Field trips - suggestions, guidelines, preparation, and check list

Purpose of field trips

Field trips are generally motivating for students, bring a vividness or reality you cannot bring with conventional lessons, and provide information for learning in a relevant real world context. If you are planning to use field trips, review the following information.

General Guidelines

Before the trip

  1. Establish the educational purposes of the trip. Write educational goals. The activities and content examined during the field trip must be relevant and connected to outcomes and objectives in the curriculum. Field trips can certainly be entertaining, but if entertainment is the only outcome, the teacher must rethink the trip with respect to the use of time and and other resources that are both limited and precious.
  2. Take the trip yourself before you take students there. You are to be the guide, therefore, you need to know what kids will be experiencing. A previsit will help you understand what to expect, and what to avoid. If you can't, then study background information for the visit. You need to acquire valuable knowledge for the visit and for instructional activities after the visit.
  3. Select a date.
  4. Verify date and time with authority at the destination.
  5. Determination the costs and who will pay. Determine any arrangements for transportation and if the costs will be covered by the administration or other sources need to be found.
  6. Obtain administrative permission. In writing if necessary from your administration for the activity.
  7. Record date on School calendar and notify the cafeteria.
  8. Make arrangements for transportation.
  9. Contact the docent or, on site education director, or a person who can help coordinate the visit. They may have different tours available and you may request a packet of information from them to learn more about what is available. Those materials could include a map of the site, buildings, rules, highlights, if guided tours are available, and if so, then make sure the docent knows the goals for your trip.
  10. Make arrangements for the visit: time to leave, schedule, activities and special materials.
  11. You must teach the behavior needed for the field trip to be successful. This is the most important variable for a success trip .Make a list of behaviors students should know and do while on the field trip. Include a list of bus rules from the bus company. Also get a list of rules for where you will visit (e.g. art gallery, zoo, museum rules and policies) and include those as you teach, model, and practice behaviors with the students before the trip. This helps everyone to know what is expected and helps for a successful experience. Remind everyone students, chaperons, bus drivers, that you all are representing your school, school district and community. Specify verbally to students and in writing to students and parents your expectations and requirements for making this trip successful. One poorly-arranged, disorganized and badly-implemented field trip could result in the elimination of field trips for you and possibly your entire school. It could even end your teaching career.
  12. Make arrangements for lunch and restroom facilities. School cafeterias will often make sack lunches for students for a small fee if the request is made ahead of time or check out possible places on your previsit. Always notify in advance of your visit any food establishment where you plan to take students. Even fast food restaurants can make your visit more enjoyable if they know how to plan their staffing.
  13. If your plans involve outside events, picnics or time in a park, develop an alternate plan for bad weather.
  14. Prepare a letter to send to parents. Consider the following information:
    • What is going to occur?
    • What schedule will be used?
    • What are the costs for the parents?
    • What students need to bring?
    • What students need to wear?
    • What type of transportation will be used? Bus? Parent driven vehicles?
    • What type of chaperon is needed?
    • How will lunch be handled?
    • When students leave and return.
  15. Prepare a Parent permission form for them to sign and return. You must obtain signed permission forms from care givers (parents or guardians) for each student who is taking the trip. Make sure the permission slip, includes the date of the trip, time leaving and returning, and costs. The permission form should also be a medical release form allowing you to get medical assistance for a student who may become ill or injured during the trip. This is of particular importance if you are taking an extended trip (overnight or beyond) or if you are taking students out of the immediate vicinity.
  16. If parents are to drive, make sure that a photocopy of their driver's license and current proof of insurance are on file in the school office.
  17. Select adequate numbers of sponsors and meet with them to explain the goals of the trip and their responsibilities. It is often recommended to have one adult chaperon for every 5 students. Chaperoned should be provided training before the trip, which should include the duties and the responsibilities of chaperoning students. It should be made clear to chaperons what school policies are for students and they will be required to adhere to them also. For example: dress appropriately for the event, use appropriate language and behavior, use of alcohol, tobacco, other substances which are off limits to students, and what to do in the event of an emergency. The use of cell phones makes field trips a bit easier to supervise on site. However, keep in mind that certain places such as art galleries, museums, concert halls, and hospitals do not allow or restrict the use of cell phones.
  18. Make sure you ask the bus driver(s) if they want to participate in the activities of the visit. If so, arrange to purchase tickets for the bus drivers and sponsors.
  19. Make attendance sheets for the trip so you always know if everyone is present. You would not want to leave someone behind.
  20. Discuss the field trip. What will students learn? What things in particular do we want to observe? What questions do we want to ask the guide? This preparation will help the students be more observant and guide their research during the field trip. Chances are good that some students will be taken to places they have been before. The first-grader has been to the supermarket a hundred times with their parents. Most of them have seen trains, been to the airport, been to the zoo, and all have been to a gas marts and convenience stores. Why, then, should the school take children to such places on field trips? The answer is in your goals. And the better prepared students are to observe and collect data the more likely they will achieve the goals, by looking for things they would not otherwise see.

