Field Trips in Church Education
One of the most popular educational models has surfaced in the past two decades in Edgar Dale’s “Cone of Experience.” Since first appearing in his book Audiovisual Methods in Teaching (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York, N.Y.), it has been reprinted in numerous books on teaching process and used thousands of times in educational classrooms. (See page 79.)
Notice how Dale places field trips in the middle of the cone but closer to the level of “Direct, purposeful experiences” than to the extreme abstraction at the top. Dale would argue that too much education takes place at the top where we merely exchange verbal or visual symbols rather than getting down to “gut level” things that actually make up realistic life experiences.
Taking a field trip to a Jewish synagogue is not the same as attending rabbinical school for several years. But it will give teens studying modern Judaism a considerably better view of what is actually going on in the current practice of that faith than reading the chapter about it in the handbook, or listening to a teacher’s lecture.
In her book 40 Ways to Teach in Groups (mentioned earlier), Martha Leypoldt refers to three steps in the leader’s responsibility in field trip education: preparation, at the place, and evaluation.
In preparation for the trip the leader,
1. Makes all preliminary arrangements with the person(s) in charge of the place to be visited
2. Describes the purpose of the proposed visit
3. Presents relevant data regarding the place to be visited
4. Presents instructions regarding transportation to the place of interest and decorum to be observed while there
The example of Christ in taking His disciples to the places of action was a very positive demonstration of “learning by doing.” They went to the Temple, to the seaside, to the desert, and to various villages to minister, but also to learn the many wonderful things which the Master had to teach them. We can follow His example today by taking our students “where the action is” to observe firsthand the people or practices about which we are teaching. Wayne R. Rood suggests that “The undebatable effectiveness of learning by doing is due to the fact that data and skills are acquired by total involvement. Lessons are not learned by the mind alone but literally by the whole body, all the senses, the entire experience. Facts become part of life” (The Art of Teaching Christianity, Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tenn.).
Values of Field Trip Teaching
The purpose of a field trip is to expose our students to firsthand experiences with people, places, or things. In the case of the earlier example, the obvious value is that being in the synagogue brings the students closer to reality. It also introduces that all-important learning dimension, interest.
A good field trip should also have the effect of stimulating further study. The students not only observe the situation while they are there, but are encouraged to think further about what they have seen. Many teachers work hard to develop “post-classroom carry over.” The field trip has this ingredient built into it from the start.
There is also an element of personal involvement in the field trip, particularly if the teacher has been wise enough to allow the students to participate actively in the planning of the trip. While they are on location, touring the site and listening to the local leaders, students are co-learners with their teacher and are therefore experiencing an independence from him which is healthy in developing their own learning potential.
Field trips are not limited to any particular age group. In fact, they tend to work very well with small children as well as advanced teens and adults.
Older students need to learn the reality of “the fellowship of learning.” Christian people in interaction with one another can be engaged in a warm atmosphere of mutual sharing in cooperation with the Holy Spirit’s supernatural teaching. Paul Lederach reminds us that “the impact and influence of class members on each other provide powerful forces for supporting learning. Effective teaching requires that the group be involved” (Learning to Teach, Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa.). Field trip education gives us an opportunity to exhibit such open situation learning as a witness to the unity of the Church in Christ.
Problems in Field Trip Education
Rood mentions one of the common pitfalls into which many teachers unconsciously fall when centering on activity education: “It is easy for a teacher so to succumb to the activity method that he will place excessive emphasis on sharing activity, letting it become an end in itself. Moving about does not necessarily develop the mind or the spirit.” As in all other methods, the field trip must lead toward the achieving of clear-cut learning objectives which have been set for the class.
Some churches face the problem of limited resources because of their locations. Sometimes however, substitutes can be found. For example, if it is impossible to visit a Jewish synagogue as mentioned earlier, the class studying the habits and customs of contemporary Judaism might at least find a Jewish family nearby and plan a visit to their home.
A more common problem than limited resources is the failure on the part of many of us to recognize the value of the resources we have. You might want to take 15 or 20 minutes after you have finished reading this chapter just to brainstorm the potential within 20 or 30 minutes driving time from your church. Are there any sites of historical significance? How about noted churches or other buildings?
Katherine Tobey encourages trips to visit the mission work of the church and says, “Young people studying some of the social problems faced by the church are eager to glimpse firsthand the work being done in depressed areas both in the large cities and mixed ethnic populations, and in the isolated rural areas. This interest makes it possible for church leaders to arrange chartered bus tours to mission centers during the summer vacations. When a person actually sees how the church is meeting personal needs, then he is more eager to help” (Learning and Teaching Through the Senses, mentioned earlier).
Lack of preparation can be a real problem too. Students should know what to expect and what to look for when they visit a site. You might even prepare questions in advance to be answered while the students are touring or immediately upon returning from the trip.
Principles for Effective Use of Field Trips
Involve students in planning the trip from the start. Before the trip the students should read about the place to be visited and make preparations for the trip as suggested by the leader.
Keep the group small. If your class is unusually large, you may have to divide them into subgroups and have several trips or different sections or platoons, each with its own leader who can guide the learning activities on location. Not only is this valid for educational purposes, it also saves wear and tear on the teacher that would result from too large a group.
Select wise trip times. Be sure the group agrees to take the trip before embarking on it. Otherwise members will not be as open to learning from the trip and may even forget to come that day.
Plan evaluation sessions after the trip. This session may be an informal discussion time at the site or back in the classroom. Or, it may take the form of a written test to check the impressions and intake of the students.
Plan now to include a field trip in your teaching program for the next quarter. It will increase the learning of your class and be fun too,