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In the Field

Students in the field, photo courtesy of Reid BrewerField trips are included in each unit. In addition to stimulating both scientific observation and accurate recording skills, they also facilitate group interaction and cooperation. In order to ensure a successful and enjoyable learning experience for all, it is important to be well prepared and organized.

Planning. Familiarize yourself with the fieldtrip location and with your planned activities. Prepare your students for the trip. Be sure they know the purpose of the trip, what the schedule will be, and what types of activities they will be engaged in. Discuss what kinds of clothing should be worn, the dangers to avoid, and conservation and careful handling of any marine/aquatic life. Establish rules for good fieldtrip behavior with your students. The buddy system is a tried-and-true method of reducing stragglers and alleviating the nagging fear of “losing a student”.

Location. Some fieldtrip locations are popular. Be sure to check to see if other classes have planned a trip to the same location on the day you are planning to go. It is a good idea to make a trip to the site on your own before you take your students. You can familiarize yourself with the area, look for plants and animals, and any potential hazards. If you are going to the beach, remember to check the tides!

Parents/Chaperones. Request help from parents, local agency personnel, older students. Invite your principal. It might be wise to have a meeting with your helpers, so that they will know what is expected of them.  Will they just be “warm bodies” to make sure that no one falls in, or will they be responsible for helping guide instruction? The most successful trips usually have one adult per five or fewer students.

Letters Home. Send explanatory letters home to parents, and obtain permission slips.
A letter may include requests for field trip assistants, drivers, resources, snacks, and permission slips.

Transportation. Secure a bus if necessary. If no bus is available, arrange for parents and/or other volunteers to drive.

Student in the field, photo courtesy of Reid BrewerSafety. Remember safety. Have a plan for keeping students in groups through a buddy system or adult supervision. Take a first aid kit. Discuss hypothermia, if necessary. Make sure students dress warmly and take extra clothes and rain gear. You might ask younger students to bring raingear, boots and additional items the day before the field trip. Take along some large garbage bags to use as temporary raingear, if necessary.

Etiquette. Promote conservation: the protection and wise use of natural resources.

  • Ask students how they can help take care of animals and plants they encounter in their field and classroom studies. Through their concern for life and habitat, have students develop some rules: step softly and quietly while observing animals, replace rocks or logs after looking underneath (to keep the roofs on animals homes), handle animals gently, fill in oles after looking in the dirt or sand or cobbles (to prevent suffocation of the animals next door), and don’t take live animals or plants away from their homes.
  • So that future visitors can also enjoy the area, it is a good idea to discourage the personal collection of any natural items, living or nonliving. Limit collections to educational purposes, and return any living animals to their natural habitat as soon as possible. For classroom specimens, preserve only those animals already dead.
  • Encourage students to leave the beach, river or wetland cleaner than when they arrived.
  • For more information about tidepool etiquette, see the guidelines from the Alaska Fish and Game. If you plan to harvest marine invertebrates, fish, or seaweeds or collect them for educational or scientific purposes,  review the guidelines and permit requirements for these activities. 

Design Learning Activities. These activities are outlined in each of the Alaska Seas and Watersheds guides, and relate to the essential questions and enduring understandings for each unit. As with any learning experience, students respond best to diverse learning modes. Be sure to include periods of “exploration”, structured learning activities, snack time, and for younger students, a time for organized games, treasure hunts, and/or litter pickup. Lead students in discussions covering your learning objectives. Provide time for individual, small-group, and large-group activities.

  • Exploration. It is always nice to have an unstructured time for discovery and exploration when you first arrive at a site. Allow students a specified period in which to explore. Thirty minutes is a good initial exploratory period. Be clear on the constraints: boundaries, time, group size. Suggest they draw or write in their science notebooks. Urge them to share their finds with the rest of the group. Be sure to designate a rendezvous site at the end of the exploration period. You may want to pre-arrange a signal to pull the group together (ship’s bell, whistle, horn, etc.).
  • Structured activities. Students will be conducting investigations that support the content in the unit
  • Review. If there is time before you leave the site, a review or debrief can help bring closure to the experience. Bring the group together to share the day’s experiences and learning. This can be as simple as having each student and adult tell what he or she enjoyed most. They can share something they saw or did that they had never done before, or explain something they learned. Discuss what kind of impact the visit had on the beach. Did you leave it in better or worse shape? What could you do to leave it better?

Contingency Plans. Design a contingency plan for bad weather. This plan might be as simple as, “If the weather’s bad, we’ll go on our field trip on the next good day.” You might also have an alternative field trip ready, such as to a museum or hatchery, etc.

Alaska Sea Grant University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Department of Education and Early Development NOAA