Why I’ve Proposed More Field Trips

During the budget discussion last year, I proposed more funding for field trips – transportation, substitute time, etc.  Like many of my proposals on their first mention (Digital Education like distance learning or BYOD or tablets or online classes, 6-Sigma Continuous Improvement, Student Mental Health, etc.), it was greeted with reluctance.  I’ve gotten used to the skepticism.  But this intransigence has not stopped me from advocating for my principles.  In response to my suggestion that we fund more field trips, staff mentioned that we conduct thousands of field trips across the system and my colleagues generally agreed that it was enough.  I guess my perspective is biased by being a father of three young kids you really like field trips.  I hear about my 3 kids experiences and it informs my view on issues.  My kids do not go on as many field trips as I did when I grew up in Howard County and they want to go on more.

When our family moved back to Howard County from California, I was excited by how many cultural resources are available in our region – the Smithsonian Museums and Zoo, the National Aquarium, universities, parks, and so much more.  But I must admit, I was disappointed when I saw the caliber of some field trips now offered in Howard County Public Schools.

The Howard County Board of Education is currently reviewing its policy on Field Trips. When we were first presented with the charter to commission the review committee, I again urged three important changes: 1) more field trips, 2)  the integration of technology into those field trips so students could capture images, videos, and other artifacts for further research and study; and 3) the use of Virtual Field Trips so our students can travel to Italy to see the Cistine Chapel, Africa for a safari, and so much more that is offered through virtual apps that I’ve shared on my twitter feed.   I also proposed that we place representatives from the Smithsonian, and other cultural institutions from our amazing region on this committee because these institutions have amazing programs for students to gain educational experiences through hands-on learning.  Many of these experiences are geared towards the home-school community and I believe our public schools could learn a lot from these home school programs at museums.

Through my Twitter account, I’m able to share a lot of  research and information on education innovations with colleagues around the globe.  I’m proud to have these world-class colleagues virtually to inform my leadership of our school system here. Today, I received a great article discussing research supporting the educational value of field trips.

The study reviewed the particular use of one museum, The Crystal Bridges Museum in Northwest Arkansas.  ”During the first two semesters of the school tour program, the museum received 525 applications from school groups representing 38,347 students in kindergarten through grade 12.”  They “created matched pairs among the applicant groups based on similarity in grade level and other demographic factors. An ideal and common matched pair would be adjacent grades in the same school.” The researchers “then randomly ordered the matched pairs to determine scheduling prioritization. Within each pair, [they] randomly assigned which applicant would be in the treatment group and receive a tour that semester and which would be in the control group and have its tour deferred.”  The researchers “surveys to 10,912 students and 489 teachers at 123 different schools three weeks, on average, after the treatment group received its tour. The student surveys included multiple items assessing knowledge about art as well as measures of critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and sustained interest in visiting art museums.”  They also ”assessed students’ critical-thinking skills by asking them to write a short essay in response to a painting that they had not previously seen” and “collected a behavioral measure of interest in art consumption by providing all students with a coded coupon good for free family admission to a special exhibit at the museum to see whether the field trip increased the likelihood of students making future visits.”

The results are stunning.  Students were able to recall not only the art seen, but the historical facts behind the art in excess of 80%.  Students improved in their critical thinking abilities. And interestingly enough, students from urban and rural areas had the greatest improvements.  Researchers also saw increases in empathy, tolerance, and appreciation for art.  ”Among student groups that are generally associated with opportunity gaps, students from rural areas and high-poverty schools, as well as minority students, typically showed gains that are two to three times larger than those of the total sample.”

As I’ve shared numerous times before our School Board, school field trips to cultural institutions have tremendous benefits. In this first-ever, large-scale, random-assignment experiment of the effects of school field trips, students randomly assigned to receive a school tour of an art museum experienced improvements in their knowledge of and ability to think critically about art, display stronger historical empathy, develop higher tolerance, and are more likely to visit such cultural institutions as art museums in the future.   It is my hope that our personal experiences as parents, students, educators, and the experiences from studies like this will inform our decision-making as a Board of Education to expand opportunities for students in Howard County to experience inspiring and educational field trips.

Here is a Flickr feed from the aforementioned museum in Arkansas: http://www.flickr.com//photos/101342753@N04/sets/72157635396912854/show/