Teach in the Field
Field experiences can range in size and type, from a single class activity to a multi-week or semester-long project, a semester or year long independent project, or a class service learning project. Students can also get field experiences through internships that can prepare them for the workforce or even provide a seamless path to a job after graduation.
Pedagogic guidance for teaching in the field
Field experiences can help students make connections between content and skills learned in the classroom and real world problems. These experiences help students understand the relationships between observations vs. inferences vs. predictions in an explicit way, with lots of opportunity for practice. They can also build practical skills, such as learning how to work with technical equipment and software which in turn can bolster students' resumes.
Learn more about teaching in the field from the On the Cutting Edge Teaching Geoscience in the Field module, which was developed following a 2010 workshop on the topic. The module provides information related to the place of fieldwork in preparing students, benefits of field work, guidance for helping students develop field skills and habits, and advice for designing field experiences. While focused on geoscience, much of the information provided can be extended to other fields as well.
Effective strategies for teaching in the field
- Practice making observations, inferences, and predictions in the field; explore the difference among these three pieces.
- Explicitly model scientific behavior and the process of science, explaining to students each step of the process, the uncertainties, the caveats, the dead ends, etc.
- Use a think-aloud approach to solving field problems and demonstrating scientific reasoning. An example of how to do this from the geosciences is: (1) start work in a field area by sharing with students all your thoughts about the first outcrops, (2) observe landscape images with students, sharing what you observe and think, including near-field and far-field interpretations, (3) what you notice about geologic representations, like a cross section, and (4) how you would find yourself on a map and how you would get from point A to point B.
- Have students generate, explore, develop, and test multiple working hypotheses, to show that data are the arbitrator of which hypothesis is most likely, but that new types of data may change this.
Opportunities to strengthen teaching in the field
Field experience can be carried out anywhere - even in urban environments. For example:
- Think Like a Geologist Field Trip to Downtown San Jose, by LeAnne Teruya
- Building Stone Geology by Laura Reiser Wetzel, Eckerd College
- Non-traditional and under-represented students in hydrogeology: Learning by discovery in an urban environment by Laura Rademacher, California State University, Los Angeles
- Urban Environmental Excursions: Field trips to connect urban geology students with the world around them by Larry Lemke, Wayne State University
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: Earth Materials and Ancient Cultures by Wayne Powell, Brooklyn College
Field experiences can also incorporate service learning. For example:
- Campus Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory by Suzanne Savanick, Macalester College
- A Sustainable Southwest Japanese Garden by
Rhonda Spidell, Albuquerque Academy
- Rainwater Harvesting Service Learning Project by Linda Ruiz McCall and Cameron Turner, Texas Water Development Board
- Green Landscape and Environmental Policy by
Stephanie Freeman, Alabama A&M University
- See more Service learning projects
Materials and Resources for Teaching in the Field
- Teaching in the Field SERC site guide contains links to SERC-hosted projects related to teaching in the field and includes example teaching activities, field courses, and teaching tips.
- Field-Based Learning from Research on Learning .
- Teaching Geoscience in the Field - from On the Cutting Edge.
- Undergraduate Research from Pedagogy in Action.
- Using Local Examples to Teach about Sustainability - learn more about the benefits of local examples and how to incorporate them into the classroom.
- Service Learning - learn more about service learning and get ideas for incorporating field work into service learning projects.