Harvard University for more details), the strategy asks students to write down what they see when they look at something, what they think about it, and what they wonder.

3. Take the trip.
As students went through the exhibit, I could see the groups working and discussing more intently. The chaperones, armed with the supporting question prompts, seemed to be more engaged as well. Even as we moved out of the exhibit into the other areas of the aquarium, I could tell by the lingering questions that students had really gotten a lot out of the experience.

4. Weave the trip into future projects.
The questions students generated from the exhibit were used for a research project that I developed with the language arts teacher. Because so many questions were generated, students could choose which question they wanted to research. This made the process of teaching research design easier since students were more motivated to write about a question they had an interest in answering.

5. Reflect and revise.
What I learned is this: Museums offer teachers places to extend learning outside the classroom, but the key to using any informal learning resource (like a museum or aquarium) to its fullest is planning and thinking outside of the box.

A complete version of this article appeared in the April/May 2013 issue of Educational Horizons.

About Jenny Sue Flannagan

Jenny Sue Flannagan is the director of the Martinson Center for Mathematics and Science and an associate professor in the School of Education at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. She is a member of the 2009-2010 Class of PDK Emerging Leaders.

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