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Save the Field Trip

Jennifer Siaca Curry

Some memories of attending P.S. 102 in Queens have grown foggy, but I've never forgotten the excitement of climbing on a bus and heading off to a new place with my friends and teachers (the Queens County Farm Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image). That's why I was sorry to read in Education Next that public school field trips, once viewed as "the great equalizer" in exposing kids to culture and history, are in decline. The authors cite tightening budgets and increased focus on standardized test performance as reasons why schools might treat trips to zoos and art institutions as "frills."

They describe a study in which 123 school groups took more than 10,000 students on a one-hour tour of a museum. Students and teachers were then surveyed to determine the value of the experience. To measure what students derived, they were compared to a control group who did not experience the trip. In the end, students who visited the museum not only retained knowledge gained during the trip, but they displayed more critical thinking skills, deeper historical empathy (that is, understanding of past lived experiences), and more interest in returning to cultural institutions.

This study importantly confirms what you've probably concluded if you've ever taken kids on a trip: exposure to new experiences inspires engagment and makes learning relevant. Nothing frilly about that.


I remember field trips vividly and remember at least two of them suddenly bringing an entire semester's worth of teaching into focus. One was to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum--I hadn't really understood that people build the spaceships, I had sort of thought they were all out there in the universe along with stars and planets. Another trip to the Utz factory in Pennsylvania (I grew up in Baltimore County) made me understand that math problems are actual problems that people in real life jobs had to figure out. The free potato chips were probably "frills" but nothing else was!


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