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Jan. 14, 2016

Breaking the routine

by Ellie Struewing, Online Features Editor
Wake up, go to school for seven hours, participate in extracurricular activities, go home, do homework, go to sleep. Repeat this process five days a week, and multiply that by 39 weeks, and you will have the typical experience of a high school student. Needless to say, at a certain point it's hard to keep from blending all of those days together. Every once in a while, there is a day that really stands out, leaves an impression and allows students to learn in new ways. They are the days where students get to learn about marine life at the Baltimore Aquarium, or learn about history by studying art of a specific time period at the National Gallery of Art in DC or African American history at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore.

Unfortunately, in many places field trips like these are being pushed out of the way to make room for things like standardized test prep. According to the American Association of School Administrators, over half of schools eliminated at least some planned field trips in 2010-2011. Field trips are extremely important to enhance learning, foster critical thinking and empathy, create opportunities for disadvantaged students and break the routine, and they should not be overlooked by school administrations.
Students would be better off if they experienced the world through field trips. Hannah Rapp
Students would be better off if they experienced the world through field trips.

One of the best arguments for more field trips is that they really do help students learn. After all, how helpful is school if the students never go out into the "real world" where they will be expected to thrive once they leave it? Some schools try to justify cutting out field trips by arguing that they only distract students rather than helping them learn. On the contrary, going out and being able to visualize and see tangible evidence of what is being taught in school actually helps students hold on to information. One study found that students actually retained much of the information that they were presented with on a field trip to an art museum. For example, 88 percent of the students who saw the Eastman Johnson painting At the Camp—Spinning Yarns and Whittling could remember weeks later that the painting is about abolitionists making maple syrup to undermine the sugar industry, which relied on slave labor.

In addition to helping students learn about curriculum-based content, field trips are also a way for them to learn about behaving in public, critical thinking, and empathy, all of which are important things that can be hard to teach in school. When on field trips, students learn the importance of behaving in a way that reflects and represents their school. In addition, through giving students a different perspective on the curriculum and exposing them to new people, ideas and cultures, field trips instill a sense of cultural and historical empathy. This is especially important for schools that lack diversity of student population or curriculum. A common argument against field trips is the cost. But the value of the critical thinking and applicable learning that happens on field trips? Priceless. Fundraising is one way to rack up some funds for field trips. Even better, perhaps some of the consistent finding is that the benefits of field trips are generally much larger for students from less-advantaged backgrounds, and those students typically showed gains in recalling information and critical thinking that were two to three times larger than those of the total sample. One of the goals of school is to expand horizons and create opportunities for students from every background, and there's no better way to do that than getting students out of the classroom and into the world to experience something new every once in a while.

Ultimately, students should be happy in school. They should leave it wanting to learn more and expand their knowledge even more. They should be able to see the connections between what they are learning and their lives. Field trips are a way to make that happen, and it’s especially easy with Washington DC is so close by. Students should be encouraged to seek out learning opportunities outside of school. They should be able to foster empathy and critical thinking in dynamic ways. They should be able to learn about themselves and the world around in other ways than through a textbook. And that means breaking the routine every now and then.



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