I don’t remember much about my elementary school experience. But I do remember our class field trips. Field trips are more than a “vacation” from school. Coupled with meaningful and relevant lesson objectives, a field experience can engage students in learning and leave a lasting imprint.
One year, through a summer research stipend, a fellow geology professor and I developed an archeological field trip for our pre-service teacher education majors. We designed a day-long archaeological dig at a ghost town, a turn-of-the century railroad town that, by the end of the 1930s, was completely gone. To add a cultural aspect, we teamed up with some private school elementary and secondary students from a nearby Hutterite colony.
Hutterites share religious roots and traditions with the Mennonites and Amish. They live in colonies throughout the western states and Canada. Hutterites also speak a dialect of German as their primary language.
We secured permission to conduct the dig on the privately-owned land. Then, using our local assessor’s office, we located a plat of the ghost town. The plat indicated streets, lots and businesses that existed in the early 20th century. Before actually digging for artifacts, each student was trained in the methods of a dig including: constructing a grid layout; recording; shoveling and screening.
To help locate artifacts from the ghost town, our geology instructor guided us to possible “hot spots” with ground-penetrating radar. Throughout the entire process, each university student was paired with a Hutterite child. Many artifacts were recovered including an old license plate, crockery, glass medicine bottles and a horse harness. But the real discovery for our future teacher graduates was learning ways to communicate and mentor younger and culturally diverse students.
The collaborative archaeological dig was a resounding success. Our local newspaper reported the partnered project in a front-page story. End-of-course feedback unanimously lauded the experience and its educational value to both the university students and Hutterite students. Not only did they get to conduct an actual archaeological dig, but all of the students experienced what it is like to collaborate with those of another culture to accomplish a common goal. Through the experience, both groups learned about the other.
The experience was successful because it engaged most of Gardner’s multiple intelligences, including the naturalist, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, verbal-linguistic, intrapersonal, visual-spatial and logical-mathematical. Teachers who routinely integrate the multiple intelligences into their lessons and assessments will engage the different types of learners, making the learning process successful for all.
There is no question that every field trip or experience requires more time and coordination, especially on the part of the instructor. But the benefits far outweigh the challenges. Students gain meaningful, hands-on experiences directly tied to course objectives and content standards. The best part of a well-organized field experience is that students will long remember the “what” and “why” even after the class has ended.
Neville is an associate professor of education in South Dakota.