Teachers and Excursions

Extracts from Michael Michie (1998). Factors influencing secondary science teachers to organise and conduct field trips. Australian Science Teachers' Journal, 44(4), 43-50.


BENEFITS OF EXCURSIONS

The researchers found that, in the opinion of teachers, the positive benefits derived from field trips were

  • hands-on, real world experiences

  • quality of education, positive attitudes to science and motivation towards the subject

  • improvement of the socialisation between students, which would impinge on the classroom, and development of rapport between teachers and students

  • enabling teachers to utilise other learning strategies such as cooperative learning.

    Q. Do you take field trips? Why?

    All the respondents took or had taken field trips. They believed that the main purpose of taking field trips was to give students hands-on, real life experiences which they would not be able to have in the classroom or the laboratory. Teachers perceived that these kinds of activities enhance students' understanding of the processes involved and also improve students' attitudes towards science and in the classroom as well. Similar outcomes have been described in Sorrentino and Bell (1970), Falk and Balling (1979), Fido and Gayford (1982) and Muse et al. (1982). Some teachers also saw that taking field trips was an effective pedagogy which they wanted to use both more frequently and effectively. Many of the teachers felt that as they had become experienced as teachers, they felt more capable of using a wider range of both formal and informal teaching strategies.

    Most (teachers) realised the cognitive outcomes of taking them and many also saw their affective values.

    "So the children can experience first hand what they are being taught in the classä so that it's real for them."

    "My emphasis when I talk about excursions is getting kids out in the real world, real world situations than just lifelike that they can do in their classrooms."

    "One is to add a bit of variety. Second, it can be motivating for student sometimes. Thirdly, sometimes it's the best way to do things in terms of the content."


    TEACHING OUTCOMES

    It has been suggested in the literature (e.g. Griffin, 1994, 1996; Griffin & Symington, 1997; Price & Hein, 1991; Rennie & McClafferty, 1995) that field trips should be integrated into the teaching program. In planning their field trips, most of the teachers included them in their teaching programs. Apart from administrative requirements, this meant that planning started well ahead and the outcomes of the field trip could be integrated with those of the teaching programs.

    "I've done some spur of the moment (within a few days) excursions myself and they've been really successful, but I think they should be planned well. Weeks at least."

    "I make sure when I write my program I make room for the field trips. You know ahead of time what field trips to include in the program. They're (included) at the inception of the program."

    It has also been suggested in the literature that teachers need to use strategies which reflect informal teaching methods (Griffin, 1994; Griffin & Symington, 1997; Price & Hein, 1991) rather than use formal classroom methods which are the focus of their training. Worksheets are often perceived as being 'busy work', displacing the focus of the field trip to the worksheet itself (Griffin, 1994; McManus, 1985; Michie 1995; Price & Hein, 1991). Some teachers considered that their ability to conduct effective field trips had improved as they matured in their teaching practice (see below). Perhaps as a consequence of using practical work as part of their pedagogy, science teachers are able to use informal methods more easily. Although little comment was made about the actual teaching process while on a field trip, most teachers seemed to be able to adapt their teaching to involve students in small groups but much of it was worksheet-driven.

    "They've either got a worksheet to fill out or they've got field notebooks ... that must be handed in at the end of each field trip."

    "Usually by preparing some kind of set of focus questions or a worksheet of some kind for the students to complete either during or after the trip."

    Although strategies such as those advocated by Rennie and McClafferty (1995) recommend follow-up work from field trips, it provoked little comment. Griffin (1994) found that it was often restricted to collecting and marking worksheets. A number of the teachers had devised strategies to relate the field trip to the overall outcomes of the students' courses and ensured that students knew that there would be ongoing work.

    "I have often used excursions as the basis of oral communication. ... I find that's a really effective way to make sure that a student on a field trip is getting the information that they need."

    "Whatever follow-up there is afterwards, whether it might be for the kids to hand something in or it might be involved in a discussion in class, it might be a jumping-off point for something else we're going to do in the class."


    RESOURCES AND RESOURCE PEOPLE

    Q. What kinds of changes would you like to see that would make taking field trips easier? How you think that professional development (inservicing) would influence the way you take field trips? How have you involved outside professionals in your field trips?

    Most of the teachers felt that the availability of resources and resource people was a factor which would make it easy for them to undertake field trips. Many teachers become self-sufficient in preparing for their own field trips, although some do not.

    "Sometimes I think that resources prepared by other people looks at aspects you mightn't have thought of yourself."

    "I feel that when a field trip venue ... has put the effort into putting their resources into hard copy form or brochures, pamphlets or even preferentially worksheets, then you're more inclined to go there."

    "I remember the old days when I had scant information... This was like a massive exercise to get anything and to validate what you thought you knew."

    "I've been on a few inservices aimed specifically at showing teachers what's available as far as excursions go. (Science teachers association) has organised a couple of these... and I found them really valuable. ... It also gave me a real picture of what's available around Darwin."

    "I've used the person from ..., to help with the tides, to help with the preparation for the field trip, when I didn't know the area at all to show us where to go, how to name plants, things like that."

    The area of teacher professional development and the preparation of resources, particularly where teachers and resource people worked cooperatively, has been mentioned in the literature by Price and Hein (1991) and Chase (1989). Similarly the advice to teachers about visiting venues beforehand is still relevant and occurs throughout the literature (e.g., Rennie & McClafferty, 1995).


    Posted 5 March 2000

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