What’s the secret to making your field trip to the local museum a success? The author shares what she’s learned and offers tips to help you succeed.

Classrooms that are learning places push the boundaries of learning, equipping students not only to learn content, but also to learn critical- and creative-thinking skills. But today’s classroom can extend beyond the four walls of a school. Have you thought about extending your classroom and its learning opportunities to your local museum as a way to hook your students and enhance their learning experience?

Informal learning opportunities

Extending learning beyond the classroom isn’t new. As education has changed over the years, informal learning places like museums have evolved as well. Museums have always been places where students could learn as they explored specifically designed exhibits and interactive elements. By bringing students to museums, or by bringing museum materials and programs into the classroom, teachers can offer students different ways in which to engage with the content that has to be taught.

But museums offer another added benefit. According to DeWitt and Storksdieck (2008), museums are often an underutilized resource for teaching critical-thinking skills. Instead of just looking at museums as places where students can go to learn content, teachers need to view museums as an extension of their own classroom and apply some of the same instructional strategies they use to engage students in critical and creative thinking in the classroom while they’re at the museum.

Begin with the end in mind

The first time I took my students to one of the local museums, I was excited to see what they would learn. I carefully planned the trip by downloading the materials the museum had put on its website, making copies of the scavenger hunt and the learning logs for each group, and providing materials to the parents who would serve as chaperones.

When the day of the field trip arrived, I remember thinking how great the event would be for the students. And then it was over. When we got back to school, I asked my students to reflect on what they had learned at the museum. Reading over their responses later that afternoon, I was shocked. Only a small handful of the students really wrote anything of substance. The most common response I received was how fun the trip was and how great it was to be out of school. I could have chalked it up to the fact they were middle school students, but I was disappointed they could not tell me more about their experience. As I continued to reflect on the situation, I realized maybe I had missed a key element in the planning stage. What really was the purpose of going to the museum in the first place? How did it tie into what I was currently teaching?

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