Don’t You Love it When Field Trips Go Well?

A costumed ranger at Francis Gate (courtesy Lowell National Historical Park)

Field trips have long served as the bread-and-butter of most education programs for history organizations of all stripes. And while we cannot do much to stem the pressures on schools/curriculum to “teach to the test,” we can offer offer a more engaging, learner-centered program for schools.

In this post from the blog The Historical Society: A Blog Devoted to History for the Academy and Beyond, Chris Beneke discusses a recent trip with his son’s fourth grade class to Lowell National Historical Park.

Beneke’s post shares his perspective as both a parent and historian and offers some food for thought for the Educator/Interpreter affinity community. An excerpt from his conclusion:

 …[M]y day including some promising signs for the state of elementary history education: the kids aren’t just memorizing abstract facts, their learning is active, their activities generally engaging, and museums and schools have developed fruitful partnerships that actually deepen the students’ understanding of the past.

From what I could gather, these fourth graders had read and talked a good deal about textile manufacturing and the life of the young women and immigrants who worked in Lowell’s mills, while their indefatigable teacher had already given them a hands-on introduction to the beguiling mechanisms of the power loom. I’m talking about a Massachusetts public school here and the trip was booked and co-chaperoned by two smart and able suburban moms who help organize enrichment activities for the kids. So my experience could hardly be considered universal. But I suspect that it’s more common than not.

I encourage you read through Chris’s full post for some specifics on his experience and to consider them in light of your own field trip program. It offers some excellent food-for-thought.

Bob Beatty is Vice President for Programs at AASLH.

3 Responses to “Don’t You Love it When Field Trips Go Well?”

  1. March 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm, Tobi V. said:

    Thanks for sharing this. I am intruiged by his comment that the suburban mom chaperones helped plan the trip and were engaged in the process. Certainly we have school field trips that meet this discription, but it brings up a question I have for the field (prefaced by an explanation):

    I find that our most challenging school groups are those that come with 60 kids and 14 chaperones. And none of the chaperones take an active part in the experience, instead abandoning the groups for the museum store. The onus for “classroom management” is then put on the faciltator, which detracts from the experience for everyone.

    I can’t lie – most of these experiences happen during our not-so-interactive traditional guided tours. I am sure we could help allievate this by bringing the chaperones more into the experience and giving them roles and tasks. So, my question (finally!) is this:

    What creative ways have you found to set expectations for chaperone engagement and encourage them to help with managing the students?


  2. March 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm, bbeatty said:


    What I used to do and used to teach docents to do is put the chaperones to work immediately. Just like you do with the kids, set the expectations early–that this isn’t a vacation from class management for the teacher.

    So I’d start by asking the teacher’s name and writing it down. Then I’d say to the teacher, “Mrs. Smith, I need a chaperone here…. and here” in our case to keep the kids contained in the area we were in. Then I did it again at the second stop. By then she (and they) got the message that they’re there to help the kids learn, not to stand around and gab.

    Anytime I’ve volunteered for anything, what I wanted most of all was directions and expectations. To be honest, chaperones really have no idea why they’re there until they’re told.

    And by using the teacher as the “head” of the group, you’re putting him/her on the spot and back in a situation they’re very comfortable in.

    Hope this makes sense.


  3. March 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm, Kristin said:

    Tobi and Bob-
    Thanks for posting the blog-post about the visit to the Tsongas Industrial History Center – which is the education programs branch of Lowell National Historical Park in partnership with the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Graduate School of Education.

    TIHC breaks up its full-day field trips into several activities – kids and chaperones actually spend less time listening in the traditional “tour” manner and more time engaging in activities or group (small and large) discussion. Like Bob said, we set expectations from the moment the teacher/chaperones step off the bus. We have a “curb sheet” that our Museum Teachers use – it has a couple of important questions for the teacher and bits of information that need to be shared with the adults/students before starting the day. Our reservation confirmation form also has some “chaperone instructions”. I’m happy to share both with you – feel free to contact me at I’m also happy to share any information about what we do and the activities that Chris referred to in his blog.

    We love what we do at TIHC and were happy to see unsolicited positive comments about the 4th graders’ and chaperones’ experience.


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