Balancing budgets against the needs of students has always been a struggle for schools. To make ends meet, many districts are limiting the number of field trips a teacher can take with his or her class. While this may make financial sense, it can also mean students are missing important learning opportunities.
Before becoming the Exhibits and Gallery Director for Gateway to Science, I was a teacher. I was luckier than many of my colleagues. I had an amazing classroom and access to state-of-the-art technology. Even with that, however, I knew my students needed more than what their classroom experience provided. They needed to get out and explore! I still believe field trips are a necessary part of any education.
A good field trip provides five important components to a student’s learning experience:
- Different setting
- A break from routines
- A change in how learning occurs
- An opportunity to apply classroom learning to real-world situations, and
- Encouragement of experimentation.
This is why it is so important for kids to have a chance to explore science, technology, engineering and math in a way that allows for different approaches and open-ended outcomes. Gateway to Science’s gallery is full of exhibits designed to encourage guests to think, try things and observe what happens. If you asked them, most visitors would say that they were just playing, but the truth is, they are actually learning. It is no secret that tactile or hands-on learning is fun, engaging and better-retained. While some might argue that this can happen in any classroom with a great teacher, I would counter that giving students a break in routine can put them in a different mindset and get them thinking in new directions.
We’ve worked hard in our gallery to make sure that visiting teachers can easily apply their class’ field trip experiences to their curriculum. With the help of University of Mary Elementary Education students, we’ve been able to identify exhibits in our collection that apply to specific state science standards. These have been posted on our website for visiting teachers to access. We also encourage teachers to preview the gallery before the field trip so they can develop lesson plans that will reinforce their upcoming visit. Teachers that bring students to Gateway to Science tell us how much it means to their students and reinforces what they are doing in their classroom.
A posted quote in our gallery from Gayla Schill of Wing reinforces my point, “Oh, I can’t wait to able to introduce a unit and start by saying, ‘Remember when we visited Gateway to Science’…”
We hear from teachers in surveys and repeat visits that field trips are an important part of what they are doing in their classroom. To me, the most powerful testament to the importance of field trips is when I see students come back on their own, with their parents in tow, to show them the awesome things they learned at Gateway to Science. To schedule a field trip to Gateway to Science, visit gatewaytoscience.org/educators/field-trips.
~Kim Eslinger, Gallery & Exhibits Director