A day-trip out of school, learning in informal educational settings – It’s not just fun, it’s outdoor learning!
Thinking back to primary school, do you remember the times you went on a school trip? Was this a nice experience? Was it a day full of exciting activities? These kind of activities are usually only planned once in a while by teachers for their students. Generally, the intention is to provide the students with practical experience that will help them better understand a certain subject matter. This said, from my own experience during my training as a teacher, students commonly used to say that they would love to go on field trips, museum visits and excursions more often. Mostly, they simply want to do something different than the daily school routine.
A day-trip out of school
Fieldtrips may look like a very attractive learning experience, but in order to achieve lasting and positive results, a school day trip requires good logistical planning and learning objectives. You may be wondering how teachers can make this work – especially considering that teachers have to keep up with daily school duties along with other responsibilities. As such, easy access to information is a key factor. In other words, it is important for schools to be (made) well aware of day trip possibilities in their vicinity, such as special cultural or scientific events organized by public or private institutions.
Organizing a day visit to a museum can be a fun experience not only for the students but also for the teachers. Learning in a new setting creates a challenge for the students in the sense that they have to demonstrate the skills they have previously learned with some practical activities. But, on the other hand, the teachers themselves will also be challenged in their own teaching practice. Referring to Dewey’s work, Hein (1998) wrote that not all experiences are, per se, educative. “In order to be educative, experiences must be not only ‘hands-on’ but also ‘minds-on’. And, it is not sufficient for experiences to be ‘vivid and interesting’; they must also be organized to be educative” (p.2).
For example, taking the students to a historical museum can be of great help (and fun) for a teacher who wants to illustrate how people used to live in the past. This has to do with the role and value of “material and tangible evidence” in the students’ learning processes. However, when I started teaching in history and geography, a common comment coming from the students was: “we cannot touch the history”, and I used to rack my brains wondering how best I could solve this. The answer was much easier than I imagined back then: archaeological evidence provides a good and didactic way to answer this question. Archaeology offers a repository of cultural material produced as a result of human activity in the past. In other words, archaeological objects, buildings and site are a living part of our history and our heritage.
Organizing a day trip can be also seen as a setting for collaboration with the experts (archaeologists, museum staff, and curators). Teaching is so much more than simply knowing a subject matter. It is also a combination of having the expertise on the different components involved in the learning process (pedagogical content knowledge, Shulman 1986). Therefore, teachers who are interested in having a more hands-on approach to teaching, by teaching in outdoor settings for example, can collaborate with archaeologists when designing learning objectives or activities to accompany an excursion. Fortunately, the vast majority of archaeologists, many of them also teachers at the university, love having school classes visit their excavations and museums. For them it is a direct way to share their passion for heritage and the archaeological practice with the new generation. Teachers can look to them as partners that will contribute in enriching the learning experience.
Such integrative elements are part of the focus of my research on education, didactics and (archaeological) heritage! A strong focus is on the ways in which schools can become part of a collaborative educational and archaeological context. I am interested in studying these interactions and how they can be expanded in order to support a much more active learning experience within the framework of archaeological heritage evidence.
Finally, I would like to stress that students are not passive subjects in their learning process. Within a constructivist educational perspective they are seen as active learners and they can shape their understandings from the interactions with their environment (Piaget, 1964). This is why a good balance between classroom and outdoor activities will lead to fruitful learning experiences for the students. Because ultimately, learning can and should be a fun and engaging experience!
By Eldris Con Aguilar
Simpson, D., Jackson, M., Aycock, J., (2005) John Dewey and the art of teaching: Toward reflective and imaginative practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Hein, G. (1998). Learning in the Museum. London: Routledge.
Smardz, K. and Smith, S. (eds), (1999). The Archaeology education handbook. Sharing the Past with Kids. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press
Pictures are from various events in Venezuela, St. Kitts and Colorado, USA.