Let’s say you could choose your class’s next field trip destination. Would you choose a shopping mall or an art museum? Would you prefer an amusement park or a play?
More teachers are choosing to reward students with field trips to places they think kids enjoy, like the mall or the movies. That means educational field trips to museums and theaters are declining. Jay P. Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, blames this trend on the pressures of standardized testing. He says teachers want to reward their students for hard work.
The decline in what Greene calls “culturally-enriching field trips” will hurt disadvantaged kids the most. If schools don’t introduce them to museums and other cultural institutions, they are unlikely to experience them, according to Greene. “Just as we want our kids to be aware of good literature and good science, we want them to be aware of good art and good theater,” Greene told TFK. “Museums take kids out of their narrow worlds and introduce them to new people, places and ideas.”
Greene points out additional benefits of these “educational field trips.” He did a study of more than 10,000 students who toured an art museum in Arkansas. The study showed that students acquired critical-thinking skills even on this short field trip. “They became more observant,” Greene explained. “They learned to look closely at art, notice details, and think about what the details mean.”
A trip to an art museum is the kind of field trip JoAnne Winnick finds valuable. She teaches fifth grade at Clara Barton Elementary, in Anaheim, California. Winnick says field trips should be educational, to promote the sciences or the arts. In her school district, before funding was cut for field trips, fourth graders studied wetlands at nearby Newport Beach. Fifth graders studied chaparral, a dense growth of shrubs, in Modjeska Canyon.
On these outings, students did hands-on experiments. They hiked and observed nature close-up. Such activities allow students to deepen their understanding of science concepts they would otherwise learn only from books. “We have limited time to teach all the standards,” Winnick told TFK. “To take precious time for reward trips would be most unwise.”
Annica Lowek is a fifth grade teacher at KIPP Infinity Charter School, in New York City. She argues that even a fun field trip can be turned into an educational experience. “Anytime you leave the building, you’re giving kids a chance to practice what you’re teaching them in school,” she says. “That could be math or science, or it could be simply learning how to behave on the subway.”
Lowek’s students have experienced all kinds of field trips. They’ve been on camping trips and to an arcade. Four times a year, they go to a theater in New York City, where they see plays, operas, musicals and puppet shows. “The kids think the shows are super fun,” Lowek told TFK. “But teachers know these are valuable learning experiences.”
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