How Field Trips Boost Students’ Lifelong Success

Educational trips contribute to better student outcomes in school and beyond. Maximize the impact of field trips on students with these 9 ideas.

Teacher and Student Observing Science Experiment in Nature

by NEA Member Benefits

Tighter budgets, standardized tests, heavier workloads and travel restrictions have resulted in fewer school field trips in recent years. Virtual field trips can be a fun alternative, but curtailing educational excursions altogether is a mistake. Take it from the U.S. Travel Association: They conducted a study with 400 adults (balanced for gender, age, race and income)—half of which had taken a learning trip in their youth, the other half had not—to determine the importance of field trips in education settings.

Here’s why field trips are important 

The study found that regardless of gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, children who take school trips have better grades (59%), higher graduation rates from high school (95%) and college (63%) and greater income (12% higher annually). 

In fact, 89% said educational trips had a positive, lasting impact on their education and career because enriching field trips made them more engaged, intellectually curious, and interested in and out of school.

“When I was growing up, my parents said the 3 Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) were important,” says Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “But for my kids, I made ‘roaming’ the fourth R. We live in a global society, and if you don’t see outside the neighborhood you grow up in, the world will pass you by. Traveling has opened my kids’ eyes. It’s made them more confident and inspired them to reach outside their normal environment to learn and obtain skills to bring them to the next level.”

More benefits of school trips

Margy Natalie, acting onsite learning manager at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, notes the powerful effect school trips can have on student learning: “Field trips give students the opportunity to learn in a natural environment and experience things first-hand and from primary resources, rather than texts; real objects rather than photos.”  

Carylann Assante, executive director for Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA) and SYTA Youth Foundation, seconds the notion that real world exploration outside the classroom can bolster students’ critical thinking skills. “Today’s students are visual learners, and a field trip lets them touch, feel and listen to what they’re learning about, which helps them build on classroom instruction, gain a better understanding of topics, build cultural understanding and tolerance, and expose them to worlds outside their own.”

Assante says field trips are particularly important for disadvantaged students, as they provide students with unique opportunities that level the playing field. “Field trips give diverse and financially-in-need students equal opportunity to experience things outside classroom that their families may not be able to afford,” she says.

A field trip can also be the first trip a student takes without their parents, so it builds independence, as well. “There’s a reason people say I need to get away and recharge my batteries. There’s truth to it,” Dow says. “If I was a school system looking at these stats, I couldn’t afford not to make this a part of our curriculum.”

Tips for planning a successful field trip

You’ve decided to plan an educational field trip for your class, whether it’s to an art museum, science museum, historic site, aquarium, planetarium or some other immersive, interactive learning environment. Now, you need to know what steps to take to ensure a successful field trip. Keep these expert tips in mind:

1. Look around your region for interesting day trips

Dow suggests a planned field trip so you and your class can easily explore an aspect of local history on a day trip. “You can take a quick drive and see the history of places around you—there’s tons of inexpensive things teachers can do that will have a phenomenal impact,” he says.

2. Do your homework

Ideally, you could scope out the destination in advance to ensure the field trip will produce your desired learning experience. “Plan carefully, do your research, visit the site before you plan, ask questions and take recommendations of staff,” Natalie suggests.

3. Follow protocol

“Teachers need to review their school’s policies on field trips in advance and prepare the forms with specific learning objectives and how the field trip will accomplish those objectives tied to their school's core curriculum,” Assante says. Most museums, attractions and locations have education materials to explain how their attraction supports teacher lesson plans and educational curriculums.

4. Involve your students in the preparation

Prepare your class for their upcoming school field trip by getting them interested and excited about what their experience may be like. “Discuss the goals of the field trip in advance, talk about what they will see and what they should learn,” Natalie says. 

Consider letting the class pick the field trip destination so they have ownership and will feel invested in it, Assante suggests. 

5. Make trips relevant to classroom instruction

“Base your field trips on your content area. If you’re studying ancient Egypt, don’t take them to Jamestown,” Natalie says. “Focus on how the trip fits into your content or another educational goal. A field trip should be a day out, not a day off.”

6. Incorporate technology

“Many students use their mobile devices to engage with the field trip in the classroom with apps and blogs,” says Assante. This can help create an interactive learning experience that engages students during the trip, and then reconnect with that experience later in the classroom and at home.

7. Engage the senses

Select a field trip destination where students won’t be sitting down, like they typically do in the classroom. They should be able to touch, explore and share their experiences, Assante says.

8. Fundraise to cover any extra costs

“Engage the parents, PTA or other teachers to support school-wide field trips and help raise the funds so everyone can afford to attend the trip,” says Assante, who also notes some large companies even offer field trip grants.

If you’re looking for deals on tickets to attractions and events, see if you can cut the costs of the admissions fees with the NEA Discount Ticket Program.

9. Follow up on the lessons learned

“Students are much more likely to write about an experience they recently had, like the field trip, than a random prompt,” says Natalie, who recommends following up with graded assignments. “Have each student write about their favorite artifact or activity on the field trip, or why this field trip is important to keep, or conversely, how a different field trip might be better.”

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