ERIC Identifier: ED259935
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Disinger, John F.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Field Instruction in School Settings. ERIC/SMEAC Environmental
Education Digest No. 1.
Field instruction is consistently recommended as a key element for
school-based programs directed toward environmental learning, but rarely do such
recommendations progress beyond the platitude stage. In general, published
surveys dealing with the instructional practices of classroom teachers in all
fields of formal education indicate that they conduct very few field activities
off school grounds. The extent of their use of school grounds is less well
documented but is generally considered to be less than optimal.
In an extensive survey of classroom earth science teachers, Mason (1980b)
identified a number of factors contributing to paucity of field activity: lack
of planning time; lack of resource people for assistance; failure of the school
to assume trip risk; lack of a satisfactory method for covering classes;
restrictions placed on field work by school regulations; lack of administrative
leadership, support, and encouragement; lack of funding; limited available
transportation; too much "red tape"; and excessive class size. Though this list
was compiled with instruction in secondary school earth science as its specific
referent, it appears to be applicable to environmental education in its various
countenances, and to K-12 formal education situations in general.
DOES TEACHER COMMITMENT EXIST?
Teacher commitment to the concept of field instruction is questionable even
in situations where organizational, administrative, and/or budgetary constraints
are less critical. All other things being equal, it is clear that field
instruction places additional demands on the skills and energies of the teacher,
when compared to other instructional devices. It is in fact "easier" to teach in
the classroom than to plan and implement outside-the-four-walls initiatives.
Generally, pre-service teacher education does not emphasize methodologies for
field instruction, nor are role models of effective field teachers commonplace.
In a word, many teachers do not know how to plan and conduct effective field
instruction, and have little motivation to learn how to do so.
Proponents of field instruction frequently presuppose a premium on its
educational values. In doing so, they often convey the impression that, in their
view, the need for field instruction is self-evident and needs no verification.
If such values were in fact self-evident, one would expect field instruction to
be common practice, regardless of constraints. But it is not.
Over the years, a number of researchers have investigated educational values
of various modes of field instruction. Summaries of such studies through the
late 1970s were published by Koran and Baker (1979) and Mason (1980a). In this
Digest, results of several recent studies targeted on field instruction,
specifically field trips, are summarized.
WHAT DOES RESEARCH SAY?--AFFECTIVE DOMAIN
It has long been an article of faith that a major value of field instruction
is in the affective realm. For example, a positive relationship between eleventh
grade biology students' attitudes toward science and environmental concepts and
their exposure to field trip activities was demonstrated in a study by Ignatiuk
(1978). Statistically significant differences in such attitudes between pretest
and posttest measurements after varying amounts of field work during a 15-week
study period were found; the students involved were using the Biological
Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) text, Green Version.
Working with college students in an introductory level geological science
course designed for general education, Kern and Carpenter (1984) found that a
field-oriented approach had a pronounced positive influence on the affective
responses of participating students. Interest and enjoyment both increased
dramatically, and the students involved attached more importance to their work
when compared with students in a control-group class employing a more
traditional laboratory approach. Affective factors considered in the study were
value (perception of importance of the field of study), interest (in the course
itself), and attitude (enjoyment of the course), leading to an increase in
WHAT DOES RESEARCH SAY?--COGNITIVE DOMAIN
Less well-documented over time have been the cognitive-realm educational
values of field instruction. However, a number of recent studies have dealt with
various aspects of this concern. How well geography facts and skills are learned
and how well such learning is retained was the subject of a study involving
junior high school students in Australia (Mackenzie and White 1981). Comparing
three groups--one treated to an excursion stressing processing of meaning of
phenomena observed and experienced during a field trip, another participating in
a traditional "passive" excursion, and the third participating in the same basic
geography course, but without an excursion--researchers found that students
receiving either form of field work outperformed students with no field trips on
a test of geography knowledge.
In addition, those students who participated in the field trip stressing
knowledge and idea processing outperformed students who participated in the
passive field trip. This was true at the conclusion of instruction and again 12
weeks later. Information and skill links such as those encouraged during the
exursion described seem to aid recall and retention of facts and skills.
Field experiences can be planned to capitalize on the effects of novelty of
setting to meet students' needs, according to a series of studies conducted by
personnel associated with the Smithsonian Institution's Chesapeake Bay Center
for Environmental Studies (Falk 1983).
