Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Real World Learning: Field Studies and Expert Events

Over the past many years, I've delved deeper into the area of field studies and expert events. I want field studies to be deeper, more meaningful, and a regular part of a child's learning experience.

Real life learning is learning in the field and with experts, and giving students that skill allows them to experience learning in deeper and more meaningful ways.

When done well, field studies have a lasting, deep effect on a child's learning life.

The students in our school generally enjoy a large number of field studies and expert events each year. Our Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) sponsor culture events throughout the year. Those events typically include cultural presentations by experts in the arts.  Our local foundation, The Wayland Public School Foundation  (WPSF), and our PTO also sponsor visits by expert scientists, choreographers, lyricist, living history artists, and more. We work with the experts to create programs that match our students' learning goals, and we work with students to prepare them for the expert learning experiences.

Field studies, like expert visits, generally match the classroom learning goals. For example, we visit the Harvard Peabody Museum in Cambridge to learn about rocks and minerals and Maya/Inca history. We also visit Boston to learn about our nation's history, and local zoos and nature preserves to learn about ecosystems past and present as well as endangered species.

Field Studies require extra attention in order to do the work well. In this post, I present the structures that prepare students for positive field studies and expert events.

Make the time as an educator to know the field study location/information or expert well. Do the reading, visit the location ahead of time, or watch a related video. Then work with individuals who represent the field study location or expert visitor to craft a positive experience that matches your students' learning needs and interests.

Once you've done the preparation, work on accessing funds through local or broader resources such as PTO's, local foundations, national organizations, or via a student fee.

Make sure you have enough support. More chaperones are better than less as that way you have help if a problem such as an ill child or an emergency occurs. It's also best to train the chaperones in some way prior to the event so that they are well aware of the event's focus and connection to the students' learning goals and interests.

Student Behavior
Teach children how to behave in the specific venue. Help them to understand that different venues invite different kinds of behavior. For example if it's fun day at the High School fields they should bring lots of enthusiasm, excitement, and a readiness to move, yell, and play with vigor, but if you're attending a Symphony then there will be a different behavioral expectation with regard to the clothes they wear, the volume of their voices, and the way they show their appreciation to the artists. The more explicit your preparation work is for student behavior, the greater success you'll have on the trip.

Make sure that the event's agenda is clearly outlined and reviewed for students, chaperones, and educators involved.

Student Lists and Safety
Bring a complete list of student names and preferably their family phone numbers. Also bring a phone so that you can contact the school, authorities, or parents if necessary. Make sure that important numbers are quickly available on your phone. Bring students' medicines and a safety kit as well in a safety packet.

Lunches, Snacks, and Water
Think ahead about the kinds of food and water your students will need. Alert the cafeteria if you have students who receive lunch each day there so that cafeteria employees can make bag lunches for those students.

Generally it's best if students bring their own backpacks with needed supplies such as their lunches, water, snacks, and related learning materials. Make sure that every child has a backpack to use.

Learning Packets
Provide students with learning packets ahead of time. Keep the packets simple including a map, study protocol, biographies of important presenters, and learning focus questions or fill-in-the-blank sentences.

Post Trip Thank You Notes and Reflection
Make time for post trip reflections and thank you notes. Sending thank you notes will ensure a good welcome the next time your students experience a specific visitor or visit a special location. The reflections will help to solidify the learning for students and also help you as the educator to revise the trip or visit for even greater success the next time.

As we move to deeper learning experiences for our students, it's integral that we think deeply about all the elements that make up a terrific learning event. As I look over this list, I realize that we include most of these elements, but often the way I include them is rushed so with the year ahead in mind, I want to slow it down and deepen the wonderful experiences we sponsor for our students. Deepening the planning, execution, and follow-up reflections and thank-you notes will help students to truly appreciate and learn from these incredible, life enriching events.