The day after a field trip is always an interesting one in my 8th grade classroom. I never quite know what experiences my students will walk away with.
Mr. Finkill, we met some foreign exchange students at the McDonald’s at lunch time!
Really – where were they from?
Georgia and Tennessee! Ouch…
Mr. Finkill, I thought that ghost story was really true about that field where you can’t take a picture, but then I realized I just didn’t have any film in my camera!
It was really great at Gettysburg to walk where George Washington walked!
Oh dear. . .
Over my past 12 years as a teacher at Hershey Middle School, I have gone on many field trips to Gettysburg as well as some other places with my students. I always hope they get at least something out of it and I cringe when I think of making them do a scavenger hunt to prove what they’ve learned, which often becomes “busy” work that one student does and everyone else copies.
Teacher Ranger Teacher Program
In the spring of 2010, I was offered the chance to be a teacher-ranger with the National Park Service here in Gettysburg. Last summer, I experienced what it is like to be a ranger by doing interpretive programs, helping visitors find their way, and creating plans and lessons for use by other teachers through the Education Office here. This summer, I am continuing my Gettysburg education with similar activities and looking forward to more positive experiences. Being a Teacher Ranger gave me a new set of eyes to bring back to my classroom and to apply to my students’ field trip experiences.
Beyond Scavenger Hunts
The training National Park Interpretive Rangers receive when interpreting a site, focuses on helping a visitor make a personal connection with the place they are visiting. When someone visits Gettysburg for the first time, they may not have a strong set of background knowledge about the battle, but if a connection can be made to something with which they are familiar, the visitor may leave with a lasting memory and the desire to continue learning about the place and the events. It can be the same for students that we teach. How can we get them to make a connection with something that will be significant to them and make a lasting impression . . . and make them want to continue learning when they are back in your classroom?
A scavenger hunt on a field trip may allow students to answer trivial questions about monument locations or museum information, but chances are that information will quickly be forgotten.
I challenge you, on your Gettysburg trip, or wherever you take your students, to go beyond the scavenger hunt in one or more of the following ways, letting your students begin to make their own connections to important people and places of the past:
Many students have camera phones and some probably have Smart phones or at least camera phones.
Using camera phones or cameras, have students take photographs while on the field trip and upload them to a site such as Drop box where other students can access, then create presentations related to the photographs. Share them on a site like Voice Thread.
Let students be the experts
Have teams of students research people or places at a location and have them teach the other students about that place and the significance of the place while on the field trip.
Assign the students a location or a memorial, and have them make a brief presentation about significant people at the location or the story of the monument. At a historical location, try to narrow the students’ focus. Have them focus on one person and tell that person’s story to the other students. Take a memorial, like the Virginia memorial at Gettysburg, and describe when it was created and what symbols are on the monument. Students can easily research the biography of person who did something significant at a place like Little Round Top and describe the impact they had and the significance of it.
The power of a word cloud
After the trip, use a site like Wordle to create and share word clouds of themes and key things learned on a field trip. Here’s one that some of my students completed after participating in a program called “Determination and the 15th Alabama Infantry” at Gettysburg.
Do it yourself – pick a theme – such as teamwork – and find some examples of ways people showed teamwork at the battle or place you are visiting. No one will remember everything and the incredible details can be information overload, but use a theme and connect individuals and their stories and you have an interesting tour that students just might remember.
Got ideas that go beyond the field trip scavenger hunt? Comment and share them here.
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