On a recent October morning, Mr. Bill had field trips on his mind. “What I like about field trips is that they are not just about going out to see something and enjoying it,” says Mr. Bill. “It connects back.” Whether it’s kindergartners picking apples and then selling them to the rest of the school to learn a little about entrepreneurship, or fourth graders going to the Tunbridge Fair to see pig races at an old-time fair as part of their unit on Vermont history, the value of these excursions extends far beyond the undeniable fun they provide.
Through field trips, children are able to recognize that “…although a lot of learning happens in schools, schools are not the only source of learning,” says Mr. Bill. “The whole world is our source and we don’t want people to get in the mindset that the only meaningful learning can happen in the classroom.”
This fall, in addition to apple picking, kindergartners picked pumpkins at Cedar Circle and then practiced inquiry science by working together to formulate questions about the pumpkins (Will they float? Does the size determine whether they will float?), hypothesizing, and then experimenting so they could see for themselves. First graders visited the meadow a couple times a week throughout the fall as part of their science study. As part of their unit on social studies, they visited the Norwich Historical Society to learn about community helpers and what their jobs were like a long time ago. They also walked to Tracy Hall on Election Day to quietly watch the process of voting, before returning to their classroom to talk about their observations and then privately vote for president and tally the vote. Second graders regularly visited Blood Brook and then took a tour from its beginning to its end. In October, as part of their study of the forest, third graders visited the Squam Science Center, where they observed many of the mammals that live in the forest. Earlier in the fall, third graders walked around the Norwich Green and identified the different species of trees planted along the fence. In addition to the Tunbridge Fair, as part of the Learning about the Environment through Experiential Education Projects (LEEEP) Program, led by Lindsay Putnam, the fourth graders visited an abandoned beaver lodge up on Chapel Hill Road, and were even allowed to crawl in to see what it’s like inside the beaver lodge. As part of their Vermont history unit, fourth graders went on a tour of the state house. In September, fifth graders took a two-night, three-day trip to the Hulbert Outdoor Education Center where they learned about leadership and group cohesiveness. Sixth graders did the ropes course at Dartmouth to challenge themselves and deepen their cooperation and decision-making skills, as well as their self-confidence.
“People learn in different ways. So the more experiences you give people in different situations, the more likely they will have multiple ways of approaching a new problem or a new opportunity,” says Mr. Bill. “Students who get restless in a classroom are suddenly at home in the forest. Those who are at home in a classroom get stretched by the forest.”
The budget only covers one third of the cost of field trips, says Mr. Bill, but he considers them “a key part of our program.” Parents are sometimes charged for a third of the cost, and the other third comes from grants.
“The primary reason it is so important to take field trips is that direct learning is far more effective than indirect learning,” says Mr. Bill. Students should have the opportunity to touch leaves on the trees that they are learning to identify, look at bugs in a magnifying glass, get their feet muddy in the brook. “You can talk forever about what larvae and butterflies look like,” says Mr. Bill, “but the more direct experience, the more powerful the emotional response. And emotions are such a key component to long-term learning.”