Field Trips Research Paper Starter

Field Trips

This article discusses the practice of field trips in U.S. schools. Educational field trips are school-sponsored, applied-learning experiences in informal settings outside the classroom. They constitute an important mode of learning through active involvement in the curriculum. Field trips emphasize experiential education, outdoor education, adventure education and field study. Field trips need to be connected to the curriculum and support what teachers are teaching in class. Subject-oriented and topically related field trips can be applied to almost any curricular content area. Pedagogical and instructional approaches intimately tied with the practical use of field trips as an educational strategy include active learning, experiential learning and applied learning (e.g., research, projects and investigations). Field trips have been found to have numerous advantages, few disadvantages and clear cognitive and affective benefits. Eight practical aspects relating to planning, organizing and implementing field trips are identified and discussed in the article.



Curriculum Organization > Field Trips


Educational field trips are variously referred to as learning field trips, school field trips, class or classroom field trips, curricular field trips, student field trips, outdoor field trips, or outdoor field experiences. Field trips constitute one way of learning through active involvement in the curriculum (Jakubowski, 2003). A field trip can be formally defined as a school-sponsored activity designed as firsthand observation of objects of study (Zirkel, 2007). They are applied learning experiences for students generally off-campus, away from the school, and outside the formal classroom (Zirkel, 2007), which get students out of traditional, formal school settings and into unique, nonschool, and informal learning settings (Kisiel, 2006a). Field trips are the most common out-of-classroom learning experiences encountered by students (Cornish, 1986; Kisiel, 2006b). Most students have gone on several field trips during their educational careers.

There are a variety of types of field trips, which can be categorized and considered based on curricular environment or setting where taken, the curricular application to which they relate, or the instructional practice/pedagogical approach used in implementing them. Tours and excursions are sometimes considered as field trips. However, these names have come to connote an appertaining level of educational seriousness that is lacking compared to bonafide field trips. Tours and excursions are now defined and considered as trips that are merely for recreational or entertainment purposes (Zirkel, 2007).

Field trips are also a distinctive form of the pedagogical practice of experiential education in elementary and secondary schools (Scarce, 1997). As such, they are a means of developing and enhancing academic skills through the use of an experiential education model. Experience is vital to and inseparable from the essential character and meaningful practice of what is referred to as a field trip. Experience is also the bridge that links the school curriculum to the community and to the world (Horwood, 1995).


The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), authored what might be considered an appropriate philosophy for outdoor- and experiential-education field trips when he wrote: "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do" (as cited in Parr, 2005/2006).

A historic practitioner of this philosophy in the U.S. was a late-nineteenth century school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1888, the Milwaukee School Board made arrangements for the two upper grades of its grammar school to visit the city museum on curricular field trips (Boston University School of Education, 1888). A late nineteenth-century article emphasized the need for "school excursions" to enhance the study of nature and students' knowledge (Boston University School of Education, 1891). The same article discussed the limitations of book knowledge and the indoor study of natural objects.

The renowned American educator John Dewey (1859-1952) also emphasized that "knowing is doing" and that doing is experience (Parr, 2005/2006). Dewey's philosophy wholeheartedly and unreservedly supports the curricular and instructional practice of educational field trips. A 1941 article by A. C. Selke concerned the development of standards for educational field trips. The article also described many practical aspects related to planning and conducting field trips and also some benefits and weaknesses of the use of field trips. By the mid-twentieth century, teachers were urging the use of field trips as "actual learning experiences" (Mulvaney, 1950).


Curricular Environment

The sites for field trips should match curricular objectives with the experience of the teacher and students (Hanna, 1992). Experiential-education settings are typically unstructured and students are more on their own than they are in regular classroom settings (Braverman & Yates, 1989). Students can and should be taken on field trips to environments where their interests will certainly be engaged (National Academy of Sciences, 2000). Field trip experiences are perfect opportunities to fully take advantage of students' eagerness to learn more about the world around them as well as the neighborhood in which they live (Dallmann, Rouch, Char, & DeBoer, 1982). The importance of getting students out of their classroom, into the community and the surrounding world cannot be underestimated.

