School Group Visits to Museums
|Special program consultant Peter Warny gets up close and personal with visitors
Photo courtesy New York Hall of Science
by Elsa Bailey
We have gained some insight from research in the last thirty years as to what factors facilitate the learning experience for school field trips (Bitgood, 1989; Price & Hein, 1991; Griffin, 1998). Falk and Dierking (1992) discuss understandings that John Falk and colleagues have gained from their various studies involving field trips. They state that children begin a field trip with two agendas. The first agenda is child-centered and focuses on what students visualize they will be doing: seeing exhibits; having fun traveling there; buying gift shop items; and having a day off from their normal school routine. The second agenda corresponds to the school's and museum's expectations. This agenda is that they assume they will learn things and be meeting people who work at the museum. The authors believe the outcome of any field trip will be affected by the interplay between these two sets of anticipations and the actual field trip (Falk and Dierking, 1992).
Field trips are undertaken with a particular purpose. These purposes differ. Griffin (1998) did a study involving school excursions to museums in Sydney Australia, and found teachers stated differing purposes for going on field trips. Some of the teachers viewed the field trip as a change of pace for students and a social experience. Some teachers had learning oriented goals. Griffin found that teachers' explicit and implicit purposes may differ. Some teachers expressing enrichment and social interaction, instead focused the field trip in a cognitively oriented manner, by doing things such as providing and requiring students to use worksheets. She suggests that teachers may behave in this manner because they are uncomfortable with their ability to manage their students in an unfamiliar environment. She feels that teachers are perhaps ignorant of, or unable to understand many of the premises of learning in informal environments, such as learning through play and direct involvement with phenomena. In addition, she found that the teacher's purpose for the field trip influences her students' purpose for the visit, as the students' attitudes tend to mirror the teacher's attitude (Griffin, 1998; Griffin & Symington, 1997). Research studies by Gottfried (1980) and others support the idea that teachers are thinking about field trips as enrichment experiences and not direct object-based learning experiences (Gottfried, 1980; Laetsch et al., 1980; Brigham & Robinson, 1992; Griffin, 1998).
Research focusing on preparation of students for a field trip experience indicates that this preparation can have an influence on the educative aspect of the trip, and the elements of that preparation are a factor. Preparations that were positively impacting included: introduction to the setting; clear learning objectives; perhaps more than one pre-trip visit to the site; and a review of the learning after the field trip (Ramey-Gassert & Prather, 1994, as cited in Ramey-Gassert, Walberg III & Walberg, 1994).
Stephen Bitgood (1989) provided a review of studies in which field trips were examined. In looking at field trip studies encompassing the years 1936 to 1989, he noted that pre-visit preparation was critical although evidence as to the most effective character of that preparation was not clear. In discussing the teacher's role in that preparation he commented that George Hein and his colleagues were one of the few who have implemented studies focusing on teachers' roles. From Hein's data some factors emerged as important. Researchers determined that teachers' familiarity with the field trip site has a vital influence on field trip outcome. Data show that teachers were not attending workshops that institutions provided and that teachers request more worksheets and more information on the use of museum resources (Price & Hein, 1991). Bitgood and Benefield (1989) reported teachers expressing enthusiasm and gaining ideas about teaching science after their field trip experience (Bitgood & Benefield, 1989 as cited in Bitgood, 1989).
Studies involving student preparation for field trips found that although the most effective techniques of preparation have not been empirically determined, some type of classroom lesson is necessary before the trip. One factor that appears significant is knowledge of the environment. Martin, Falk and Balling (1981) found that the novelty of the environment can be stimulating for exploration and manipulation. This novelty is a factor in the learning process however, for too much novelty serves as an initial distraction and can impede learning of factual information and concepts (Balling & Falk, 1980; Falk, Martin, & Balling, 1978; Martin, Falk & Balling 1981; Falk & Balling, 1982). Of significance to museum/school partnership learning, is the finding that multiple field trip experiences, and/or prior experience with friends or family with the museum locale, can reduce the novelty of the setting and allow for focus on other kinds of learning opportunities (Bitgood, 1989; Griffin, 1998; Price & Hein, 1991; Wolins, Jensen & Ulzheimer, 1992).
Balling, Falk, & Aronson (1992, 1995) found that different forms of student pre-trip orientation had different influences on subsequent student learning. Students who were given an orientation focusing on their own personal agendas, showed significantly higher learning than the other groups. The research suggests that such an orientation may free students up to learn facts and concepts (Falk & Dierking, 1992). The data show that teachers who attended workshops in conjunction with this program had a greater effect on their students' learning than did those teachers who didn't attend workshops.