Elementary students can learn a great deal from a single-visit, structured
tour of a specific area of a zoological park (Falk and Balling 1982). Though
field trips typically have been considered of more use in affecting student
attitudes and motivation, this study demonstrated that children do learn on
well-structured field trips. The study stressed the critical nature of the
design and execution of the field trip, including the need for pre-trip
The most effective pre-trip orientation reported was that conducted by the
student's classroom teacher trained by a targeted workshop, as opposed to
orientation by a resource person from the zoo or by a classroom teacher
supported by mailed printed materials only.
Using pre-trip instructional materials significantly increased student test
scores in a cognitive-gain study dealing with a museum field trip experience for
junior high school earth science students (Gennaro 1981). In the study, an
experimental group showed statistically significant differences in gain score
when compared to a control group which made the same field trip, but did not
receive pre-visit instruction.
DOES "HOW TO" GUIDANCE EXIST?
"How to" information for teachers involved in planning and implementing field
instruction with and for their classes is available from a number of sources,
many of them highly localized (that is, for specific trips to specific places
for specific purposes). The fact that many of them are home-made guarantees a
wide range of quality and usefulness and often limits their generalizability.
However, many are of particular value for their designed purposes. More general
"how to" documents are also available and can be of particular use to those
needing overall guidance and basic checklists.
For example, a volume developed by Krepel and DuVall (1981) deals with a
broad range of concerns-- values of field trips as teaching tools, teacher
liability, school board policies, administrative support, teacher
responsibilities, safety, supervisory assistance, pre-trip activity, follow-up
activities, and trip evaluation.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Falk, John H. "Field Trips: A Look at Environmental Effects on Learnng."
JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL EDUCATION 17 (Summer 1983):137-142.
Falk, John H., and John D. Balling. IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF SINGLE-VISIT
FIELD TRIPS TO THE NATIONAL ZOOLOGICAL PARK. DEVELOPMENT OF PRE-TRIP MATERIALS
AND AN ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING AND BEHAVIOR. Edgewater, MD: Chesapeake Bay Center
for Environmental Studies, 1982.
Gennaro, Eugene D. "The Effectiveness of Using Previsit Instructional
Materials on Learning for a Museum Field Trip Experience." JOURNAL OF RESEARCH
IN SCIENCE TEACHING 18 (May 1981):275-279.
Ignatiuk, Gerald T. INFLUENCE OF THE AMOUNT OF TIME SPENT IN FIELD TRIP
ACTITIVITES ON STUDENT ATTITUDE TOWARD SCIENCE AND THE ENVIRONMENT. Regina,
Saskatchewan: Saskatchewan School Trustees Association, 1978. ED 180 758.
Kern, Ernest L, and John R. Carpenter. "Enhancement of Student Values,
Interests and Attitudes in Earth Science Through a Field-Oriented Approach."
JOURNAL OF GEOLOGICAL EDUCATION 32 (1984):299-305.
Koran, John J., Jr. and S. Dennis Baker. "Evaluating the Effectiveness of
Field Experiences." In WHAT RESEARCH SAYS TO THE SCIENCE TEACHER, VOLUME 2,
edited by Mary Budd Rowe. Washington, D.C.: National Science Teachers
Association, 1979. ED 166 057.
Krepel, Wayne J., and Charles R. DuVall. FIELD TRIPS: A GUIDE FOR PLANNING
AND CONDUCTING EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCES. Washington, D.C.: National Education
Mackenzie, Andrew A., and Richard T. White. FIELDWORK IN GEOGRAPHY AND LONG
TERM MEMORY STRUCTURES. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American
Educational Research Association, Los Angeles, California, April 13-17, 1981. ED
Martin, W. Wade, John H. Falk, and John D. Balling. "Environmental Effects on
Learning: The Outdoor Field Trip." SCIENCE EDUCATION 65 (July 1981):301-309.
Mason, Jack Lee. "Annotated Bibliography of Field Trip Research." SCHOOL
SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS 80 (February 1980):155-166.
Mason, Jack Lee. "Field Work in Earth Science Classes." SCHOOL SCIENCE AND
MATHEMATICS 80 (April 1980):317-322.