Beyond the Classroom: The Importance of Field Trips in Public Education

Can you recall your favorite field trip?  I remember mine: it was during the fall of my 8th grade year.  My grade traveled to Pine Knoll Shores via bus to the Trinity Center for its Sound to Sea Program.  For the weeks leading up to the field trip, my science teacher had taught my class some basic concepts surrounding biology and ecology (i.e. importance of conservatism, what types of animals lived in saltwater vs. freshwater environments) and told us that our trip to the Trinity Center would give us the opportunity to apply those concepts in real life.

Even though that field trip occurred in my life nearly 7 years ago, I remember it pretty vividly.  We learned how to conduct a water quality test in different environments and got to wade through the marsh to observe its creatures in their natural habitats.  We got to dissect a squid and talked about how its unique parts let it thrive in the water.  I slept in a cabin with my closest friends and spent my free time walking on the beach and singing the songs our program leaders had taught us by fire pit the night before.  That long weekend on the coast probably is my favorite memory from middle school – it was incredibly fun.

Field trips like the one I have just described to you is not only important to students because they are fun & allow students to engage in team building activities outside of the classroom.  A recent study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association regarding the benefits of field trips (researchers refer to them as “educational travel” experiences) found that:

“…regardless of gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, youth who take educational trips have better grades (59 percent), higher graduation rates from high school (95 percent) and college (63 percent), and greater income (12 percent higher annually). In fact, 89 percent said educational trips had a positive, lasting impact on their education and career because the trips made them more engaged, intellectually curious and interested in and out of school.”

With all of this being said, field trips are consistently being cut from school district budgets across the country.  According to this article written by the Washington Post, “more than half of schools eliminated at least some planned field trips in 2010-2011.”  The same article argues that school leaders across the country are opting out of funding for these out of classroom experiences, or field trips, in fear of taking time away from preparation for standardized testing.

A friend of mine recently shared an anecdote with me that shows the tough decisions some school leaders have to make and how those decisions affect the morale of their students: the school had planned for the juniors to go on a field trip to a historic North Carolina site and watch a presentation related to the Civil War since U.S. History was a required course for juniors in high school to take.  When the first round of “Common Core”-like exams for U.S. History were introduced halfway through her junior year, the school canceled the trip in order to have more prep time for the test.

To my readers who are either recently removed from public school or are still in it, has something like this happened to you?  How can a school balance experiential learning while also trying to stay competitive in an era of standardized testing?

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