Happy new year! Whether or not you’re someone who makes and keeps (or breaks) resolutions, this may be a good time to think about past practices and decide if they’re still serving you and your students as well as they might.
Consider the classic field trip. Whether it’s a museum, an aquarium, or another site, everyone enjoys the break from routine, the adventure outside of class, the new experiences. But what’s the take-away? Does the trip result in enough learning to make it worth the time and effort, or would a trip to the local supermarket do just as well? (more on supermarkets later)
One way to help your kids get the most from a field trip is to provide a way to guide them through the experience and record their responses to it in real time.
Enter the Interactive Response Guide.
An Interactive Response Guide is a fancy name for a kind of scavenger hunt in which players (read students) collect information, observations, and conclusions instead of erasers, rubber bands, and toy cars.
As with a traditional scavenger hunt, players use the resources in an environment (in this case, the field trip locale) to make their way through a list of collectibles. Your job—and the fun part—is to create the list. A great way to start is by visiting the locale.
Have a Saturday afternoon adventure with a friend or family member. Spend a couple hours at the location. Decide on the goal or take-away you want for your students and figure out what you want them to experience so they can reach the goal.
For example, if you’re visiting an aquarium, you might want students to observe and analyze the behavioral or structural adaptations of different species of fish.
If you’re visiting a natural history museum, you might want students to develop an appreciation for the ways an early civilization used natural resources.
If you’re visiting a natural site, such as the Grand Canyon, you might want students to apply what they’ve learned about slow changes on Earth to interpret the land and water formations they observe.
If you’re visiting an historical site, such as Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, you might want students to become more deeply aware of its importance in our history or use experiences at the site to compare customs then and now.
Once you know what you want your students to take away from a trip, you’re ready to plan a route through the site and decide on the “collectibles.” Depending on your students’ age and the complexity of the site, you may want everyone to stay together and follow the same path. So you’ll want to plan a route with spaces big enough to accommodate the whole group.
Now that you have the route, you can make your list of “collectibles.” This is the time to let your imagination take hold. Think interdisciplinary.
Create challenges: In a museum exhibit about [the Anasazi], challenge students to find, describe, and draw [three] hunting tools.
Tie responses to points: In an aquarium exhibit of marine life, give students one point for each example of camouflage they can find and draw.
Spark analysis: Have students spend time looking for ways the farm, post office, or other area in Williamsburg (or another historic re-creation) is similar to ours today.
Once the Interactive Response Guide is finished, you’ll want to get it into your students’ hands. If your classroom is digitized, the document is perfect for a tablet or smartphone where students can enter their findings directly. If not, traditional paper-and-pencil output works just as well.
Doubtless, you already know that when students work in pairs to complete activities like these, everyone wins. It’s more fun; students get more done; often they learn more. So give a guide to each pair of students.
Of course, an expansive field trip may not be in your immediate future. No worries. An Interactive Response Guide can turn a trip to the neighborhood supermarket into a legit learning experience.
You can create a guide that steers students toward making price comparisons (math), toward evaluating in-store advertising (critical thinking/reading), toward analyzing product placement (categorizing, science). The possibilities are endless.
Or, you might make arrangements for your students to visit a local pet store where animals are kept in humane habitats. There, students can observe, record, and compare animal behavior.
Or you might take students to explore the flora and fauna at a nearby park. A guide can lead them to observe and describe the interactions of living things that inhabit one particular habitat in the park.
An Interactive Response Guide turns almost any environment into raw material for learning—including your own classroom!