Tag Archives: intersections

Field Trippin’ Through the Intersections

The bus pulled up in front of the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center as the much-needed rain pelted down.  Excited fifth graders poured from the bus into the rain, ready to explore.

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And waiting just inside were a group of classroom teachers and museum educators ready to watch closely and think carefully about how these students’ teachers and chaperones support student learning and promote student inquiry during the field trip.

This was the pilot of the materials developed by the participants of the Intersections project–a collaboration between the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP), the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and the San Diego Natural History Museum funded by a National Science Foundation Grant to the National Writing Project and the Association of Science and Technology Centers.  This group of educators has been meeting and learning together–with a focus on inquiry, science, writing, and field trips since the fall.  And just a week ago they designed “tools” for use to prepare for and facilitate the field trip to the two museums.

And the field trip was an opportunity to examine the tools in use, with the aim of improving them in a next iteration.  We watched the kids in action, noting their conversation, their body language, their interaction with the exhibits…taking pictures, detailed field notes, video and audiotape…all with the goal of understanding their experience in order to improve students’ opportunities for learning and engagement.  And…we were under strict orders to only observe–something very difficult for this group of hands-on educators dedicated to facilitating engaging learning experiences for students!

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After lunch, students moved across the park plaza to the NAT and we repeated the process.

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Students sketched and wrote, questioned and connected what they were seeing and learning to things they already knew.

And one of my favorite moments was at the end of the trip, just before the students headed back to board their bus for the ride back home.  They had discovered the pendulum at the NAT and were curious about the little blocks set up inside the circle where the pendulum swung.  Would the ball of the pendulum knock the blocks over?  They started watching by learning on the rail…and then got lower…until they were laying on their bellies on the floor, feet bent up behind them, noses pushed up against the railing.  And they watched, almost holding their breath as the ball closely avoided the tiny blocks.  And then it happened.  The block fell…and the cheer broke the quiet!

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After the students left we took some time to reflect on our experience…and also hear the experience of the teachers in our group who brought these students to the museums.  There were lots of things that went well…and plenty that we still want to improve.  And plans are already being made for improved tools and new tools for our next field trip pilot…sometime in April.

There is something amazing about the opportunity for educators to collaborate, to design and then to test, to take time for careful, considered observation and data collection, and then time to reflect on their learning.  If only there were more opportunities like this one, for educators to come together to make sure that students have optimal learning experiences…how would that change our world?

At the Intersection

What do you find at the intersection of science and writing?  In my experience that’s a place filled with energy, inquiry, and amazingly devoted educators!

This morning, early on a Saturday, I had the pleasure of working with a group of educators (half who are public school teachers, half who are museum educators) creating tools to improve the field trip experience for students.  (Here’s an earlier post.)

What’s wrong with field trips…you might ask.  You may have fond memories of setting out in a bus as a student and exploring some museum, enjoying a day off from school in the name of learning. And for some students, I am confident that is the case.  It could be that the field trip even stimulated a life-long passion for natural history or science or art…

But all too often, field trips become either a day where the teacher doesn’t have to teach and students are “enriched” but not necessarily learning, or a day of frustration for teachers, chaperones, and museum staff–spent managing student behavior rather than stimulating curiosity and interest in natural history, science, or art.

So…on Saturday mornings this school year, we’ve been learning together.  Thinking about science and writing and inquiry and motivation.  Asking and answering open-ended questions and considering all the different ways we and our students learn.

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We’ve spent time in the science and natural history museums exploring the exhibits, observing, writing, and thinking.  We’ve read articles and searched for resources.  We’ve examined what other museums have done and looked at our own local resources.  All that in preparation for creating a “toolbox” of sorts for use with field trips.  This toolbox has tools for teachers, tools for students, tools for chaperones.  This morning was spent developing these tools in preparation for our first opportunity to test them.  Later this week we will be seeing how these resources work with students, teachers, and chaperones on a field trip to two museums.

And what I know for sure is that the process of thinking about and creating these tools will improve field trips for students touched by the educators in the room this morning.

The bigger and much harder to answer question is, how do we take our experiences and learning and share them with those who have not been part of our process?  Can we translate our passion, interests and expertise into a “toolbox” that will help others?  And how do we make sure that the tools we create are user-friendly and help to shape inquiry-based learning for students?

