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I remember being a foreign exchange student France on Bastille Day 23 years ago and the amount of learning I experienced that summer. Perfecting a foreign language, living the culture, watching Francois Mitterrand on television with my host family and traveling around the country, I learned so much more in those 8 weeks in Europe than I had in two years of classroom French. Now, I was able to better appreciate everything I had experienced because of the four years of French I had studied and that brings me to today’s topic - Experiential Learning, otherwise known as Field Trips.
Part of our teaching philosophy is that we should have an experiential learning experience monthly. These experiences can range from seeing a play on a topic we’re studying, to digging for fossils or visiting an historical location. Students should have an opportunity to get out of the classroom and see the country and the world. We believe students should be able to take what they have learned in the classroom and experience it in real life.
With time being one of the most scarce resources for any classroom teacher, taking children out of school for these experiences should be planned carefully so that the experience means something and reinforces what the students have been learning in class. And with money being the other scarce resource for schools, the financial investment should have a return.
Having the background, the history, the context turns a simple outing into an experience. Imagine walking around Westminster Abbey and not recognizing the names Charles Darwin or Isaac Newton, it probably looks like another beautiful church in Europe. Next, imagine walking around Westminster Abbey with an understanding of the people who have contributed to history, literature and science. All of the sudden, this beautiful church takes on a different level of significance. The context and preparatory learning are needed to appreciate and learn from the experience.
In planning this coming year’s trips, what I have found is that there are so many places we want to take the kids and so little time. Therefore, we are choosing the best trips to support what we’re learning in school in the different subjects as we view it as another learning modality. In an ideal world, the week would be eight-days long, with five days in school, one day out in the field and two days off for rest.
In addition to day trips, we believe in the value of overnight trips. These trips are wonderful because we’re able to work on social and emotional skills, which, along with academics, form the three-legged stool that is school. Travel can be an intimidating experience. Eating new foods, visiting new places, and interacting with our school friends all day AND all evening provides many informal learning opportunities on social skills, resilience, flexibility and manners. What we hope children gain from traveling as part of a school group is a better appreciation for the world we live in, that they internalize what they have learned in school and that they gain confidence in themselves.