Fieldtrips- An Elementary School Favorite

This post was inspired after reading and listening to Podcasting and Fieldtrips post/episode on Kidcast- Podcasting in the Classroom by Dan Schmit

Dan asked himself:

How can we re-energize, re-think and re- invent the field trip through modern technologies[…] Make those experiences more meaningful and better documented from an academic perspective

Students on all grade levels at our elementary school take many and different kinds of fieldtrips. They go to the Zoo, to the Pumpkin Patch, to theater plays, Spanish concert, to a science camp sleepover, to a multi-day trip to the Nation’s capital with chaperons, a local city tour, feeding school campus tours, Medieval Times, the local Art museum and many more

Fieldtrips by definition are taking the learning out of the classroom and should be the perfect occasion for allowing a different kind of learning to take place. Unfortunately, it seems that many times a fieldtrip is just allowing the kids to run wild, take a break, and in the best case scenario experience something diffferent for a few hours. The best field trip was when the learning in the classroom can connect with these new experiences and then translate back to future connections in the school.

I still remember the fieldtrip I took in High School. We went to “La Rural “, an agricultural and livestock show in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We prepared for weeks and learned to recognize all different kinds of cows, sheep and pigs from our books. Once we arrived, we were let “loose” with a mission to complete a scavenger hunt and learn as much as we could from the live exhibitions. 20+ years later, I still remember…

Fast forward to the year 2008 and to an elementary school in the United States. Here are a few examples of technology integration attempts on fieldtrips.

One third grade teacher showed initiative and bravery and checked an Alphasmart Neo out to take with on a fieldtrip. Three 8 year olds volunteered to be the journalists and they returned with the following text that was uploaded to their classroom blog. It was too cute, that I just had to share:

We are about to go to The Tree Hill field trip. We are going to see lots of animals and nature! We are so excited and the buses are here already.

We’re on our way to Tree Hill! It will take about twenty three minutes to get there.

There we will be split into groups and get started on our hike!!! We are still on our way to the tree hill nature preserve and we are so excited to be going there. There is going to be so much fun stuff to see like animals and insects.

I wonder what it is going to be like there after we explore for a while. We will eat some yummy lunch, can’t wait!!!WE ARE ALMOST THERE. I AM SO EXITED AND SO ARE THEY! We are still hoping to see lots of animals and we just can’t wait!!!!!!!

Right now we are being toured by a naturalist. Tree Hill is different because they don’t cut down any trees or dying plants. It’s so interesting. They have so many animal skins and skulls. The naturalist knows a lot. WOW, I never knew all this! She is telling us about all kinds of things. like mammals and reptiles. She also is showing us teeth. OMG she just took out an alligator!!! Haha a chicken just ran by! I would be running if I was that chicken. We are watching the naturalist hold out a baby Alligator. There is a rooster next to us and it keeps cocadooodle doing.

She is such a nice lady now she is going to let us watch him. In a minute she will let us all touch him. I am so exited, so are they. I think this place is awesome and so do my friends. We are all having an awesome time!

We’re on our hike! We hope to see many animals. Wow, that’s one decaying tree! This is amazing. We have seen red robins, dragon flies and a creek. Now we’re going to have lunch. WE’RE BEING INVADED BY GOATS! THEY’RE EATING EVERYONES FOOD! OH NOOOOOOOOO!

Now that we are done with lunch we are going to the gift shop. Now we are all wiped out. Is he taking a nap, no! I’m just kidding, that’s an example of how tired we are. Well, now we’re going to the buses to go back to school. We had an amazing time! Oh, and we were right we did see many plants and animals!!!!!!!!!!!!

The live journaling was such a hit with the students, that they begged to check out more Neos for their next fieldtrip.

Another grade level prepared for their annual trip to Washington D.C. Together with the drama teacher, students were prepared by practicing reporter voices in TechConnect on Audacity and going around the school campus with MP3 recorders reporting on fake “landmarks”. Each student was assigned a real Washington landmark, that they would be visiting on their tour. They were to research these places before they left on the trip.

The teachers took 4 MP3 recorders (iRivers 512 MB) with them and I set up a phone number with K7.net that would allow the students to call with a cell phone and record up to 5 minutes of their report. K7 directly attached these audio files to an e-mail which was sent to my account.

From approximately 50 students that went on the trip, there were only a handful of usable audio files between the cell calls and the MP3 files, that were returned. Teachers reported back, that students had a hard time recording with the iRivers, that it was too hard to keep track of the students who called/recorded and who didn’t while on the tour and that it was too much going on to deal with.

It has been over 2 months since the teachers and students returned. The few MP3 files that were usable are still sitting on the server. Even after several attempts of encouraging the teachers to use these media files for ANYTHING, no attempt has been made to take this opportunity any further.

By looking at these two examples, it seems obvious that teacher initiative, enthusiasm and follow up for the task at hand is essential for the success of raising a fieldtrip to the next level. There will always be the ones who are content with taking students out in the field and leaving their learning disconnected.

I still have the following questions in mind, that I will leave for another fieldtrip post. Maybe you can add your reflection and answers in the comments for me to ponder.

  • How can we motivate the teachers to take that fieldtrip a step further?
  • How can we prepare students and teachers to use (and troubleshoot) the equipment in field.
  • How can we further students’ learning by documenting the fieldtrip?
  • What tech tools and media best suit the field experience