Field trips can be taken to almost any location of educational value. As humorous as it might seem, Rhey (1977) suggested that an in-school field trip to the boiler room could inspire students in a painting class to an "exceptionally high level of achievement." A field trip to the local fire station can be an unforgettable experience for young children; they can tour the building, talk to the chief, touch the fire engine and the water hoses, see firemen slide down the brass pole, and get into their positions on the fire truck (Wigginton, 1986).

Walking Tours

There are many places in or near the school that young children (e.g., first-grade students) would enjoy seeing and where they can be taken on short excursions or walking tours. Walking tours are a special type of field trip that can be conducted close to the school campus in relatively short time periods (Lee County Schools, 1986).

Examples of walking tours include a trip to a field, a pond, or another water site (Lee County Schools, 1986). Primary students can even take an indoor-outdoor field trip by making observations of the outdoors through the classroom windows (Russell, 1979). In most cases, however, field trips connote going into the field--outdoors to outdoor settings, outdoor experiences, and outdoor adventures. Field trips are absolutely essential to outdoor education and adventure education.

Traveling Trips

Students can be taken on field trips to industrial facilities, plants, or old buildings, or to hear the metropolitan orchestra play a symphony (Wigginton, 1986). They can visit local parks, a nearby farm or ranch, fruit orchards, flower shows, fish hatcheries, or pig farms. Field trips can be taken to nearby points of interest such as a nature preserve, a river, or an archeological site (National Academy of Sciences, 1996). Students can be taken on a field trip to a botanical garden where they can be encouraged to handle the plants--at least safe ones (Falk, 1973). Field trips can be taken to hospitals, pharmacies, or drug stores and bookstores. Other field trips can be taken to places of cultural or civic interest. A visit to the state capitol or a field trip to observe a session of the state legislature could be especially beneficial to students.

Nature field trips form a special category. Student explorations and experiences in natural habitat settings provide informal and engaging learning environments for students (Pasquier & Narquizian, 2006). Field trips can be taken to nature centers, preserves, recreational areas, forests, swamps, arboretums, gardens, and camps (Mourad & Watkins, 2002). Field trips for art, reading, or writing classes might be as simple as taking students to any place of natural interest--a waterfall, a freshwater pond, or a mountainside (Wigginton, 1986).

Science Field Trips

Science field trips serve as unique opportunities for students to experience science in informal and natural settings (Pasquier & Narquizian, 2006). There are points of interest in and around most local school sites where science-related field trips can be conducted (Fitzsimmons, 1983). Science students can be taken on field trips to environments such as coastal wetlands and learn about them directly from scientists working there (Wigginton, 1986). Teachers can garner access to laboratories, outdoor and environmental education centers, environmental organizations, environmental instructional-resource centers, government agencies, and other institutions for field trips. Partnerships and programs can be contracted with local zoos, museums, science and horticultural centers for student field trips (National Academy of Sciences, 1996). Relationships can also be established with local businesses and industries to allow teachers and students access to their people and places of work (National Academy of Sciences, 1996).

Exemplary science programs need to provide students access to the world beyond the classroom (National Academy of Sciences, 1996). "Community" is an essential element of strategies that effective teachers use to promote science learning (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999). Schools and teachers need to provide students with field experiences and other out-of-classroom opportunities so they can participate in serious scientific investigations as an integral part of their science learning (National Academy of Sciences, 1996). Students may also be given opportunities and access to scientists to interact and engage in conversations in their laboratories or other settings where they work (National Academy of Sciences, 1986). By having discussions and working with scientists, students can be exposed to the scientific method in action and learn how to use it as a model for structuring their own observations and investigations (Grambo, 1997). Using the scientific method in concert with their out-of-school science field trip program can assist students in retaining science content and subject matter.

Some topics that are comparatively more complicated, but those that can be investigated during science field trips, include soil-type variations, evidence of chemical and physical weathering, building materials, and elevation changes on school campus grounds (Fitzsimmons, 1983). Students can also participate in a field trip on forestry and forest products (Morrell, 2003). An introduction to mycology in high school biology could be the focus of a field trip to study mushrooms, which are relatively large in size and have prominent reproductive structures (Goodwin, 1970). A high school geology class could take students on a rock and mineral sample collecting field trip. Field trips constitute an important activity of rock hounding clubs and mineral societies, which exist in almost every state and are excited to work in partnership with schools. Going along on an organized field trip to well-established collecting localities is one of the best ways for students to start their own collections. Experienced field trip leaders can furnish students with a great deal of expert knowledge on rock and mineral specimens.