There is mixed evidence on the use of worksheets during a field trip. Some researchers have found positive gains in learning for some students (Melton, Feldman & Mason, 1936). Research by others has suggested worksheets hinder learning by cutting down on the opportunities to work in groups, and lessening the teachers role as facilitator (Price & Hein, 1991; Griffin, 1998). Falk and Dierking (1992) discuss student perspectives on worksheets. Students were found to view the concept of learning with the answering of worksheet questions and perceived their other museum activities as outside of learning (Griffin, 1998; Falk & Dierking, 1992).
In their study of school visits at two Australian museums, Griffin and Symington (1997) investigated student perspective on how field trips should be organized. Students preferred choice and control of their own movement and learning, a link with their school studies, and learning in groups. They found that no matter how the teacher organized class movement, children formed natural small groups and preferred to complete their worksheets as a group. These researchers also reported that students viewed filling in worksheets to be a constraint against their ability to look at the exhibits (Griffin & Symington, 1997).
A study by John Gilbert and Mary Priest (1997) found evidence of students' mental engagement with exhibits during a field trip experience where components of the students' visit included: a link to the current school curriculum; and free-choice to explore the museum in small friendship groups each accompanied by knowledgeable adult facilitators (Gilbert & Priest, 1997). George Hein (1996, 1998) points out that we have not determined the extent of importance of the teaching role in connection with exhibition aspects of museums, as there are some situations in which human intervention can make possible and enhance the learning experience (Hein, 1996, Hein, 1998; Bailey et al., 1998)
Bitgood (1993) states that research evidence implies the field trip event is more effective if experience-driven rather than information driven. Interactivity with exhibits promotes effective teaching and leads to outcomes of enjoyment, satisfaction and curiosity as well as intellectual ones (Bitgood, 1993). He advises field trip experiences be linked to school activities. Assessing student prior knowledge and following up the field trip with related classroom activities appears to be keyed to success and a factor toward maximizing student learning (Bitgood, 1993).
Griffin & Symington (1997) suggest guidelines for school group museum visits. These include integrating classroom learning units with the visit, using learner centered strategies, encouraging student questions, and applying a museum visit approach that takes into account the social aspects of learning (Griffin & Symington, 1997).
There have been a number of studies which have looked at the impact of the field trip experience from the perspective of visitors' memories and what visitors connect to that event. Fivush, Hudson, & Nelson (1984) found that kindergarten children memories of a trip to an archeology museum remained specific and contained surprisingly accurate content for more than a year (Fivush, Hudson & Nelson, 1984). Wolins, Jensen & Ulzheimer (1992) in a study focusing on children's memory of field trip experiences found that several things were associated with student recollections. They were: high personal involvement (positive or negative) for an individual child; links with the curriculum (accompanied by teacher classroom activities); and multiple field trips to the institution. The researchers found that the affective or emotional content of the experience in the setting were associated with the most powerful memories (Wolins, Jensen & Ulzheimer, 1992). In her examination of how museum visits relate to other aspects of the lives of fourth grade children, Nina Jensen (1994) found that the children tended to categorize places, including museums, by their personal relationship to them. They described these places in terms of when they go and the social context of their visit (Jensen, 1994). Falk and Dierking (1995), in their study of recalling the museum experience, reported that this study "reinforced that early elementary school field trips were salient experiences in the lives of children" (Falk & Dierking, 1995, pp. 12). They noted that subjects interviewed readily recalled their school group trips and these memories remained persistent. The researchers believe these memories are influenced by time spent in the museum, mode of presentation, social and physical milieu, and prior experiences and knowledge (Falk & Dierking, 1995).
Ramey-Gassert, Walberg III, and Walberg, (1994) conclude from their review of the literature surrounding the effectiveness of museum field trips that it "clearly suggests benefits in factual and conceptual learning and affective goals" (Ramey-Gassert, Walberg III & Walberg, 1994, pp. 349). The stimulation to curiosity, the special experiences with real objects and phenomena that museums offer, and their influence on attitudes toward science and other areas of knowledge make them unique learning environments for students. The opportunities the museum experience can provide for students supports their learning process within formal education environments and in other facets of their lives (Ramey-Gassert, Walberg III & Walberg, 1994; Griffin, 1998; Flexer & Borun, 1984; Crane, 1994).
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