Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Turning Field Trips into Learning Experiences for ALL Students (those going and those staying at school)

I love experiential learning. It's amazing to see students experience new things, make new connections, and learn about the world beyond our classroom walls all by taking a visit to another place. For many of us, field trips bring to mind happy memories of riding on a bus, talking with friends, eating special sack lunches and seeing new things.

However, as educators, we need to stop and think about the students who are NOT attending the field trip. By and large, these students are not attending field trips because of a decision made for them by their parent or guardian. They dread the impending trip expecting to be left with the infamous "sub work" for those school days. Don't these students deserve to have these rich learning experiences too?

As their teachers, what can we do to connect the learning taking place away from the campus and make it meaningful for ALL of the students?

This year, our sixth-grade team decided to re-evaluate our practices involving field trips for all of our students, those attending our three-day trip to New Orleans and those who would be remaining at school for those three days. Before the trip transpired, students were placed in four-five member teams. Each team would be comprised of students who were going and those who were staying at what we dubbed "Camp Awesome." Learners were given a list of learning expectations for both groups of students. They were each tasked with the responsibility to document their learning in four different areas (these areas came from the learning standards that would be mastered on the field trip). Student teams knew that once the field trip and Camp Awesome were concluded, they would be responsible for creating a collaborative project that demonstrated their combined learning from different experiences.

As one of the Camp Awesome teachers, we looked closely at the standards that students would be mastering on the field trip and then designed interactive, hands-on activities for each of those days at school. We intentionally chose different types of activities so that the members of the team could share different experiences with one another.

The students on the field trip would be experiencing the history and culture of New Orleans through tours, a jazz riverboat ride, and a Creole cooking class where they made jambalaya and bread pudding. At Camp Awesome, students completed a Canvas module filled with interactive sites that walked them through the history of New Orleans and Mobile, mardi gras traditions, and the evolution of the music in that region. Additionally, they experienced the music, created masks for their own krewe, and made (and tasted) Po' Boys, pecan pralines, and beignets.

The field trip students were also traveling to the World War 2 Museum. So, at Camp Awesome, students participated in a WebQuest to learn about the Navajo Code Talkers and the British Code Breakers led by Alan Turing. Then they had the opportunity to use some of their knowledge to navigate through a series of puzzles and problems in an adapted Breakout Edu game called Decoding the War. If they successfully completed the breakout, cracked the enigma code and stopped Hitler, they had their own VE celebration complete with confetti poppers.

While on the trip, students experienced a touch lab at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, visited the Aquarium of the Americas, the Audobon Zoo, the Insectarium, and went on a swamp tour. At Camp Awesome, students got to examine specimens collected by one of our science teachers. We also arranged for the biology department from the University of Alabama to come out to do a hands-on presentation bringing a collection of live reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids for the students.

At school, we were also able to squeeze in a webinar with National Hurricane Scientists and NOAA personnel and some other fun, content-specific learning experiences. (We were hoping to take the students on a Google Expedition of the beach and Normandy and Pearl Harbor, but we ran out of time.)

Throughout those three days, the students at Camp Awesome were, well, awesome. They brought devices to take photos of their learning. They created a Google document that they could share with their other teammates in order to take collaborative notes. Every single day, students thanked us for planning such an amazing day. If their parents came to check them out, they begged to be brought back to school if there was still classtime left. And as a side note, can you guess how many behavior challenges we had? If you guessed zero, you would be correct.

At the conclusion of the New Orleans field trip and Camp Awesome, the teams were given time to work together in science and social studies to complete their collaborative learning project to demonstrate their mastery of standards. On the due date, the teams were each assigned to a teacher to present their project (that meant each teacher saw and assessed 6-8 presentations). Some projects were elaborate pop-up scrapbooks, others were published books, while others were different types of digital presentations. When asked, the students could explain their learning, sometimes reminding a student of something they had taught them.

Due to the overwhelming success of this endeavor, my mind is whirring in other ways we can connect similar yet different learning experiences to enhance and empower ALL students in meaningful and authentic ways. The days of leaving work packets or showing endless movies to watch should be over. Let's take the time to deeply look into how we can make the most of every minute we have with our learners, whether they are in our classrooms or on a field trip. Because that is what each and every one of them deserves.

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