Field Trips to Museums Are Great But…

This post is re-blogged from The Teacher In The Museum, which “is written to help museum educators better understand how to design learning experiences for the 21st Century student.” The author of the post is Steve Gillis, President & Chief Learning Officer at Net Learning Solutions Inc. and a Social Studies teacher who “helps to bring the spirit of museums into the classroom using online technologies”. Steve can be reached at: for further information.


steve gillis

I’d love to take my students on a field trip to a museum, but…

  • It is too expensive. I teach 120 grade 7 students. To take all of them to a museum it would cost $1800. That’s $1200 for four school buses and $600 for museum fees ($5 per student is cheap, some museums charge more). I am not allowed to ask students to pay for such field trips; the money has to come out of my school’s enrichment budget (and I’m not the only teacher wanting to access these funds).
  • It’s a hassle finding chaperones. For such a large group of students, I’ll need at least 10 adults to join us. Not every parent can take time off of work to help out with field trips. If I don’t have the required number of adults to chaperone, the trip is cancelled.
  • It’s too far. I’d love to take my students to Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, but it’s a 2 1/2 hour drive one way from my school. I can’t justify a field trip in which travel time is greater than the time that we would spend at that site.
  • Paperwork. Imagine the paperwork if a student gets injured!
  • It isn’t educational.  Some museums just don’t know how to cater to school audiences. Their programs don’t engage the students. Teachers and students walk away from such experiences feeling as if their time was wasted.

These are but a few of the issues that keep schools from participating in field trips.

I love museums, because:

  • There are interesting people that work in museums. I always meet interesting museum professionals that I wish that I could clone so that they could make history come alive in my classroom. You have to admit, that an engaging interpreter does make the story come to life.
  • Museums have cool stuff! I’m like a kid in a toy store, when I’m in a museum. I often see things that help me to better understand the topic at hand. It’s a shame that I can’t bring those artifacts into my classroom ( I know that some museums offer ‘museum in the box’ programs, but that’s not the same as visiting the museum).
  • Museums make learning fun! You might not think that you’re learning as you walk through the museum, but you are – it’s a different kind of learning than classroom learning.Sometimes students need to get out of the classroom to learn!

Bringing The Museum To The Classroom

If I can’t take my students on field trips, how can the museum come to the classroom?

  •  I could invite someone from the museum to come to speak to my students. The problem with this is that it can become a scheduling issue. Teachers that teach other subjects don’t take too kindly to their class time being taken away from them, because the Social Studies teacher has arranged a museum presentation.
  • I could reserve a ‘museum box’. I have always been leery of doing this, because you know and I know that students (and some teachers) are not always gentle with the items in the box. Things can be damaged or go missing – I don’t want to take a chance!

Technology is a game changer – it can bring the museum into the classroom. A well designed online lesson (or series of lessons) has the potential to capture the ‘spirit’ of the museum and engage students at the same time.

Online technologies allow the teacher and the student to access the museum from anywhere and at anytime. What does that mean to museums? In theory, a museum’s educational program can be accessed from anywhere in the world, as long as the museum and the school are connected to the internet. Imagine the possibilities:

  • Reaching out to a much larger audience. Field trips limit the number of people that you can reach. Most schools won’t allow their schools to travel more than 1 – 2 hours away for a field trip. How many schools in your area are not accessing your educational programs, because of distance? Imagine offering your programs to schools that don’t have the opportunity to come to your museum. Imagine reaching out to schools throughout your province or state; imagine reaching out to schools across the nation or even around the world. Imagine…
  • Increased revenue. Some museums charge a fee for their online educational programs. Schools are willing to pay for access to such programs. Let me give you an example: My principal and I were discussing the cost of a field trips. It costs $300/ day to rent a school bus, then add the cost of admission to the museum – it can get expensive. I brought up the issue of paying for access to online educational programs at museums. Her response was that even though a visit to a museum can be a valuable educational experience, that museums have to understand that schools can’t always come to them. She would be willing to pay a fee for the students to access the museum’s educational program online. Let’s assume that student admission is $5 (whether the student is attending the museum in person or online). The cost of online access is far cheaper than participating in a field trip ($1800 in my example at the beginning of this article, as opposed to $600 – 120 students  at $5/each). How many schools could access the online material in day? Think about it!
  • Increased interest. An interesting thing happens when students access museums online, especially when they find the site interesting and engaging – they tell their parents about it, which often leads to a family visit to the museum. Don’t take my word for it, check out the literature to confirm my suspicions.

I hope that I have piqued your interest.My plan is to continue this discussion with a series of articles that will look at how to use technology to reach to schools, what makes an engaging online lesson, and how to market your museum’s educational programs. I encourage you to subscribe by filling out the subscription box in the right hand corner. Please feel free to pass this article to your friends and colleagues.

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