Cash in on Learning: Inexpensive Field Trips to Engage and Enrich Gifted Students

Richard Cash EdD, FSP AuthorNow that the school year is well underway, you may be noticing that some of your brightest students are flying through the introductory information or reviews that are prominent in the early fall. In celebration of National Go on a Field Trip Month in October, I’d like to share with you a way to value the time of your gifted/advanced students when they have completed work ahead of schedule—or have compacted or tested out of material—by sending them on “field trips” to enrich their learning.

Traditionally, a field trip is an off-school-site adventure that the teacher organizes and most if not all students attend. Often, activities accompany the trip that may or may not be related to the curriculum. This kind of field trip is great for lots of reasons, and many Web sites can help you plan for a general field trip, such as:

However, not every field trip requires a bus, chaperones, and tickets for entry. I’d like to suggest a few twists to our ideas of field trips and show how they can be enhanced to stretch gifted/advanced learners.

Virtual Field Trips
One low-cost way to address your gifted/advanced learners’ needs is to construct “virtual” field trips in which any student can explore topics of interest. This is an extremely valuable way to connect the multiple interests of your gifted/advanced students as well as help them connect what they are learning each day to those interests. Here are a few excellent resources for virtual field trips:

Explore the dozens of virtual field trips at these sites, select ones that your students may be interested in, and bookmark them on a classroom computer or in a Google Document students can access. You may want to consider putting the trips into categories, such as:

texas-natural-bridge-caverns-crystal-calcite-structure public domain by  Yinan Chen wikimedia commons

Tour a cave in your area, or online, like this one in Texas.

  • The Arts
  • Nature
  • Problem Solving/Investigations
  • Sports

Make sure you have investigated the sites yourself to ensure student safety and that your Internet service can manage the bandwidth required by some of the sites. Also, check to make sure the sites are not blocked by your district’s server. Nothing is more frustrating to kids than having an interesting site marked only to find the district server walls off the site.

Next, have some form of an activity the student can do while on the field trip. It could be as simple as writing a letter to the teacher about what he or she did and saw on the trip, or something more complex like creating a Webquest or class presentation on what was learned on the trip.

Another idea is to have students construct their own virtual field trips for others to enjoy. Have the students review one of the sites above and use that as an example or template of how to create a trip for other students. This could be a great semester-long or year-long project for your advanced students. The Webquest.org platform is very learner-friendly for this purpose.

Local Field Trips
Consider taking a field trip around your local neighborhood. Focus students on connecting the school to local businesses, religious or community organizations, the people in the neighborhood, and so forth. To prepare students for this kind of a trip, have them write letters of introduction to select businesses, organizations, or neighbors around the school requesting a chance to stop by the business, organization, or front yard to meet on the day of the trip. This is a great way to let students see how the school is an integral part of the community and will give them a better sense of community pride.

377px-Milles_Godofpeace in Saint Paul City Hall by Ziggur wikimedia commons

The Indian God of Peace sculpture in the Saint Paul City Hall.

When I taught first grade, my students learned about the concept of community by seeing how all parts of the community interacted with each other. To help the children get a real feel for community, we took a field trip into downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. My school was located about a mile and a half out of the center of the city. It, like most schools, didn’t have a lot of money for field trips. So to lower the cost of the field trip, my teaching partners and I contacted the Metropolitan Transit Commission to arrange for a bus to pick us up at a specific time at a bus stop close to the school and drop us off at a bus stop downtown (the bus did not stop to pick up other riders along the route). Our students, many of whom had never ridden the city bus, got a chance to see how public transportation was a strong partner in the community.

Once downtown, we took a walking tour of important buildings (such as City Hall, police headquarters, and the courthouse), historical and significant buildings (such as museums, concert halls, and places of worship), and architecturally interesting buildings (such as skyscrapers in Art Deco, modern, and post-modern styles). Prior to the trip, we contacted the local tourist organization asking for materials we could use on our walking trip. Our students kept a journal of each of the locations and tried to connect how each of the sites worked together to make a strong community.

Extending a Field Trip
With local field trips for your whole class, you can have your gifted students do the preparation work. Don’t confuse this idea with having them do “more” work or the teacher’s work. What I’m suggesting here is that the gifted/advanced students take this as an opportunity to learn greater planning, organizing, financial, mathematical, and leadership skills. Have them consider the content of the trip and what would be interesting to most of the students and plan for it. Will it be all walking, or will you need transportation? What will the costs be for each student or for the school? How can you raise the money needed to go on the trip? Students can also organize chaperones to assist on the outing and get information to them about what is required before and during the trip.

Fort_Clatsop_OR_replica_2007 creative commons by GSWilliams wikimedia commons

Find local historic sites, like Fort Clatsop in Oregon on the Lewis and Clark Trail.

Finally, let the gifted/advanced students be the trip leaders. Divide all the other students into small teams, each with a leader interpreting for the group. The interpreter highlights the location, sharing historical facts and points of interest or significance. As with any student-directed project, the teacher must provide oversight to ensure safety of all students and educational value.

After a trip like this, have the gifted/advanced learners reflect on what they learned about their planning, organizing, and leading. Other students in the class can reflect on what information they learned on the trip that they found to be the most interesting.

Field trips have a significant effect on enhancing all students’ learning. For gifted/advanced students, they can do even more by expanding their knowledge base and increasing their management and leadership skills.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally. His most recent book is Differentiation for Gifted Learners, coauthored with Diane Heacox, Ed.D. He is also author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century.

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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