Sarah Schertz has a Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education from New York University. She was a part of the 2015 Peoria Playhouse Teacher Team. She teaches kindergarten at Methodist Family Child Care Center in Peoria, IL.
Sarah brought her ten five- and six-year-old students to the museum for a pilot Explore/Challenge/Become field trip on July 27th. After the field trip, Sarah gathered feedback from her students, and videotaped these conversations. While I cannot share the videos of these interviews here, they are referenced in the conversation below.
As you know, I have written about your class’s visit to the PlayHouse for this blog, and am now looking forward to hearing your perspective on it. What did the field trip achieve? Were there any outcomes for your students that you can identify for us?
My kids really enjoyed it and I think they got a lot out of it.
I know you have written about how exposure is a passive experience, but I think it’s the first step toward discovery – an important first step. My students are in the same classroom every day; they see the same kids, play with the same toys, do the same activities. As a teacher you try to change it up but you are constrained within those four walls. Exposure is an important first step because it is something new, different – they see the world from a better point of view, see something they don’t yet know and can only try to understand.
So was there any added value to this field trip model, as opposed to just opening the doors to your students and letting them play?
Yes. Because my kids are older they can look at their field trip as learning (as well as play) and understand that they are working toward goals. That’s what the Explore/Challenge/Become field trip allows them to do – they get to play, and explore, but they also discuss, make decisions, experiment, and take all this back into the museum and go deeper in their explorations.
During the second half of the field trip, students went into the classroom and did activities like the sink or float experiment, and then had to take their experiments into the real world of the museum and put those ideas into use. They had to use those experiments to make decisions and create something that would float. I think that they learned that experiences in the classroom are connected to the real world, and the things you learn in the classroom can be used in the real world and help you to solve problems in the real world. Sometimes that connection is lost, and they don’t make the connection between what they learned in school and places where they can use that learning.
In your videotaped class discussion, most of your students mentioned things they saw during the first part of the field trip, the open play and exploration time. Do you think the second part of the field trip was less interesting or memorable to them?
All of the students got to experience all the areas of the museum when they were playing, making it a shared experience, and they could discuss it with each other. During the second part only a couple kids made something that flew, while others made a boat or put on a play. When they discussed the field trip, not everyone else had done that activity, which made it harder to have a conversation about that. I think it’s easier for them to talk about what they all share, and have a frame of reference for.
How important is that shared experience? Should the entire field trip be a shared experience, instead of having them select activities and work in small groups?
No – it’s good to break them up into different areas. My class didn’t have the opportunity to do this after the trip, but small groups potentially give students the opportunity to be leaders. So if I went and made something to fly, then later I could be the teacher and teach the other kids. It gives all of the students the opportunity to be experts on something. But this requires the teacher leading them through the activity in the classroom, and giving them prompts to help them explain it.
What would you like to see changed for future field trips?
On this field trip I was an observer. I look forward to returning with my kids in the role of a teacher. That would allow me to interact with my kids in a more relaxed setting, to ask them those key questions and have time for a real conversation. Field trips offer an opportunity to have real conversations with your kids, to get to understand what they are thinking and how they view the world. You can learn a lot about your kids in novel situations from what they choose, and how they problem solve.
What else can you tell us about your experience of this field trip?
All of the other teachers from my school who visited the PlayHouse said that they really liked it because everything was developmentally appropriate for our age group. Often on field trips students have to sit longer than they can handle, listen to someone talk for longer than they can pay attention to – that’s when you see behavior issues. On this trip they didn’t have a single behavior issues because everyone was completely engaged.
In past blog posts I have asked whether we need “classroom management” on field trips, or whether the need for management is a sign of poor program design. What are your thoughts on this?
It’s both. Some kids have trouble with impulsivity, but other kids can go with the flow, and if they are engaged and having fun they won’t have time for other behavior issues. It is important to share the rules of the museum, which your teacher did – he told them to be respectful of the exhibits, and to stay in the same area as their adults. If students are told by teachers before the trip, and then again by museum staff when they arrive, then they have clear boundaries, which sets them up to be successful.