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I grew up in a town that, even then, was three to four times the size of the town I live in now.  And it was only an hour away from a big city.  We had field trips from my school at least once a year.  We would go to places in town such as the art museum and the natural history museum; we would go to the university and see a play once a year.  I remember seeing the long ranks of school buses lined up in the parking lots and along the streets on campus and the magical experience of getting out of school to do something else, and not feeling as though I was playing hooky (I was a good girl and didn't do hooky, at least at that age).  We would go to Kansas City, to the history museum where you could crawl into a tipi, and my last field trip in school was to the art museum when I was in an art class my sophomore high school year, in 10th grade.  I don't know when I had been there on a class fieldtrip before (my parents had taken me a couple of times in addition), but I remember wishing that I could have gone somewhere else.  Ironic now that I am still going to that same museum on a regular basis, and that now I keep track of the special exhibits and encourage my students to go on their own.

In school we would sometimes do very careful preparation for the field trip, and sometimes it was completely new and the moment of discovery was the point of the trip.  Most of the time we never thought about (or knew about) how much it cost to rent a bus or how much the gas cost.  That was back at the time society still thought funding education was not a bad use for taxes.  It is something I think about now, and I am very happy that our university gallery has raised money to bring school groups to campus from the small surrounding towns.  I hope for some of them it will make an impact and they will still be visiting museums in their dotage, like me.

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The entrance to the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, MO.

I have been thinking about the impact and value of field trips because I took one with my undergraduate museum class two weeks ago.  We met with curators and archivists and a registrar and some people who work as museum educators.  They talked about what they have done in their careers, and what their current jobs entailed.  One of the things that was repeatedly stressed was the importance of knowledge of computer programming and databases.  This made my computer science major very happy.  

Two years ago, when last I taught this class, the class went to St. Louis, to visit two museums where alumni had administrative positions.  It was a successful trip, or so I heard.  I had been experiencing great pain from ruptured discs in my lower back and I decided that four hours out and four hours back on a bus would not be a pleasant (or even tolerable) experience, and so I had a couple of colleagues who were able to supervise the trip.  They met with several of our graduates and in the morning, at the Missouri History Museum, had a discussion with curators and others involved with a major exhibit, and in the afternoon visited the St. Louis Art Museum to meet with the education director, where they learned about the newest ideas in museum education, and then met with alumni who worked at the art museum and were at grad school in the city.  The reason my school funded the trip was because it fulfilled my School's identified priorities of connecting students with alumni and promoting an understanding of the practical career possibilities that arise from their liberal arts degrees.  These were good goals for the school and I think they were achieved by that field trip.  

But there was something more to the experience than just achieving these goals, something both greater and more impactful than them, and yet at the same time, something that is smaller and more personal.  It was fun.  It was enriching, but it was also exciting.  They got a behind the scenes view of museums and a sense of how being a museum professional would be, but they also had a break from sitting in a classroom or being in a small town.  The short term impact of the fun of a field trip is important, but fun has a bigger impact in the long run.  They remember the pleasure at visiting a museum, and although the museums they visit may not be the first ones they might choose to go to (which is why I pick two very different types of them each year), they may be more likely to return to ones if they enjoyed their college encounter.  But the fun is also a part of the experience of the curators, educators, and other professionals they encountered.  These are people who enjoy their jobs.  The idea that work can be fun, challenging, and exciting in a wide variety of ways is important for college students to see.  That inquiry and exploration can take place outside of a classroom, but can be a way of life.  My goal for the class, and in fact, of any class I teach, is that "lesson."  I know they are hearing over and over and over again that value in life and career choice is measured by salary.  I know that is important, but I want students to know that there are a variety of potential measures of the worth of a job or career.

This time I specifically picked two museums that were different from those we had visited in the past.  At one of them, a student who took my museum class two years ago now has an important position, so that was already on my list.  In fact, both museums really almost picked themselves.  At the National World War I Museum, we had an opportunity to visit what is honestly a state of the art global history museum, with technology in all sorts of contexts, superb objects in gorgeous displays, and a very important story to communicate.  

 photo overthetop_zsc09f9268.jpg

A reconstruction of what "over the top" looked like in the midst of trench warfare in World War I.
We are coming up on the centenary of the Great War, and my university is a participant in the Museum's initiative to record and commemorate the war in Missouri.  I don't know what sort of commemoration my university is going to be doing (and the US centenary is not until the spring of 2017 so we have time to plan), but I want students to be more sensitive to the implications of the War to End All Wars.  My ideal situation would be to take all our students (or perhaps only the freshman) and pack them off to see the museum, perhaps as a freshman week experience.  The people who work there are very fine professionals, and they are well aware of the uniqueness of their museum within the U.S. (it is the only museum dedicated exclusively to WWI), and the rarity of the museum in a world-wide context.  

