“Field trips” in your own facility can provide experiential learning

Principals are always looking for practical ways to teach kids. They send classes on field trips, bring in guest speakers, and show videos. But you don’t necessarily have to send your students outside the building for a rich learning experience. Look around and you will see the many opportunities for experiential learning that can be just as engaging and memorable as an outside trip.

Try taking a “field trip” to different spots in your school. You may not think that students will be excited about this kind of field trip, but it’s really a living laboratory that can be revisited and re-examined in many different ways to accomplish various learning objectives. One major benefit of this is that you can give your students a meaningful field trip at little or no cost.

The fundamental premise of the field trip is to escape the classroom and engage in an adventure, enjoy a change of venue, and experience something not possible within a traditional context.

Teachers who are looking to engage their students will find that multidisciplinary lessons based on these experiences work even better in class groups where students become interested in different aspects of the lessons. Working collectively and learning from each other before, during, and after the field trip, students are empowered to collaborate in creating diverse and interesting projects and reports. Myriad resources are available to teachers looking to help students analyze broad topical examples with embedded required curriculum lessons.

STEAM Learning in Your Own Building

There are many reasons why there is so much interest in multidisciplinary teaching today. The current emphasis on expanding STEAM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) has inspired a lot of ideas for creative teaching. The United Nations’ recent agreement on sustainable development goals has reignited the conversation about global warming and sustainability. Teachers can easily teach their students about these critical topics by visiting different areas in your school. Here are some examples:

• Physics and Engineering: Buildings are full of physics and associated engineering lessons. The daylight streaming through windows and the heat trapped by the greenhouse effect, the electricity flowing into countless devices, and the water delivery and sewage removal systems can be used as platforms to teach thermodynamics, optics, energy, and more. Computer systems and networks, thermostats, clocks, and other common devices can be appreciated in new ways. The architecture of the building itself is full of engineering lessons, such as structure, loads, and weather resilience.

• Chemistry: A visit with the janitorial staff is rewarded with conversations around cleaning supplies and chemical reactions. Acids, bases, and solvents are all used for a variety of purposes. Discussions around environmental impact, toxicity, labels, appropriate storage containers, and safety are good starting points. Chemical reactions, dissolution, and compounds all can be understood through analysis of common materials.

• Nutrition: The cafeteria kitchen is the obvious stop for discussions around food supplies, weights and measures, health, and diet. Students are commonly using personal health monitoring devices such as Fitbits, and these may be incorporated into the discussions of calories and exercise. Multicultural diversity can also be studied through examining different menu options involving foods from various countries.

• Biology: Trips to the nurse’s office and the gym will yield discussions about the human body as understood through diagnostic tools and exercise machines.

• Economics and Politics: Attending a school board meeting (albeit after school hours) can offer lessons into budgets, planning, politics and bureaucracy, processes, etc. Students need to be exposed to adult leadership as role models and see how their educational institutions really work. Likewise, a trip to the principal’s office can be a positive experience with lessons around financials, human resources, and logistics.

• The Environment and Sustainability: There are so many ways to analyze sustainability around a building and develop conversation topics. A trip outside to look at the plants and trees is a good place to start. Some schools include an arboretum aspect to their landscaping, and nametags on the plantings are helpful to learn the varieties. If your building is LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or another type of green building, then there are lessons around the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, the lighting, the plumbing, recycling, and the materials themselves. Intelligent buildings and the Internet of Things (IoT) are rich topics. There are great lesson plans available through the Center for Green Schools, and interested teachers can readily achieve the Green Classroom Professional (GCP) certificate to learn how to teach them.

Building Enhancements

The logistics of moving a group of students through relatively small spaces in the building can be enhanced with technology. Some new buildings include windows into areas such as physical plants, data closets, cafeteria kitchens, etc., to allow students to gain an appreciation for the infrastructure of their daily life. The field trip may be enhanced by a student with a camera connected to a large rolling monitor so that the whole group can see the area being studied or the person being interviewed. This can also be accomplished using wireless streaming to students’ own devices from a camera such as a GoPro. This allows them to capture the streams and use them in their reports.

The end product of the field trip can be an individual or group project. Photography, videos, writing, illustrations, and graphics can be incorporated into a variety of presentation software such as PowerPoint or Keynote. Students can create podcasts of interviews with school personnel.

Just as we display artwork and trophies, the results of the students’ explorations in the school building may be exhibited using interactive digital signs. These may be located near the field trip locations in hallways, and the projects can be loaded into them. Other students or visitors may browse through the projects and gain an appreciation into the building just as the participating students did.

Creating engaging educational experiences within our own buildings can be rewarding and cost-effective. Engaging students with their own environment will give them a new appreciation of their everyday world. Nurturing our students to become responsible global citizens with practical knowledge and practice in collaborating and dissecting complex issues is a noble goal and can begin in the laboratory that is your school.

Joseph Bocchiaro III, PhD, CStd, CTS-D, CT-S, ISF-C, is a principal consultant at the Sextant Group, Inc.