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Earth & Space Systems - Pedagogical Connections: Field Trips

Field trips can create some of the most powerful learning opportunities that a child will experience, especially in science. Yet, few teachers ever receive any specific instruction on the do's and don'ts of field trip design. Earth & Space Systems uses 2 day-long field trips to address this pedagogical aspect along with the geologic content of the trip itself (40% of the field trip paper specifically relates to pedagogical issues).

Preparing the Student for Field Trip Content

Perhaps the most under-appreciated aspect of using field trips is the need to prepare students for what they will see and do with their field trip experience. While some students (and teachers) view field trips as an outing away from the traditional classroom or reward for hard work, field trips actually provide powerful learning and growth opportunities if students are properly prepared to appreciate it. Modeling of such preparation is part of the approach used in Earth & Space Systems and occurs in two forms.

In the week prior to the Taylors Falls field trip, the pre-service teachers are asked to read a place based writing assignment that is used to prepare introductory geology students for their course work. In this assignment the students must describe a place they value and indicate how they believe if may have formed. The pre-service teachers receive an example of one student's response to this assignment focusing on the Taylors Falls field trip site. This shows the pre-service teachers what a novice to the area might see upon arrival and gives them a sense of base line information and student interest.

Modeling also occurs in the manner by which plate tectonic processes and characteristics of divergent plate boundaries, sedimentary depositional processes, glacial meltwater channels and stratigraphic principles are investigated in the weeks prior to the field trip. Slide shows, stratigraphic profiles and readings on the geology of the Rio Grande Rift in New Mexico and Lake Superior segment of the midcontinental rift of which Taylors Falls is a part give students an informed view of what they should expect to see, how it fits into the larger geologic picture and why I believe it is of importance to them.

During the classroom session before the field trip the class discusses the intro student's essay for understanding of the site and how it compares to what we expect to find based on our more extensive study.

Designing the Field Trip

Earth & Space Systems approaches this aspect by providing students with examples of 2 detailed field trips with Taylors Falls (HTML File 52kB Jun5 05) and Minnesota River Valley - Morton (HTML File 64kB Jun5 05) field guides designed around questions for each outcrop. While most of the questions are geological in nature, pedagogical technique questions are included. This latter aspect receives a great deal of attention while in the field. At each outcrop the pre-service teachers are asked to identify the primary points of the stop and how they fit into the larger objectives of the field trip. They are also asked to indicate their sense of the appropriateness of each outcrop for students in the age range they expect to teach.

On the Taylors Falls trip most of the sites are appropriate for all ages though not necessarily all physical ability levels. The Minnesota River Valley - Morton field trip presents greater challenges due to road/parking access, abandoned quarries, steep drop offs, lack of restrooms and private property issues. The trips complement each other by providing a range of examples of where students should and should not be brought in groups of different ages and sizes. Lively discussions arise from these experiences as the pre-service teachers begin to consider the challenges of bringing their students to places they believe are relevant to their objectives.

Integrating Multiple Subjects on Field Trips

The nature of the both field trips provides abundant examples of opportunities for integrating multiple subject areas and experiential education into the design of field trips. While the most obvious connections come from opportunities in biology, students identify many other learning opportunities that could be incorporated into such a field trip such as:

  • Water quality testing opening doors to chemistry
  • Historical & archeological sites appealing to social studies
  • Rock climbing, hiking & canoing offer options in physical education
  • Beauty of the locations inspire work in art and English

The class has even encountered theatre students filming a movie while on these trips. The student walk away with a broadened appreciation of what is possible on field trips and how support for a broadly based field trip can help make such trips a reality in tight budget times.