Virtual Field Trips

Students in elementary and secondary science classes can enjoy virtual field trips or VFTs, which constitute another important category (Cox & Su, 2004; Stevenson, 2001). Virtual field trips are taken and experienced virtually, that is, through virtual reality (VR)--the use of simulation and replication software, and in some cases, related hardware such as body suits or headgear that create immersive, multisensory environments (Ausburn & Ausburn, 2004). VR creates simulated environments that give the user an actual sense of being there, interacting with them using his or her own body and taking control of the experience (Ausburn & Ausburn, 2004). Various Internet sites can also be used to take VFTs electronically. For example, students can take VFT experiences to explore the planet of Mars via the Internet or simulation software (Archer, 2001; Woerner, 1999). Virtual science museum field trips are reported to have comparable educational value to actual science museum field trips (Orfinger, 1998).


Museum field trips are a final category. Museum exhibits are an important resource for teaching content. Taking kindergarten students on a field trip to the controlled environment of a museum can serve as a culminating nature study activity (James, 1987). Students can be taken most conveniently to museums near where they live.

The resources of a museum can stimulate inquiry-based learning as well (Kisiel, 2006a). However, the perspectives of teachers toward museum visits are complex and must be taken into account when attempting to improve related school field trip learning experiences (Kisiel, 2007). When students visit a science museum, teachers must begin with what they know and pursue questions of interest so as to broaden and deepen their understandings through the field experience (National Academy of Sciences, 2000). Museum educators are oftentimes charged with developing and implementing the educational programs that students experience on field trips to science museums (Tran, 2007). These practitioners enrich the teaching and learning experience associated with field trips by providing the knowledge of their own abundant expertise (Cox & Su, 2004). Using tour guides and docents can also help to enhance the educational value of a museum field trip. Establishing cooperative relations between schools and museums are valuable extensions of students' classroom educational experience (Danilov, 1976).

An interesting example of a museum field trip was one in which students went to the San Diego Museum of Man to integrate the study of ancient Egyptian art across the curriculum (Fuerst, 1992). Among the topical lessons explored on the field trip were Egyptian art and artifacts, mummies, hieroglyphs, and number systems (Fuerst, 1992). The Science Museum of Minnesota, in a program to increase students' understanding of the interplay of mathematics and science, developed hands-on activities in which field trip students made a series of mathematics-oriented measurements of dinosaur bones and tree cross sections. A teaching package, also developed by the museum, included support materials to use in the classroom for pre-field trip introductions and for visiting the museum itself (Sedzielarz & Robinson, 2007).

Curricular Applications

The field trip experience should support what teachers are teaching in class and there should be a connection to the curriculum (Kisiel, 2006b). Field trip experiences should be used to enhance the development of students' content knowledge (National Academy of Sciences, 1998). Field trips serve as an effective means to increase student awareness of a specific subject studied in the classroom (Fairweather, 1980). Subject-oriented and topically related educational field trips may involve art, science, mathematics, music, social studies, home economics, industrial arts, English/language arts, career education, international travel, and interdisciplinary and integrated content areas (Krepel & DuVall, 1981).

Field trips are a perfect mechanism for setting up complex problems for individual or group investigation in discovery-type situations (Hon, 1969). Although technology such as simulation software and videos can be used as a means to connect education, life, and society to the classroom, field trips allow students to explore and construct knowledge together (Scarce, 1997). Field trips can help students in deciding on subsequent investigations that they want to pursue themselves (National Academy of Sciences, 2000). Field experiences can be used as a way to make investigations meaningful to students and create beneficial contexts in which to begin inquiries (National Academy of Sciences, 2000). Student projects can be incorporated with field trips, and field trips can also be used to develop basic research skills that are difficult to attain in the classroom (Fail, 1991; Fairweather, 1980).

Field trips are a necessary element of a humane education program to teach young children, such as kindergarten students, to respect nature and animals (Montgomery, 1977). Field trips to gather stones, flowers, or leaves can be made into real learning experiences. Students can use different colored leaves as a basis to learn about color, explore color...

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