If you are going on a field trip, it is important to prepare your students by developing their visual literacy, and by integrating the trip actively into your curriculum.
However, important as that is, it is not enough. The museum (and field trip) experience takes place in a very different environment from your classroom. That may seem obvious, but let’s take a look at the differences, so that you can help your students maintain their focus to insure they have an engaging educational experience.
The Benefits of a Museum/Field Trip
Impediments to Learning on a Museum/Field Trip
Your classroom provides structure, limits, and authority to focus student attention and behavior. All of these are seriously diminished or entirely dispensed with on a field trip. Therefore, in spite of your high expectations, the museum trip may end up having little or no educational impact on your students.
Field trips take students into public spaces. Therefore, even if your students are disciplined and interested, the multi-media environment and the public bustle and noise will most likely be distracting. Also, if you’re in an enclosed public space (like a museum, as opposed to a park or battlefield), you can’t talk to your students as a whole group. Indeed, even in small groups, you will be limited in your ability to lecture or open a discussion. The multi-media environment and the public noise will definitely distract your students, and your discussions can disturb other visitors. These factor will deteriorate the quality of any kind of small group discussion you might try to have.
Besides the problem of public spaces, your field trip can take you to many different kinds of places. Each place has it’s own narrative and pacing. Consider these four different kinds of museums: American history museum, Holocaust museum, aviation museum, and art museum. Each of these museums has a very different story to tell, and they will probably tell it in very different ways.
An art museum may arrange its collection thematically (impressionism, modernism, Renaissance, etc), but there’s virtually no narrative connecting one object to another, or one room to another. How, then, will your students understand what they’re seeing, or remember the art once they leave the museum?
An aviation museum may arrange its collection chronologically, at least to some extent, and that will help your students contextualize the information, but such museums are usually exceedingly popular. Your students may experience large, noisy crowds that will be highly distracting. You may find yourself spending most of your time making sure they don’t get separated from the group, and looking for those who inevitably do get separated.
A Holocaust museum may arrange it’s collection chronologically (that’s good), and even if there are large crowds, you can expect them to be hushed and thoughtful (that’s good too). However, the material is usually so emotionally charged and troubling that your students’ emotions may well shut down their intellect. (Indeed, that’s a common response, in my experience.)
Very likely they will emerge with intense emotions and a few strong visual memories, but no new understanding or insight into how and why it all happened.
You can expect an American history museum to be thematic and/or chronological in its presentation (that’s good). The material, at least in part, will probably be familiar to your students (that’s good too). Very likely it will not be emotionally overwhelming (third good thing). But here, students will incline to fall back on what they already know. A fact here or an image there may catch their eye, but how can you keep them from becoming bored and turning their experience into a clandestine texting game?
These are some of the problems you may face if you want your museum/field trip to be educationally meaningful. If you would like me to address solutions to these problems in future issues, please write to me, expressing your interest. If you have questions, I’d be glad to field them.
You can also let me know about a positive or negative experience you’ve had on a field trip. What did you learn from it, or how can we help you make it better the next time?
This article was first published here ...