I feel confident that our learning will happen in the intersections.  The intersections of our tools and the students, of schools and museums, and of writing and science.  It’s in the intersections of powerful ideas and perspectives that the energy and inquiry lives.

Working from the Why

Everyone loves a field trip…right?  Or maybe not…  As a teacher I like the way that field trips give my students a shared experience and helps to make abstract science or social studies concepts more concrete.  I also like to give my students access to experts in the field and help them imagine professions where this content learning is applied.  But…to get these outcomes, teachers have to plan carefully and connect classroom learning to the resources of the field trip destination.

The San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP), along with the San Diego Natural History Museum (SDNHM) and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (Fleet) are partnering in a National Writing Project (NWP) and Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) initiative investigating the intersections of science (or STEM) and literacy (with an emphasis on writing).  Yesterday we launched our work  with ten formal educators (who work in public schools) and ten informal educators (who work in the museums mentioned above), with a particular focus on field trips.

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The facilitation team (of which I am a part) decided to launch our work by focusing on the why of the work.  Why is it important to re-examine field trips and consider ways to improve the experience for students and to create supportive structures for teachers and other adults who accompany young people to museums and other field trip sites?

Inspired by a TED Talk by Simon Sinek entitled How Great Leaders Inspire Actionwe spent our first (of 5) sessions focused not on the what or how of our project.  We sent teams of educators out into the museums to observe and experience an exhibit through a set of prompts that invited them to look and try through a variety of different lenses, and write about their experiences.  They critiqued the exhibit–not to find fault with it–but as a way to consider what structures might support learners’ interest, inquiry, and pique curiosity.

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Our short, but intense day left us with a desire to take action…to figure out how to make field trips amazing learning experiences, with students at the center.  One comment from the end of the day reflections is still bouncing in my head,

…the “why”has the power to transform educational practices.  From field trips to worksheets to projects, I wonder how many educators push past the “what.”

Our goal with this project is to do just that–to push past the what and consider the why. The why is where the action sits…and we want to take action toward improving field trip experiences for students by supporting the adults who facilitate them: teachers, museums educators, chaperones, and parents.

I can’t wait to see where this project takes us…  If only I had a window into the future to get a hint at just what the possibilities might be!

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What do you love about field trips?  What does your ideal experience look like, feel like, leave you thinking about?

Boys and Bears

Today was a perfect July day at the zoo, sunny and warm with gently ocean breezes to keep things tolerable.  The animals were active and playful.  We watched the polar bears frolic in the cool water of their enclosure—so close you could almost touch them through the clear Plexiglas barrier.

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I watched the animals, thinking about how the zoo personnel was careful to point out the ways they put the animals’ well being and health ahead of the visitors’ desires to take the perfect picture and get that close-up look.  I heard a similar message from the tour bus driver, the panda keeper, and the sea lion show trainer: these are wild animals, they are in this zoo so we can learn to take better care of them to ensure their continued existence.  The zoo is a place for learning.

I also did a lot of kid watching today.  And while there were usual instances of whining and demanding, there were also many kids fascinated and engaged watching the animals.  I observed some little boys near the polar bears for quite a while.  They stayed right up next to the glass where a polar bear was enjoying chewing on a bone right on the other side.  As the bear dunked under the water against the glass, the boys would run their hands against their side of the glass as though they were petting the bear.  As the bear emerged from the water, the boys reached their faces up alongside the bear’s.  A crowd formed with many adults attempting to get a close-up portrait of that bear—or line their own child alongside the bear for that illusion photo of their child with the bear.  You could feel and hear the frustration of those adults, wanting the kids to move out of the way.  After ten minutes or so, the parents of the boys seemed to catch on to the frustration of the crowd and urged the boys away from the glass so others could have a turn.

I understand the frustration of the adults waiting for the boys to move away.  And I understand the boys’ fascination with the bears.  I find myself thinking about how their physical interaction supported their appreciation of the bears…and how that may impact their future actions in the world.  If they had to stand back and watch quietly from afar, would they still find polar bears interesting and want to know more about them?  I’m also fascinated by the physical structure of the zoo and how that structure creates intimacy and relationships with the animals.

How can I think more carefully about the structures in my classroom to invite engagement and interaction rather than passive compliance?  Zoos and classrooms—I have a lot to think about!