Field trips in context
Opportunities abound in North Carolina for hands-on interdisciplinary learning experiences.
Field trips bring alive historic people and places, culture, art, science and much more. Hands-on activities and historical reenactments create an indelible impression that help students learn about concepts that may otherwise seem abstract and uninteresting.
All of us have memories of field trips that we took in school. As a fourth grader, I had a teacher who planned field trips for a number of units we were studying at the time. I remember that one day we took a field trip to the home of Mrs. Kalfez, a wonderful gardener. We walked to her home from the school and it was quite a long walk. Mrs. Kalfez’s yard was a veritable paradise of plants and she told us all about them and what they needed to grow and thrive. As an adult years later, I remember that trip very well and I believe that it made an impact on me to become an avid gardener myself. I even became involved with the Wake County Master Gardening program for a number of years.
Bringing history to life
Wrenna Haigler, a second-grade teacher from the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System, took her class to Historic Bethabara Park, an eighteenth-century Moravian settlement located in Winston Salem. She used her own lesson plan in teaching this unit. To prepare for the trip, her students gathered information from the Bethabara website and shared the information that they found. Using a SmartBoard, Ms. Haigler also showed the class pictures of Bethabara from the NC ECHO website. To gather additional information, students listened to Moravian hymns while coloring pages depicting costumes and customs.
The students were very excited about seeing pictures of the place they would visit on their field trip. When on the trip, Ms. Haigler noticed that “the students asked more detailed questions of the guides because they had a stronger background to draw upon, but this time there were frequent and excited remarks about what they had already seen from our lessons and pictures at school.” She adds that “I had a wonderful experience with my Bethabara unit this year, and I think that my class got more from our field trip than ever before!”
Making current events real
Shanora Kingsberry, a teacher at Ligon Middle School in Raleigh, realized that many of her inner-city students had never been outside of their own neighborhoods and “only placed value on what affected them directly.” To help broaden their perspectives, she created a unit in 2000 on the three branches of government that would culminate in a trip to Washington, D.C.
Ms. Kingsberry’s students learned about the United States government’s system of checks and balances and “gained an understanding” of what various elected and appointed officials do. The students listened to the news and read magazines and newspapers to become more familiar with leaders in Washington and with important issues. They paid special attention to current events pertaining to the Charters of Freedom and kept track of which foreign dignitaries were visiting the United States and why their visits were important to our country.
As this was an election year, Ms. Kingsberry’s students paid close attention to the elections and learned about the political parties and their platforms. They also learned about the Electoral College and hosted a mock election at their school. She found that as time went on, her students “broke free of parental influences” and formed their own opinions as to who they wanted to win the election and why. Her students were disappointed when the election of 2000 was over and there was no clear winner. They discussed how this problem might be fixed for future elections.
At the end of the school year, Ms Kingsberry and her students traveled to Washington. They “eagerly visited the offices of their congressmen, spouted knowledge about the Charters of Freedom, and were generally excited to be in the seat of government,” she recalls. They asked detailed questions of their tour guides and after sitting in on a brief session of the Supreme Court, talked for hours about their experience.
This was a wonderful learning experience for Ms. Kinsberry’s class. The participatory activities and especially the field trip made what could have been a run-of-the-mill unit on government instead exciting and thought-provoking. Ms. Kingsberry is certain that her students will register to vote and will actively participate in future elections.
An article in the June, 2003, edition of Edutopia Online highlights a third-grade class project from Tolenas Elementary School in Solano County, California. The Geo-Literacy Project of Solano County uses a local historic site to help students connect the subjects of history, geography, and ecology. Teacher Eva La Mar describes Geo-Literacy as “the use of visual learning and communication tools to build an in-depth understanding — or ‘literacy’ — of geography, geology, and local history.”
Ms. La Mar took her third-grade class to Rush Ranch in Suisun, California, a preserved ranch from the California Gold Rush period. Not only did students learn about the family that owned the ranch and how they lived, but they also learned about the Suisun Indians, the first people of the county, as well as the animals and plants indigenous to the area. Students learned why it is important to preserve the creatures that live there as well as the history of the ranch. They took digital pictures, made videos, and interviewed the docents, then used the materials they gathered to create a multimedia website.
The Rush Ranch website focuses on the blacksmith shops, the Suisuni Indians, and the plants, reptiles, birds, and animals of the area. Students used text books, primary source documents, newspaper archives, local historians, and historical societies to research the area. Each student reported on a different part of the project. With the help of local high school students, they were able to create QuickTime VR movies for their website. By doing the background research, visiting the ranch, interviewing the docents and historians, the students were able to absorb much more than they could have done merely by reading about the history of the area in class.
The resources in Discover NC offer many opportunities for similar interdisciplinary learning experiences. For example, in Durham and Orange counties, the Eno River State Park and the Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area can be used to teach students how the various habitats found there “support species that are rare and significant in this region.” There are deer, groundhogs, wild turkeys, and rare species that include the Brown Elphin Butterfly. Plants such as Bradley’s spleenwort, wild sarsaparilla, Catawba Rhododendron, and mountain laurel-galax that are usually found in the mountains can be seen here as well. Students can also learn about the Eno and Shakori Indian tribes and the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation that were the original settlers of the area. Later, during the colonial era, European immigrants settled in the area and until the 1950’s descendants owned property there and operated numerous mills. On the field trip, park rangers will talk to students about the area and give them a special tour.
With the visual and hands-on experiences of a field trip, students will be able to learn much more than if the information was only presented to them in the classroom. Visit Discover NC and see what wonderful places are available in your backyard.