Monday, July 23, 2012

Settting Up Field Trips

Contrary to popular non-home schooler rumors about home schooling, we do know there is a difference between a day at the museum and a field trip to a museum.  In both instances, the intention is to have fun and to learn.  However, on a field trip, you have much more specific learning objectives, whether the trip is a visit to a farm, an "archeological dig", or a zoo.  So how do you make sure your objectives are achieved without feeling like the "Hall Monitor"?  How do you assess what they really absorbed and differentiate that from what they were simply "exposed to" during your trip?  This can be especially difficult when you can't go preview the location.

Field and Natural History - Children's Room

As a classroom teacher, I found the best way to handle time at a museum, zoo, aquarium or other similar location was often to hand each kid a clipboard full of things find.  The kids then had activities to do related to their finds or questions to answer.  There was always more than they could complete, but I told the kids how many they HAD to do, and how much extra credit they would get for each "extra" activity completed.  The kids could split into their smaller groups and feel they got to "socialize" as well as have some choice in what they spent their time observing (I was a middle school teacher), and I still had evidence of work done and observations made as well as a tool for assessing understanding.  Of course I had to circulate in the space and watch them for safety and behavior (as did the other faculty and parents along as chaperones).  Although I don't let Alice go off on her own, I still find this is the best approach to field trips in the home school curricula as well.

Wherever it is you wish to go, if it is a "public space" such as any of our National Parks, a Museum, or a Zoo, the location will most likely have some wonderful resources to help you "pre-plan" your trip.  If the location doesn't offer anything online, give them a call.  These locales - however small - are there to educate the public and some one will help you be aware of what to expect, if not offer up an entire pre-made packet for each grade level in your family.  This is also a great way to get "freebies" The Mt. Lassen area National Forest Service, gave me some absolutely wonderful materials that I will be able to use for multiple applications over the next few years when we walked in because we felt like checking out the visitor center one day.
U-Pick Orchard
Places like a u-pic, are more of a business location than an education location.  However, it will likely be a shorter stint at the actual farm or orchard.  You can still have them find where numbers are used at the location, and some orchards will let you tour the grounds and ask questions about production etc. if you set up a group tour ahead.

Here are some generic ways to cover field trip day at educationally oriented locations without a lot of front end work on your part.  You can use one idea, all of them or anything in between for almost any educational location:
  • Photographic Scavenger Hunts: If you have some idea what your kids will see before hand,  give them a list of photos to "find".  At a zoo, your list might be as simple as, find 3 animals from each continent, or photograph 3 examples of vertebrates from each of the five major vertebrate classes (mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds).  Older kids would then also record information about the animals they photographed, such as its common and scientific name, range and maybe even do a behavioral observation for at least one of the animals.  At a history museum, perhaps they need to find 5 photos that show what daily life was like in the ____'s, 5 photos that show important people from the era of study, and 5 photos that show inventions important to the time.  I've written a blarticle about doing these more generically already so if you'd like more information about photographic scavenger hunts, click here.  I've used them a lot alone and in combination with other things.

  • The KWL: Before you go, talk to your kids about the location you will be visiting.  "K" stands for "Know".  Brainstorm things you already know about the topic covered there.  For example, if you will be visiting a museum about modern art, make a list of things you already know about modern art.  List some artists with whom you are already familiar, talk about expectations etc.  "W" stands for "Want to Learn".  On the way, each child makes a list of things they want to know more about (this can be really tough if the trip is a first exposure, but works well if you've complete some things related to the topic already).  Do they want to see more by a favorite artist?  Do they want to learn more about how modern artists complete their work?  Are they hoping to learn more about a particular media? "L" stands for "Learned".  After the trip, each child brainstorms all the things he or she knows now.  In other words, what has been learned.  Compare lists and clip them all together.  If you are going to a National Park, you might talk about the geology, biology, or history associated with the location.  If you are going to an aquarium, you might  list what is known, wanting to be learned, and learned about marine life.  You get the idea.

Farm Tour - Helped put Out Feed
  • Complete a "Travel Journal Entry".  I have outlined four methods to encourage your kids to journal while traveling in an educational way in this blarticle.
  • Tell your kid/kids, they will be making a pamphlet about the location.  Gather pamphlets about other similar locations for the kids to view and tell them what you like about each pamphlet you've chosen and what is absolutely required in their pamphlet before you arrive.  They'll need photos and graphics.  They'll need to include a map, so having some sense of what there was to see will also be required.  They will need to choose "highlights" to feature, and they'll need to clarify why a trip to this location is beneficial - what is to be learned from attending?  The can take notes while in attendance and actually create the pamphlet upon returning home.
  • Do you have a child with a passion for the dramatic?  Have him or her do a movie documentary about the location and his or her day in attendance there.  He/She can pretend to be a field journalist.  You'll (or siblings) will need to help get video footage on the day of the visit, but more notes can be taken and editing with voice overs added can be done at home the next day with your movie/DVD software.  I LOVE iMovie and iDVD.     

For more specific ideas, keep an eye out for my "Field Trip" series of articles this summer where I will give ideas, list resources, and give more ideas more specifically to location types.

The Zoo: Polar Habitats
If you will be taking friends with you, I recommend you include them in the "educational" activity as well.  It is a lot easier for every one to have positive energy about the activity if every one is involved. (or they'll bond - siblings too - grumbling about what a fanatic their mom is.  Either way you really are winning).  Have a "presentation party" a week later when everyone who attended can share their "products" and everyone's parents can see the cool stuff all the kids did before you show the latest movie out on DVD, or play lawn games, or splash in the pool or simply, "chill".  Have fun.

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