By Teachers, For Teachers
Field trips are fun; there’s no argument about that. And they are often valuable experiences for students, chances to make connections to the real world and do hands-on activities outside the classroom. But with tight schedules and tighter budgets, a field trip may seem out of reach. Here are some solutions and alternatives to explore:
Solution: Have the field trip come to you.
Museums, theater companies, wildlife sanctuaries and other groups that used to host school field trips are feeling the pinch of educational budget cuts, too. Some of these organizations have in-school activities or guest speakers they can offer as an alternative.
If you’ve worked with a group before, it never hurts to ask if they might offer this kind of program. Most organizations list these programs on their websites. If you don’t see a program that meets your needs, ask. Many museums and other groups have education as a part of their mission statement, so they might be willing to work with you to create something special just for your students.
Solution: Explore alternatives.
Sometimes the field trip price tag is out of reach. But take a look around: with a little creative thinking, you might be able to find new field trip options that are less expensive.
If the history museum is too pricey, is there a nearby historic site that you could visit instead? If the zoo is out of reach, have you contacted local wildlife rescue groups or animal rehabilitation clinics? Sometimes less-well-known destinations can offer your students unique experiences as well as less-expensive ones.
Also, keep in mind that some businesses are glad to offer a “behind the scenes” tour for free. You may be able to build some new cross-curricular connections if your students see the inner workings of a factory, restaurant, or office. Send a letter home to parents – they may be able to help you arrange some fascinating field trips of their workplaces at very low cost!
There are other alternatives to explore as well. If busses are too costly, is there a destination within walking distance? Some museums charge more for educational tours because it requires an education staff member to be in attendance. What if you asked students to be guides for each other? Assign groups of students to focus on specific topics they will encounter at the museum, make them do the research in advance, and then ask them to lead the rest of the class through that section of the museum.
If you’re tight on time and money, there are still options available.
Solution1: The On-Campus Field Trip
Incredulous? Don’t be. There are often experiences on campus that you’ve never thought to explore. What could your students learn from an in-depth exploration of the school theater, the library, or the weight room? You will need the assistance of a resource teacher, coach, or librarian, but it’s certainly cost-effective. Could your students do cooking science experiments in the cafeteria kitchen? Do service learning by visiting the classroom of some younger students and tutoring them? Who knew there were so many options available without ever setting foot on a bus?
Solution 2: Virtual Experiences
The Internet offers opportunities for students to explore without ever leaving the classroom. To really make this feel like something special, consider using a virtual field trip to do something your students would never be able to do in real life – such as the Online Explorations connected to the Hubble Space Telescope or the Virtual Field Trip of the Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California. Digital resources are also available from the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. If students learn about World War II by listening to an interview with a decorated war hero, that can be just as impactful as a trip to the local history museum.
Solution 3: Field Trip Materials without the Trip
Don’t forget to explore the resources your field trip venues might offer. Some organizations have lesson plans and project materials you can use in your classroom without ever visiting the venue. Museums may have photographs, videos, or virtual tours that allow you to share some of their treasures with your students from the comfort of the classroom.
Solution 4: Independent field trips
While it won’t work for every school setting, sometimes the “independent field trip” approach is the best solution. Select a topic or question you want students to explore – for example, “How does food get from the farm to our table?” Then have each student (or each parent of a younger student) sign up to explore some part of that process on their own. Students might visit a farm, a farmer’s market, a factory that processes food, a supermarket, a restaurant, and so forth. Give them a set of questions or specific tasks to accomplish during their trip, and then have them report back to the rest of the class. Working together, your class can create a comprehensive picture of the farm-to-table chain with much more detail than you could get from a single field trip!
Some field trips are irreplaceable opportunities, but if time and money are in short supply, don’t despair! A little extra research, some help from parents, and a little creative planning can create a brand new memorable experience for your students!