How field trips in natural areas associated with museums, arboreta, and aquaria impact the educational experiences of teachers and students

Joyce A. Mullins

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to expose the variety of perspectives from which teachers, students, and museum instructors use natural settings associated with museums, arboreta and aquaria to enhance educational experiences. The qualitative study investigated the perspectives of the three groups by conducting field observations, teacher and museum instructor interviews, and perusing student journals associated with 22 natural field trips. Participants included 349 students, 17 teachers, and 9 museum instructors. Six veteran field teachers were also interviewed for their perspectives on both obstacles to and reasons for conducting field trips. The data analysis revealed that relationships among participants such as the equilibration in power structure between teachers and students, opportunities for interactive, experiential learning, unstructured time and space for discovery and exploration, and memorable events, significantly impacted students' making connections and perspective changes. In addition, data revealed that the greatest obstacle to conducting field trips stems from fear within the teacher as it relates to knowledge, experience, and relationships. It was shown that natural field trips served to revitalize and motivate teachers and that teachers must adopt a student's role in order to make a paradigm shift from leader to guide. A model for constructing field trips that incorporates unstructured time for students to explore, reflect, and develop relationships was developed. Implicit in the study are guidelines for field trip design and teacher education.