The day before the trip

Set or review the standards of conduct for the trip. Through discussion, the point can be made that each student is a representative of their school and that persons in other communities may make judgments about the entire community based on their actions. Rehearse behaviors and role play confusing situations. Establish a signal for gathering and attention.

Double check with the principal, bus personnel, cafeteria, and check to see if all permission slips are in, office reports completed, and chaperons confirmed.

A final comment related to bus drivers. It is important all participants on the trip treat the bus driver(s) with courtesy and respect. You will have to remind students and chaperons of the need to regard the feelings and obey the directions of the drivers. Remember, safety is foremost in the mind of the drivers, but they also have responsibilities for the care and maintenance of the bus. Obtain a copy of any bus or bus driver rules beforehand, review all rules for all those participating on the trip and speak directly to your students and chaperons about them. Additionally, before you leave ask the drivers if they would like to attend the field trip activity with you. If so, make sure you have purchased or have the means to purchase admission for the drivers.

The trip

Provide students with a data collection activity so they are engaged in a meaningful examination and interaction while on-site. This activity could be a note-taking framework and/or questions to answer and/or items to examine. In the case of a museum visit, it could be a scavenger hunt with questions to answer on items or exhibits in the museum.

Review the rules, give groups color coded name tags, bracelets or all wear one color of shirts. Take a supply bag containing: first aid kit, photography supplies, trash bags, ...

Take roll before leaving the school grounds and count noses frequently. With young children it is a good idea to place them in pairs.

Enforce rules immediately and consistently.

Arrive at the destination on time and have the students ready for the guide on time. Be sure to introduce the guide to the class. Position supervisors through the group: at least one in front, middle and back. Keep students on track to prevent accidents or injury. Before leaving check again to make sure all children are with the group.

Make sure that time is organize so there is sufficient time for students' to ask questions and receive answers from their observations or their guides.

Make sure all students can see, hear and are actively involved.

Monitor and assist students with the collection of the preassigned information.

If possible and permitted by the bus driver, you could hold a closure discussion on the bus ride home. This would make use of some of the time on the ride home and also solidify the information in the students' minds by immediately addressing the information and avoiding the problems created when too much time passes between the event and the closure (Forgetting Curve).

After the trip

  1. When you return, conduct a closure activity on the field trip by asking students to explain why, where, how, and what was accomplished during their outing.
  2. Send thank you notes from the class and the teacher to the chaperons, bus driver(s), staff where visited, and the bus company. Even if the buses are owned by your school district, you should still thank and commend the drivers for their contributions to the success of your event. In the primary grades, the students might dictate a letter to the teacher who writes it displayed for students to see, edit, and approve. Individual students may copy the letter and one may be selected to be sent or, in some cases, they may all be sent.
  3. Assess if the goals of the trip have been achieved.
  4. Assess the conduct of the class in terms of the standards set up before the trip. Discuss whether they listened attentively, stayed in a group, observed habits of courtesy... This assessment should always include favorable reaction as well as ways in which they might improve on subsequent trips. A list might be made of these suggestions for improvement and saved for review just before the next trip is undertaken.
  5. Utilize opportunities to draw upon data and experiences from the field trip in other subjects taught in the classroom.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes