Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
The bulk of my experience as an educator was at a school that was student-centered, travel-encouraged, and predominantly project-based. Combine all three and you have student-directed school trips.
I participated in dozens of travel experiences with my students, from one night camping excursions, to weeks abroad. Out of all of those trips I only planned and organized a couple of them myself. All of the others were planned by students as school projects. I provided assistance with logistics, but the students gave the trips meaning and purpose. Some trips planned by students include an earth science trip to Hawaii, an ecology trip to California, marine biology trip to Florida, and a tropical biology trip to Costa Rica. Note: all trips do not have to be biology related! The ones just mentioned are because my background and teaching license is in biology.
Step-By-Step Guide to Student-Led Educational Trips
Where do school trip ideas come from?
All school trips start with a "spark". There is some input a student receives that strikes a chord. They may come across an interesting concept while working on a different project. They may hear stories from friends, family, teachers, students, or community members about a place that ignites curiosity. Maybe they even learn about something on a documentary, from a podcast, social media or in the news. It's typically accidental. The student isn't necessarily "looking" for a school trip to plan.
One of my students, let's call her D, was interested in primates. She wanted to know everything about primates from natural history to a career in primatology. I gave her a book to read for a project she was doing on primates called "A Primate's Memoir." In the midst of exploring this topic, she decided she wanted to visit a primate research center. The closest one we could find was in Iowa. We tried EVERYTHING to get a hold of this primate reserve, but were ultimately unable to connect. She went back to the drawing board. She discovered a primate research center in Sacramento, California and from that point on was determined to get us out there to study primates.
This interest in primates launched D into a high school career of school trip planning. She planned the trip to California and upon our return decided she needed to get to a place where she could observe primates in their natural habitat. Her senior project then became planning a school tropical biology trip to Costa Rica. Never did it cross D's mind when she started school that she would travel across the world.
A student decides they want to plan a trip. What's next?
Ok, so let's say D just discovered this primate research center in California and now she wants to go. What's next? If it's to be a school trip, there are requirements she needs to follow. She needs to identify the purpose of the trip, research cost, look into learning activities, connect with community experts, and create a fundraising plan.
Part of planning a school trip requires determining a specific purpose that is educational in nature. D quickly learned that California isn't where one typically goes to study primates. She also discovered that California has diverse ecosystems scattered throughout. When you drive an hour in any direction in MN what you see is more or less the same. When you drive an hour in any direction in California the landscape completely changes. It is night and day between San Francisco and Napa Valley for example. So D modified her purpose, broadening it to ecology to study biomes, biodiversity, climate, etc. This made it easier to align the trip to standards while sticking by her original plan to visit the primate research center in Sacramento.
My students use a Trip Plan Guidesheet that I created to assist them in the process. This product is FREE to download in my TpT store. My students research the questions on the guidesheet, put their information into a slideshow, and present their trip plan to the school board. The school board then approves the trip. The slideshow below was created by D and presented by her to the board. The trip to California was approved.
Preliminary plans are in place and the trip has been approved. Now what?
The first step once the trip has been approved is to start fundraising efforts. These fundraisers can and should also be student-led. A school policy was that students needed to raise a certain amount of money before making any trip arrangements. Check out this blog post I wrote a couple months ago on student-led fundraisers.
Once an agreed upon amount of money has been raised students start preparing for the trip (with your guidance). They will refine their itinerary; book tours, lodging, car rental if needed, etc; complete pre-trip projects; create project proposals for on-site trip projects; and connect with trip experts.
Even if educational travel isn't reality at your school, consider assigning students to plan a theoretical school trip. The skills and knowledge that D gained in the planning process alone was staggering. She learned how to budget. She gained content knowledge, in this case related to ecology. She learned some topography techniques and had some lessons in geography. D gained experience in public speaking and speech writing. She even practiced important life skills and competencies such as organizing, planning, follow-through, and determination. She learned how to fail, go back to the drawing board, and try again.
Planning a trip is an impressive learning experience. Feel free to download the Trip Plan Guideline mentioned above. You might also consider purchasing my PBL project - Plan a Trip Around the World - which provides all of the templates helpful in trip planning.
Student-led trip planning is just one of many ways to implement student-directed learning in your classroom. In the near future I will be writing a series of posts on this topic. Also stay-tuned for tips on what it takes to start a school travel program at your school.
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Observe. Question. Explore. Share.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.