Field Trips and Teacher Responsibility

Today at the Museum Studies grad student poster session I talked with Courtney Little about the content and activities she developed for school groups as part of her project.  I loved what she did… so much better than the “circle the word” activity sheets some museums use as a substitute for properly planned follow up activities, but it made me wonder in how many schools will her work go wasted because teachers don’t use the opportunity to reinforce information learned at the museum.

This post by Rebecca Herz explores teacher interaction and responsibility and posits that exposure to museum content is not an ending..but a beginning… that teacher’s have to build on that content for students to get the most out of it.  Regarding teacher involvement, interpretation, and follow-up, Herz explains that “in our current educational climate I do not think teachers understand this as their role in a museum field trip. Nor do they always have the freedom or time to do this follow up work back in the classroom.”

In just about every museum, school groups are a huge chunk of the visitor count and revenue total (either by ticket sales or gift shop sales).  Having interesting and engaging pre/post visit activities is crucial and often is given less attention it deserves.  But even if what you develop is outstanding…getting teachers to use it is an ongoing problem.  How can museums address this problem?  Can we manipulate students into pressuring teachers to perform?  Museum interpreter to students: “I’m so glad I had the opportunity to talk to you today about <insert historical topic of choice>, we’ve given your teacher some exciting activities to share with you after your visit here… make sure you ask her about it when you return to school.”

4 thoughts on “Field Trips and Teacher Responsibility

  1. I attended a really great workshop when I was at the NCPH conference that was about this very thing. There were suggestions that museum/historic site staff could visit with teacher to make sure they understand the purpose of and how to utilize pre and post visit materials. Also, it is important to be able to modify the materials in order to best fit into the curriculum of the classroom. For example, if a class is learning about weather, a science museum may not want to include a whole lot of pre and post visit material about dinosaurs.

    Side note – my daughter is visiting Biltmore with her class on Monday. I was pleased when she came home yesterday to tell me all about the history of the house and the Biltmore’s. This was not how fieldtrips worked when I was a kid…learning seemed secondary to having a day out of the class.


  2. I think pre-visit materials are crucial to reaching our younger audiences. I can remember numerous school fields trips to museums, none of which contained any student orientation to the exhibits or correlation to course work. It is encourage to see the shift in focus in the contemporary scholarship towards creating a meaning student experience. In retrospect, museum field trips were often a hodge podge adventure that ended up in the gift shop. Another aspect to be considered is orienting parent’s and other chaperones as well as teachers to intended learning outcomes and exhibit content. If parents become more informed about their child’s field trip to a museum, they may be able to further enhance the learning experience at home post-visit.


  3. I definitely agree that we need to find a way to get teachers more involved. Part of that, however, is also contacting them and asking what is on their syllabus – for younger age groups what field trips they have planned- and figure out how to incorporate that into their lesson plans. We as public historians need to remember that teachers are required to teach certain lessons throughout the year. This summer, I will be in contact with a group of teachers to try and work out how to better incorporate the Earl Scruggs Center into what THEY are teaching. It needs to be a collaborative project.


  4. I agree that teacher input is crucial… but have found that most teachers want you to make it easy for them, not the other way around. They want the museum catalog or website to clearly (by number) outline which DPI Standard Course of Study objective matches each museum program. All they have to do to get approval for the field trip is include those numbers…and if they can’t match the program to the Standard Course of Study then they aren’t going to consider the museum at all.

    Anyone considering museum education should know these documents backwards and forwards. Links to K-8 guides are here:


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