My class met with the chief curator, the archivist, and registrar, and educator, and then students had an hour and a half or so to wander around the museum at their own pace.  Some examined displays to get an idea of how they could do an exhibit on the Great War at our institution, while others spent a lot of time exploring the digital interactive displays which are laid out on big light tables.  One student sat herself in one of the sound booths to listen to poetry being read and music of the Great War and started to write a bit of her own.  

 photo 030_zpse16f004e.jpg

 photo InteractivetableatWWIMuseum_zpsdc685305.jpg

And we were treated well by Science City.  I had planned to go there second, so that students would have a chance to run around and play and release their energy, after the more academic museum in the morning.  I figured they would be able to run and jump and play with such things as a human-sized hamster wheel (hint: the best time to go to an interactive museum like that is after school groups would have left for the day on a weekday -- Tuesday at 3? We had the museum to ourselves, almost!).  Then the idea was we would relax and calm down at the end with a planetarium show.  It would have worked well, too, except they were too excited to be calm.  I know they were happy, because I was treated to rather raucus karaoke almost the whole way back!

I don't think I needed to set a specific credit-bearing assignment for the experience.  The experience itself, getting to see behind the scenes of two very different museums, was enough.  They will remember it, and remember the long long field trip that was so much fun, even if we didn't get back to campus until 10:30 at night.  Whether they go on to work in a museum, or teach school or college students, or simply have children of their own who may be going on field trips themselves, I think having made this trip will be a useful thing for their knowledge of history, museum practice, and for their attitudes toward what a museum visit can be.  

And besides, even when you are an adult, it is just as wonderful to take a field trip as it was when you were in school.  It may or may not be life changing, but it is still pretty cool.

 photo 062_zps003f7777.jpg

High wire bike at Science City.

Originally posted to annetteboardman on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 11:08 AM PST.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Our eighth grade field trip from the Chicago area (10+ / 0-)

    was a long day trip down to New Salem and Springfield, Il. But I remember best the trips to the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum and the Planetarium.

    When my husband and I traveled the country for a dozen years, the first thing we did upon arrival in a new place was hit the AAA for the area museums.

    And now I have an almost overwhelming desire to see the WWI museum in Kansas City.

  •  We went all the way (7+ / 0-)

    from Milwaukee to the Museum of Science and Industry. Went down in a coal mine plus heard the first stereo headphones with a train going by. We all ducked, it was so realistic.

    Ceiling Cat rules....srsly.

    by side pocket on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 11:52:11 AM PST

  •  I teach at a community college (7+ / 0-)

    and this semester one of my classes, Politics in Film, Music, and Art, took two field trips to visit places in Detroit. During one part of the semester we covered American hardcore punk music and culture, and having also discussed anarchism in a previous class, we visited TrumbullPlex, an anarchist/collective housing complex and a connecting theater where they do a lot of different things, including book punk and hardcore shows.

    We also covered Hip Hop, and visited the 5E gallery in Detroit, an arts/performance/education collective rooted in the five elements of Hip Hop: b-boying, emceeing, graffiti, DJing, and knowledge/education.

    Both trips were fantastic, the student response was overwhelming, and I'm wondering what the hell is wrong with me that I haven't done this before.

    Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth. - Lucy Parsons

    by cruz on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 01:17:57 PM PST

  •  Science field trips (9+ / 0-)

    Back in late 50's, post-Sputnik era, we had science field trips to help interest us, girls included. Tide pools by Santa Cruz, always a favorite! And IBM/ San Jose, where I remember white boards with blue chalk, a first sighting, and aesthetically appealing.

    I don't take my pre-doctoral or undergraduate trainees on field trips, exactly, but we have a "mini-internship" program. For people training in quantitative fields but working on dementia studies,  we arrange for them to shadow a clinical dementia exam, see neuro-imaging and visit the image processing lab to learn how the data are processed, then go to a post mortem on brains, and a neuro-path conference to listen to everyone talk about final diagnosis. (Usually the most interesting cases are presented, where something surprising turns up in the post.) I do something similar with cancer research projects. At the end of the process, they have a much more vivid understanding of what they are studying and why it's hard.

