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Creative Field Trip Solutions

Field Trip Fun

Want to get students excited about something? Take them on a field trip. Most teachers know the value of a good field trip in the learning process, but these days, field trips have been drastically cut back. Why? Field trips are expensive and most districts no longer cover them – and, with all the curricular pressures from NCLB, many teachers have no time to plan them.

There are some solutions, and they aren’t just about taking a virtual field trip (though, that’s not a  bad idea, too).

To help solve the expense issue, Target Stores now has a new “Field Trips Grant Program” for the 2008-2009 school year. The grant applications are available from September 2 to November 1, 2008.

Other solutions to the expense of field trips are not so creative and they include asking the parents to pay, if you are in a community where that is a reasonable option for parents; or having kids raise the money in other ways.

Once you have the finances figured out, here is a way you can solve the planning issue and also teach students more than you ever expected: get the kids to do it. Have the students do all the planning. I know this sounds unrealistic, but it is not.In fact, it is a real-world project based learning experience. 

First have the students get in groups and brainstorm about where they would like to go, within reason of course.They cannot go to the North Pole. Next have them do some online research. This not only gets them excited, it teaches them how to search effectively on the Web. Here are some handouts on how to search effectively that you might find helpful.

To actually plan the trip using maps and distances students can use Google Maps. It not only teaches them how to use maps, it teaches them distances and timing. Here is an example of a map that someone created for art gallery visiting in NYC. Students as young as 7th graders can do an excellent job planning the trip. They can even keep track of expenses using a free spreadsheet that also has a chat function at http://spreadsheets.google.com/. Kids can collaborate online at home and also in school using spreadsheets.

I will give you a real-life example of high school students planning a field trip — this is a field trip I have taken my students on for the past ten years: Going from San Francisco to New York City for five days in February or March. I have taken between 44-50 students to NYC in the spring. One of the days is spent at a journalism conference, but the other four days are open for planning. Once the kids did the planning the first time, I realized they can do it even better than I can. This is what they learn how to do, but I do not give them the following Web addresses to start. They do the research themselves and come up with similar url addresses:

  • find the least expensive flights: www.expedia.com or www.orbitz.com
  • find least expensive hotel space: www.hotels.com
  • find good restaurants. http://menupages.com/
  • find places to visit: http://www.mustseenewyork.com/maps.html
  • figure out the distances: maps.google.com
  • figure out the NYC subway system: http://www.mta.info/nyct/maps/submap.htm
  • figure out how to go from the airport to the hotel and back:
  • what plays to see: http://www.broadway.com/

In the process, they also learn: How to use the Web as a great planning tool; how to come up with realistic places to go; how to cooperate with their peer group; how to figure out the expenses for the group; and how to set deadlines for all aspects of the trip. Many of the students pay for their own trips by working during the fall and winter. The cost of the trip in the past has been $995, which includes almost everything. Of course, this year with the escalating gas prices, we may not be able to afford to go, but we can always hope things will change. The important part of the trip is that it not only teaches students great research skills, it also is an amazing and memorable bonding activity for them.

I realize that few teachers want to undertake the responsibilities of a trip like this, but they can do something similar on a closer and smaller scale. For example, ask students to plan a trip to a local nearby city for one night. Have them come up with the activities. You would be surprised at how clever and resourceful students can be. You can be more directive and give them more guidelines, but it is not necessary. I would be interested in hearing from other teachers about their field trip experiences. As we all know, there is nothing as valuable in learning as actually experiencing something firsthand.

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