A logistical solution to making those unforgettable education experiences a reality.
GUEST COLUMN | by Jillian Kando
Looking back at the time spent at school, most people would point to field trips as some of their favorite and most vivid educational memories. Aside from being an exciting adventure that students see as a ‘treat’ from their normal routine, field trips promote better critical thinking, expose students to culture which results in higher tolerance, and facilitate hands on learning in ways that are not attainable in the classroom. As students learn throughout their lives more often than not, this learning will occur outside of a classroom. Field trips are an effective teaching tool that teachers can use to present curriculum in a meaningful, unforgettable way. This teaching tool also happens to promote bonding both between student peers and between students and teachers. In the U.S. alone, over 200,000 educational trips are taken each day, according to data from the Department of Transportation and the Student Youth Travel Association. Yet, regional cultural and STEM venues are seeing a decline in attendance because of shifting views on field trips.
When schools actively ask their teachers, “Is this field trip going to help students meet learning goals?” teachers will be able to clearly define how and why.
More and more, field trips in the U.S. are seen as a reward for good behavior rather than a cultural enrichment tool. More emphasis on improving test-based math and reading skills, financial cuts and requirements to teach to Common Core standards in schools have led to reduced class visits to museums across the country.
If this continues, students will lose out on important developmental experiences and venues that work hard to preserve American culture will be threatened.
Another reason educational field trips are often lacking variety is that they are increasingly hard to plan. Once a teacher has planned the perfect trip, that trip tends to be replicated year after year. It is just not that easy to plan the logistics for and actually find alternative venues that fulfill the same requirements for their lesson plans. This means that the big “blockbuster” venues get a lot of traffic, but other venues lose out.
At our company, we believe in the power of learning outside of the classroom and we are on a mission to bring the number of field trips happening in the U.S. to an all-time high. We’re especially interested in helping teachers find field trips that not only entertain, but also help enrich the educational experience.
It is my belief that technology has a very defined role in the classroom. Technologists should never aim to replace the role of teachers, who work hard to influence the lives of their students. The hands on learning, one-on-one time, and enrichment teachers give to adolescents is an important part of their development that cannot not be replaced by technology, and will affect them for the rest of their lives. Instead, technology should enable teachers to work more efficiently in order to free up their time both mentally and physically, allowing for more bandwidth to come up with creative, effective and sometimes alternative forms of educating. That is exactly what our team strives to do: Make planning and taking school trips less of a burden on the teacher so that they have more time to focus on what is important: impacting the lives of their students. How do we accomplish this?
Through our experience working with teachers to plan amazing, impactful trips and through our years of experience with technology, we have created a solution that is the connecting piece in the field trip ecosystem. For the first time, teachers have a tool to let them search for specific field trip programs which tie into their curriculum (and soon the Common Core and other standards). Venues have a platform to showcase the real value they provide. No more need to spend hours looking through museum directory listings, or searching online for already known venues. They also don’t need to rely solely on word of mouth from their own network, which is necessarily often limited to their own districts. They can find venues on any topic, anywhere they want to go.
Teachers can now search by criteria that is important to them, such as location, grade level and subject, to find the best program for their class. For instance, a teacher on our site may go to the Explore section and filter the venues in our database by ‘8th grade’, ‘Science’, ‘MA’. A list of relevant venues and programs are then shown.
This can make a huge difference in adding diversity and variety to the field trip experience. For instance, if you are a teacher from Boston looking to get your students excited about science, the first venue that probably comes to mind is The Museum of Science. While this is an amazing venue and I encourage people to go and go often, there are other venues out there that may bring a really unique, life changing experience to students. One venue in particular that I love is the Beyond Benign Green Chemistry Education Lab in Wilmington, Mass., which brings K-12 students to their lab to learn about green chemistry, which reduces and eliminates the production of hazardous substances: Beyond Benign
Their mission is to ‘revolutionize the way chemistry is taught to better prepare students to engage with their world while connecting chemistry, human health and the environment’. It is gems like Beyond Benign, which may be the most impactful on students, inspiring them to take a certain direction in life, and yet these are generally the hardest to find. We’re aiming to help bring health to the field trip ecosystem by adding back the variety and thus increasing the ways students can learn.
Once a teacher has found a venue they would like to attend on EdTrips’ Explore page, communication with that venue is as simple as clicking a button. In addition, teachers can browse educational programs and see the wonderful variety out there, getting inspiration for new student experiences. We’re seeing museums posting amazing, sometimes underutilized programs such as an opportunity to learn Morse code aboard a historic Baltimore battleship, just as it was used in WWII. Teachers and venues can come together to provide kids with life-changing experiences like never before.
We know that the future of field trips is bright. As we move forward, there are exciting features our team is releasing. The algorithm for most relevant venue will rely on ratings by teachers, number of visits and other peer validation factors. This will push venues to provide a complete and satisfying experience for students and allow teachers to branch out, fulfill requirements for their class, and enable their students to have new experiences.
From our perspective, we are currently seeing a trend that learning outside the classroom is on the rise: we’re asking teachers what types of trips they’re planning, and a majority are now saying that they plan to increase the types that are educational rather than “just fun”. We believe that the push for standards combined with tools like EdTrips, which can match field trip programs with specific standards, is going to catalyze the number of trips taken. When schools actively ask their teachers, “Is this field trip going to help students meet learning goals?” teachers will be able to clearly define how and why. It’s a really exciting time to be in education, and we can’t wait to see more of the innovative ways teachers and venues are using our platform!
Jillian is the Chief Technology Officer of the edtech startup EdTrips. Jillian brings 7+ years engineering experience working on small dynamic teams to rapidly build web applications and advance product development. At EdTrips, she leads the development of their product, built in Ruby on Rails. She is also extremely active in the Boston startup community, including being the leader of Boston EdTech Hack Night. Jillian graduated from Northeastern University and believes in knowledge sharing, being an active member in the Boston startup community, and paying it forward.