  •  Field trips are so valuable and so important (8+ / 0-)

    I've gotten to go on several as a parent chaperone that were just amazing experiences. At Safari West in Santa Rosa, some of our kids got to see an antelope being born. They have done overnight science camp out near the coast. My personal favorite was probably the Living History overnight at Fort Ross.

    We camped overnight, without electricity, with each group taking an overnight watch. We cooked outside, we patrolled the area and gathered food, and each of us was playing the role of a particular character who lived at the Fort.

    Before the trip, the kids learned about their character, learned about the Russian American Company, learned about the Kashaya Indians who lived in the area, learned about the Aleuts who came down with the Russians to hunt sea otters, learned about the trading company and a lot of the day to day life pressures.

    That's me, lighting the cannon!

    Fort Ross had quite a few cannon historically. When we fired this one, we fired it without a cannon ball. This, we are assured, is all in the name of historical accuracy, because it was the most frequent firing mode of said cannon. Apparently if you put a bunch of soldiers on the Sonoma coast with a bunch of cannon and a stash of gunpowder and not much else to do... :-)

    We know exactly how many times and when cannons were fired, because one member of the RAC kept a detailed diary and wrote bitter letters home to Moscow about all the gunpowder they were wasting. :-)

    This particular state park has had some much needed attention lately thanks to the assistance of the Russian diplomatic delegation that is stationed in the Bay Area. Every summer, they have a big festival wing-ding with lots of demonstrations and activities going on.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 02:31:51 PM PST

  •  We used to do all sorts of field trips. Almost (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, randallt

    every month we went on a field trip.  There was the Children's Symphony series, and then, the Children's Theatre series.  We went to the Art and Natural History Museum every year, and of course, the Conservatory and Zoo in the Spring.  I graduated from high school in 1977, and I just checked with my Mom.  Up until at least then, my parents were never asked to pay for the trips.  They just had to make sure I had a brown bag lunch.  My Mother remembers that they even had just one permission slip for the entire year that covered all the trips.  

    Now?  Just to take my science classes on a really cheap trip to a local Watershed Discovery Learning Center for a day is giong to cost the kids $6.00 and $7.50 each for the bus!  We're going to have to do a fundraiser (ugh. I hate fundraisers), so all the kids will be able to go.  The teachers all pay their own way.  Field trips have sadly gotten to be rare events in our schools.

    Plutocracy (noun) Greek ploutokratia, from ploutos wealth; 1) government by the wealthy; 2) 21st c. U.S.A.; 3) 22nd c. The World

    by bkamr on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 07:13:48 PM PST

  •  I don't want to set the wrong tone... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    randallt, annetteboardman

    ...because I love field trips, and they were probably the single most influential part of my education. But, working in a natural history museum, I loathe behind-the-scenes tours, for a variety of reasons (at least in my experience):

    1) They're bad for the specimens. In my department, we've had two fossils broken and one stolen on tours. We've had at least one specimen picked up and moved to a different table, which can cause loss of contextual data. Two specimens have been accidentally knocked off tables but escaped permanent damage. Even if only one in a thousand visitors does harm (accidentally or not), the damage is still done.

    2) We make an effort to put all our "best" specimens on exhibit. When we don't, it's generally through lack of funds. Moreover, we spend months developing exhibits to help visitors interpret and understand those specimens. It's annoying to put all that effort into an exhibit only to have a visitor suggest that the main thing that makes a visit worthwhile is to see storage cases and specimens with no interpretative context (in my specific case, most of my collections look like a pile of junk to a lay person).

    3) Related to 2), I think the behind-the-scene tours are of limited educational value, except in a few cases (like a museum studies or methods class). Again, what value is there in seeing a bunch of metal specimen cases, full of unidentified bone shards? My wife regularly brings her community college geology and biology classes to my museum on field trips; some classes, like historical geology, come three or four times per semester. But their lessons are all based on the exhibits. She doesn't think they get enough from behind-the-scenes to make it worthwhile. Yet another colleague recently cancelled her scheduled field trip when she discovered that she couldn't take the students behind the scenes, because without that "it's just an exhibit tour". Isn't that the point? The exhibits are supposed to be our public interface.

    4) This is a point that isn't relevant to most curators, but my lab is a "fishbowl"; my entire lab is behind glass and is visible from the exhibit floor. The only parts of my department that aren't on display are offices, equipment storage, and the collection storage room (which is filled with metal cases). What more is there to see?

