Field Trip Anxiety

A few years into teaching my physical geology course, I made a bold move and added an all-day, mandatory field trip to the course. With 120 students in the course, orchestrating this field trip was neither an easy nor inexpensive task. I used the field trip as a major milestone of the course, talking it up for weeks beforehand, and structuring the lectures, labs and homework assignments to lead up to the Big Day. I am usually a pretty enthusiastic teacher, and my own excitement for the upcoming field trip was enough to make most of the students roll their eyes.

Imagine my dismay then, when George knocked on my office door the day before the field trip. George said he "needed to talk." George was an economics major, a junior, and had spent his entire life in Queens, NY prior to coming to college in New England. He was an average student in the course, didn't apply himself too much, but he was a successful student in his econ and business courses and was articulate, funny and quite likable. He was hoping to "survive" this course to get the science requirement over with.

George sat rigidly on the edge of the chair in my office and began to explain that he did not want to go on the much-anticipated field trip. "I'm not much of a nature-lover. My roommate freshman year was one of those granola types and spent every weekend camping or backpacking. For the life of me I don't understand why someone who can afford to attend this university would go out and sleep in the dirt on purpose!"

George went on to describe the litany of certain disasters that would befall him on the field trip. He had heard from another geology student about an incident where there were snakes basking on an outcrop. How and where would everyone go to the bathroom? What if it rained? What if he "fell off a cliff or something?"

What George really wanted was to be excused from the field trip and be allowed to do an alternate assignment instead. "Please," he begged, "I'll do anything else as a make-up assignment. Just don't make me spend the whole day outside."

Questions and Responses

These questions were posed to participants at the 2007 workshop in the form of a gallery walk ice breaker. The responses were gathered as comments that the participants wrote as they progressed through the walk.

Question 1
What actions did the teacher take that may have enhanced George's anxiety? What might the teacher have done to prevent or alleviate George's dilemma? What barriers to learning have you encountered in your own teaching in the field?

Question 2
What should the teacher do next? What role does student comfort/anxiety play in enabling or hindering learning?

Field Trip Anxiety  

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