Jan 13, 2014
In the Northeast, we’re stuck in the grey days of Winter following Christmas Break. Students and teachers languish in their classrooms looking out and seeing drifting snows and overcast skies which seem to hide the Sun for months; the only illumination coming from the overhead light. How can we fight this dreaded ennui?
Field trips are the perfect way to combat doldrums of constant lecture and cabin fever. It’s surprising to me that it seems that so few secondary schools use field trips as an educational tool. Not only do field trips offer a nice change of pace and keep learning from becoming stagnant, but ‘physical learning’ which keeps the brain active and engaged.
Field trips are exciting and bring the content to life in ways that pure lecture cannot, and they don’t necessarily have to be the traditional trip. As the proverb says: ‘Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.’
It’s been my experience that the more physical and tangible something is, the more likely it is that a student will retain knowledge from the lesson. The Silk Road, for example. It’s one thing for me to talk about the movement of caravans between China and Europe bringing goods, money and cultural diffusion, but if a student doesn’t know where Europe or China are, or even what silk is, what meaning or importance are they going to walk away with. On the other hand, if I pull out a map of Eurasia with both Han Dynasty China and Rome displayed, showing the path of those early traders, the distances involved along the Road, he’s much more likely to come away a clearer picture of what I’m trying to teach them.
The field trip takes that further and involves the student directly and provides them with the concrete experience to help them understand. In 2004, I had the privilege to visit Normandy for the anniversary of the Invasion. For years I had read and listened to stories about the Invasion - descriptions of the hedgerows and anecdotes of paratroopers fighting near Ste.-Mere-Eglise. It wasn’t until I myself walked the two miles from the Chef-Du-Pont train platform to Ste.-Mere-Eglise at five o’clock in the morning passing those very hedgerows and how thick and tall they were that I understood what I had read. Visiting a historical park like Ft. McHenry, or a museum village like Genesee Country Museum or Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village are perfect for experiencing History
As I mentioned earlier, they don’t have to be physical field trips, either. Programs like Google Earth allow teachers to take their students anywhere without leaving the school and will even help you program a tour of the area you’re studying.
Finally, the students can create their own field trip. Have the students role play out what their learning. We learn by doing, and if we’re constructing a mockup of the Panama Canal or a motte & bailey in the school yard, it engages our learning in a way that enhances our ability to understand.
Resources for Social Studies Students & Teachers