    5) Finally, it's very disruptive to our work. I'm the only curator in my department. Typically I spend about 10 hours a week in staff and committee meetings, another 8 working on grant writing or other fundraising activities, around 3 hours writing state-mandated reports, evaluations, etc., and 12 hours working on exhibits or preparing and presenting public programs and presentations. That leaves me about 7 hours a week to clean, catalog, and house specimens, try to keep up with literature in my field, and do my own research. That doesn't leave a lot of time for a tour, especially when preparing for the tour involves securing any specimens that were laid out for research, and then pulling them back out afterwards (see 1).

    I find it odd that other fields don't seem to face the same pressure for behind-the-scenes access as museums. While there is a mystique to being in the dressing room, or backstage, or in the locker room, there doesn't seem to be the expectation that such access is guaranteed for the asking. But we receive constant and intense pressure from our administrators and board to completely open our areas to anyone who requests it.

    I don't want to sound like an ivory-tower-dwelling misanthrope. I think that public interaction is important and in fact should be considered a happy obligation of museum personnel. I was a teacher before I was a curator, and still teach whenever I can. I just got back home from a science teaching conference, where I was discussing with teachers how to increase access to paleontology for students. I average about one public lecture or program, or school program, per week (my next one is in a few days; I'll be working on Veteran's Day to prepare for it). I certainly see the value to students in meeting curators and other museum professionals, but that meeting has value even if it doesn't take place among a bunch of specimen cases.

    "Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure."--Charles Darwin

    by Hopeful Monster on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 07:58:20 PM PST

    •  Or, as someone just pointed out to me... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      randallt, annetteboardman

      ...what I'm trying to say is that exhibits is where you learn about paleontology (in my case), and behind-the-scenes is where you learn about museum operations. But most people think they're going to learn more paleontology behind the scenes.

      "Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure."--Charles Darwin

      by Hopeful Monster on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 08:07:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  To be clear (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Hopeful Monster

        that is what we did -- meeting with curators, etc.  We were a museum studies class.  The behind the scenes we saw were a lab which is used for more intense teaching experiences, but it was a quiet place where we could talk, not where we could play with objects, and the other was a planetarium control room.  I don't ask to go into store rooms, etc.  That is what students would do if they volunteer or intern there.  I am not wanting to take 20 students through those places.

    •  Ten years ago now (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Hopeful Monster

      I had the opportunity to get my foot in the door at a museum. Had two interviews, but didn't make it. It's amazing when you think back about how your life would have changed if you had taken a different path.

      Libertarianism is something that most people grow out of, not unlike, say, hay fever or asthma. Bob Johnson

      by randallt on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 09:21:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Summer camp field trips (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There is nothing like driving a big school bus full of kids in downtown Charlotte. There is also nothing like making the mistake of taking the same bus full of kids to Mount Mitchell NC on a way too curvy road.

    Libertarianism is something that most people grow out of, not unlike, say, hay fever or asthma. Bob Johnson

    by randallt on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 09:03:08 PM PST

  •  Historical sites are good destinations too. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    On the east coast we have so many areas maintained by the National Park Service relative to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  The NPS also has the benefit of being rather inexpensive.

  •  I, too, went on an eighth grade (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    long day trip down to New Salem and Springfield, Il. However I was a teacher and thrilled to go as a chaperone especially since I really enjoy train trips. Not growing up in Illinois I had never seen the places before and learned a lot about those times. The shortness of the bed in which Lincoln slept amazed me. What a misfit he was!

    Where I grew up, from 7 on, had no museums save for a small art museum on the U of Miami's campus some 20 miles away which I never saw. Miami was really a very southern hick town back then. Much later when I was down taking care of my mother I visited the Miami Planetarium and Science Museum which had developed long after I left.

    But I was sustained by my early memories of the New York's Museum of Natural History which I loved. I can still picture the tree trunk of an enormous tree on which you could count all the annual rings and identify the drought or plenty years.

    I was fortunate to go to University of Chicago which had the Museum of the Oriental Institute on campus and the famous Museum of Science and Industry which opened in 1933 in the building, The Palace of Fine Arts, which was constructed for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1983. So it's a glorious building in a lovely setting.

    I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

    by samddobermann on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 01:02:47 AM PST

  •  A day-long trip to the George Washington Carver (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    museum, in ... good grief, 3d grade? Maybe 5th?

    Seneca, Missouri sent kids every other year there. It took all day, and you had to have a note from your folks and bring a sack lunch and milk money.

    I found it amazing, and it made G.W. Carver one of my heroes (along with Marie Curie).

    LBJ, Van Cliburn, Ike, Wendy Davis, Lady Bird, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

    by BlackSheep1 on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 10:40:48 AM PST

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