Museum field trips a learning tool

MARQUETTE — When you remember back to your school days, what memories rise to the top?

Hopefully a positively influential teacher or two. Maybe a lesson on something close to your heart. And likely an outing you took with your class.

As we head into the high field trip season here at the Marquette Regional History Center, we join with the other regional museums and those nationwide in welcoming busloads of young people to our buildings.

School students from grades preschool to 12th grade visit museums throughout the Upper Peninsula — from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point to the Iron County Historical Museum, and everything in between. These field trip visits keep us vital as museums, and in turn add benefits to the students’ school year experience.

There has been relatively little formal study of the impact of field trips on learning and comprehension, but more recently a few important studies have been released.

One such study, from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, illustrated great gains in crucial areas of learning.

This measured study followed nearly 11,000 students grades K-12 and their 489 teachers. It closely compared students who attended field trips to those who did not attend and showed that attending field trips increased critical thinking skills.

Similarly, students showed gains in “historical empathy.” The researchers refer to historical empathy as “the ability to understand and appreciate what life was like for people who lived in a different time and place.”

This benefits out communities by creating students who value not only their own personal history and hometown history, but also the history of different cultures and communities beyond themselves.

Historical empathy demonstrates not only tolerance, but a deeper understanding of interconnected heritage and a sustained interest in learning more.

One museum field trip in a lifetime cannot support the weight of creating long-term gains in values and learning, but it can be the spark to keep them coming back.

The Crystal Bridges study proved that students who benefit from a school field trip were likely to return to that museum when given the opportunity. We hope this leads them to additionally seek out other museums and in turn become museum patrons in their adult lives.

The advantage of field trips to museums as opposed to pure-fun “treat” field trips such as to an amusement park is shown plainly through the museum field trip’s curriculum.

An entire lesson plan for a class on industry and economics can be taught in a museum setting, including holding heavy tools, sitting on an itchy blanket, viewing original photos of how workers were transported, seeing the metal plates they ate their lunch on, and the playing cards they passed the time with.

Add a first person costumed interpreter telling a story from a historical perspective and students are carried back in time. A well-told story can cement facts and details in young minds and create space for receptive learning and inspiration.

The root of the word educate is to “lead forth” and “bring out.” How does this Latin root word (educere) explain our present day form of education? Within the fast paced schedule of school and courses for young students, it may be hard for them to make the space to find their own passions.

To bring out their interests and lead forth with a method of learning that resonates with them. Not all students learn and retain through the same methods, and getting them out of the traditional classroom can spark a method of learning that is quite approachable to many.

The educational methods used in museum field trips are quite naturally accessible to multiple learning styles; from storytelling and reenacting to sensory experiences and artifact based lessons.

Getting students out of the classroom and the fresh off-campus experience may be the very best way for them to learn something.

As we schedule in field trips and greet excited students this spring, we have a chance to “draw forth” a learning experience for those students.

This tool of education, the school field trip to museums, can make a great impact on learning for our students of today.