One of the fundamental activities for Weatherblur, in fact almost all place-based programs, is that students need to be able to collect data and experiences outside in their environment. But instances of that has become more of the exception than the rule when it comes to school activities because of:
Administrative concerns – schools and school districts becoming litigation paranoid due to incidents outside of the classroom.
Financial concerns – the cost of taking students off school premises including transport, entrance fees, etc.
Educator concerns – worries about behavioral control, safety, and lack of experience in fieldwork.
All of these concerns can be overcome with planning.
Knowing what your Administration requires before you take students outside of your classroom is the key here. Asking the following questions of your administration will make them feel more comfortable that you are meeting their needs:
If you are taking them just on school grounds, what procedures do they require you to follow?
If you are taking you off school grounds, what procedures do they require you to follow?
What forms do you need to complete to meet those requirements?
What process of approval is involved, and what is the timeline involved?
Many field trips can be taken with no real extra costs to students and their families. Walks to local parks and open spaces for example. Sometimes you really do need to travel further away, in which case these things need to be considered:
Can you use school buses? Do you need to hire other transport?
Are there any entry fees? Is there a school discount?
Does you district/school have an assistance program for students unable to pay?
Does your district/school have a ‘parents & friends’ association who can help offset costs?
Can a local service club assist with costs?
Taking students out of their normal school work environment can increase your stress when you think through how it will affect students’ behavior, if the real-world data collection will match your anticipated outcomes and more. Again, good planning can really help with all of these and these major points can relieve your stress and increase your chances of a successful experience for you and our students:
The first and most important step here is to do a previsit. Travel to where you will be taking your students and take a walk around – check out the potential issues, like places you would not want students to go (close to cliffs, roads etc). If it is an ocean-side visit, look up the tides for the day of your trip. Knowing what to expect when you visit and how to manage your group to keep them safe and withing view will help you greatly on the day.
Carry supplies with you – a first aid kit for minor accidents, a phone to call if something requires a student to be removed from the experience. Take bug spray and sunblock if you expect your students to be out all day.
Have a bad weather plan. What would you do if your planned day is raining? Is there some shelter – like a picnic shed – that you can use to set up a dry base.
Make sure your students know to wear appropriate clothes, rain gear, and footwear. Flip flops and sandals are rarely good field trip footwear. A hat is essential.
Plan your field activities into blocks of time – know what you will do in each block. So arrive and have a black of time to explain the instructions for the trip (again if you have already done these back in the classroom). Have a signal – a whistle is great if you are spread over a large distance – that students know to respond when heard. Point out what non-compliance means, like sitting down on the grass while the others have fun.
Put students into teams. Make sure one team member is in charge of ‘safety’. Their role is to make sure their team does not go close to dangerous areas, watching for any traffic, strangers, etc. Having a student do this in each team can greatly assist in keeping students safe. A good grouping is an observer, a recorder, and a safety monitor. You can switch roles around during the day.
Have plenty of help. Ask parents to come and be part of the day. Let them know ahead of time of what you will be doing and what you would like them to do to help.