Are school trips beneficial?

Ok, I’m going to say it.  I’m done with school trips.  Not entirely because I don’t think they have value but because of the downstream consequences of them.  You see, I hate it when students miss class. I guess losing a class is generally really bad, worse than not doing an assignment or homework.

I can think of 4 different field trips I’ve taken students on.  The perfect trip is taking physics 11 to PlayLand, along with taking science 8 to playland.  I’ve also taken science 8 to the aquarium and to TRIUMF, and I’ve taken science 9 to the MacMillan Space Center.

Regarding educational value, Playland must be the worst. I don’t think it’s any secret that Playland rides are examples of physics “in the real world” and that we can measure and analyze different motion from the rides.  Heck, we can do that standing on a street corner.  That doesn’t mean it’s a good use of time and money.

The Space Center, aquarium, and TRIUMF are a bit different.   They all offer a decent experience for students, doing things that they usually would not do.  TRIUMF is the best at this.  I don’t think kids really “learn” a lot from the field trips, but they do get some new experiences.

My problem with field trips isn’t that kids don’t have a good experience, the problem is that there is a cost to the flights.  If I take students on a field trip, they’re going to miss anywhere from one to four other classes.  Assuming that their other qualities are worthwhile attending, field trips actually cause problems with learning.

In my classes, I try to design and plan activities where students are active participants and not the receivers of information.  That’s not to say that I don’t tell the kids things in class – I do give them explicit instruction when needed.  But that only lasts for a portion of any given lesson.  The rest of the time students are working, practicing, asking questions, helping each other and giving me feedback on how they’re doing, what their next move should be and what my next step should be. If a student misses class, they miss out on all of that.  Things get even more complicated when students lose a lab activity or even worse, a performance lab.  These labs are not easy to replicate or duplicate.  In other words, I hate it when kids miss my class.

As an example, I had a couple of students miss two classes last week.  These were the two classes leading up to today’s big Transfer Performance Task (a significant Goal-less problem assessment). Losing those two classes was terrible and detrimental to their progress in physics, there’s no way around it.  It really bothers me that they missed class, although I understand why it happened.

Perhaps I’m getting this wrong and missing a class because of a good field trip is a decent trade-off.  But when I’m in front of my students and something important is happening and I see some empty seats in front of me, I can’t help thinking that the trade-off is not worth it.

By Claire 

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