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Turning Field Trips into Fieldwork to Support Project-Based Learning

Turning Field Trips into Fieldwork to Support Project-Based Learning

We all have fond memories of field trips—the trip to the museum, a local zoo, or the state park. Many times, these trips helped to spark an interest in real-world topic, or provided opportunities to enrich or connect us to what we were learning about, which we never would have had the chance to explore on our own. 

Project-based learning (PBL) is helping students make those connections in their daily work and through fieldwork. While many times, fieldwork is done individually, combining fieldwork into a field trip can make some of the real-world experiences that we hope students are enjoying even more memorable and impactful and encourage them to collaborate. Combining fieldwork and field trips can also present some real challenges. Catherine Olson, supervising teacher at Oak Grove Virtual Learning Academy, in San Jose, California, has been very successful in creating field trips that bring her students’ PBL coursework to life. Here are some tips from Ms. Olson and the Edmentum and Calvert Learning teams for successfully combining and making the most of PBL fieldwork and field trips.

Start planning early

As with any other field trip, the key is to start early. Ms. Olson shared, “It's not just a field trip—it’s also planning around the project and their lessons.” When creating a PBL fieldwork field trip, you also need to plan around additional factors, such as timing around the project-based unit you will be exploring, building relationships, and planning and scheduling with a partner or organization, as well as other variables.

Communicate the purpose of the trip

Orient the students to the idea that this trip is not only intended for enrichment but also for covering specific objectives and goals. Ms. Olson suggests sending home an explanation of the objectives of the field trip, along with details and background information. This helps orient students to learning. Consider creating and bringing along a project-planning form or a list of objectives and questions for students to cover so that they can stay on track and focused.

Expect students to come prepared to work

Fieldwork is just that—work. Whether you plan on using the trip as material for discussion later or you expect students to gather information, be sure that they are prepared to do the work. For instance, if you are observing leaf shapes, be sure to bring crayons and paper for leaf rubbings, notepaper and pens for taking notes, or graph paper and pencils for recording.

Make participation a key

Be sure to include a multitude of ways for students to participate actively. Ms. Olson stated, “When you have kinder through 8th grade, trying to find a field trip that applies to everyone can be a little challenging. Place-based learning is always valuable—having experiences in the community.”

Tap parents as a resource

Ms. Olson often asks for volunteers to help lead projects. Working on a physical science unit? Try asking that mom who just happens to be an engineer if you can visit her office with the class. Maybe Johnny’s dad is the manager at the local bank. Ask if he will help connect some of the math concepts you are teaching with real-world accounting examples. Ms. Olson reported, “I ask for parent volunteers because if you can help with a lesson at home, you can do it here [in our resource center]. I have all the supplies, and I'll help you.”

Connect with organizations in your area

Oak Grove students have participated in PBL field trips to a local frozen yogurt shop and a grocery store. Recently, they connected with a local pizzeria to address a 4th grade math project. Ms. Olson added, “We do have a really welcoming community.” A connection with a docent at the San Jose City Hall led to memorable a fieldwork experience in civics for Ms. Olson’s students. She reported, “His enthusiasm was infectious, and it was so exciting for the students to see local government in action. It was a good experience for kids to see too because most people don't have a chance to do that.”

Oak Grove Virtual Learning Academy in Oak Grove School District uses Edmentum’s Calvert Learning curriculum for its students. The program gives homeschoolers and families who need a flexible or alternative learning environment the ability to receive a rigorous and engaging educational experience.

Learn more about how Calvert Learning’s project-based curriculum helps students make real-world connections in this blog post!