Never too old for a field trip



We all remember our first field trip. For many of us, such trips were simple — visiting the museum of paleontology or the zoo. We had always seen the images of dinosaurs and polar bears in story books, but the ability to see live representations of those creatures was electrifying. From then on, the phrase “field trip” was synonymous with adventure. Breathless with excitement, we clambered onto the yellow school bus that transported us to wonders near and far, where we listened to concerts, walked through hushed marble rooms, and laughed at the comedic skits of medieval clowns.

Today, in high school, many similar trips continue, though they differ greatly from those we all remember so fondly. In our own extracurricular pursuits, the Model United Nations club travels to the Hague, Habitat for Humanity makes annual service trips to Cambodia, and the Global Issues Network learns about sustainable development in Thailand. Unfortunately, along these trips, very little intentional instruction in specific subject matter occurs. Much of the “learning” we gain is absorbed rather than taught, and the information is not structured or presented in a way that truly educates us. In addition, once we return (or, for those who are not members of such groups, for the entire school year), we are kept inside, our eyes on the “prize” of AP scores, while the world spins outside, and we lose the opportunity to learn from it as part of our class curricula.

Incorporating field trips into existing classes can change that. Literature classes can see a real-life rendition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Anatomy and Physiology classes, which often cater to future medical students, can visit hospitals to learn about medical ethics and the high-stakes work of doctors. Field trips do not need to be restricted to extracurricular activities — they can and should involve the core curricula as well.

Many of our school’s elective courses already offer experiences outside of the classroom. AP Art History students visited the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in September, and band students consistently take international trips to perform with youth orchestras around the world. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. In most classes, the only outside experience students get is the rare occasion of when good weather motivates the class to conduct a daily lecture or discussion outside, a distant 20 feet away from the classroom.

Of course, we cannot neglect the need for specific content-based learning. Many of the core classes we take as juniors and seniors are heavy AP courses in which every additional hour of content is crucial for our exams in May. But surely we can afford to delegate just one extra day for a mandatory curricular field trip. Ultimately, in 20 years, we may not remember the specific justification Darcy gave Elizabeth in withholding Wickham’s fortune in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. What we will remember, however, is the experience of going with a class to  see our first play, and the specific direction the producers took in giving the work light.

Indeed, even in these crucial AP classes, field trips can provide insight and experience with the subject that can augment students’ understanding and comfort with the material. Attending a play, for instance, one can much more easily see how movement is critical to a scene, a lesson that can be easily lost when one simply reads the stage directions. Similarly, witnessing first-order materials and primary source documents in a museum connects students to the historical events and people they may write about on future tests, and create a level of comprehension that surpasses that found in reading secondary sources or hearing another lecture on the Battle of Waterloo.

In all then, perhaps there is a reason we remember field trips so fondly: they are now so rare as to be nearly nonexistent. However, for much more than simply our excitement, they should be remembered again, and brought back into the curriculum. Riding the yellow bus, we can see a lot more than over the edge of our desks.