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The Glass Field Trip as an Observational Activity

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It is paradoxical that as we set out to prepare children and youth to participate in the society, we seek to remove them as far as possible from contact with the real world which constitutes that society. It is hard to conceive of a learning environment less stimulating than a walled classroom inhabited by one teacher and 35 students. It may be an efficient device if the intent is to isolate the student from diverting influences while concentrating on the maximum acquisition of abstract facts. It is inefficient if the objective is understanding the relation of being able to apply those facts to the world beyond the school walls.

Winning the cooperation of people and institutions of the community and labor market absorbed in their own activities is no simple task, yet there are many ways in which the community and the classroom can be linked. Field trips can be taken for observation of real world activities. Visitors can be brought into the classroom. Children and youth, particularly older ones, can become directly involved in real world experiences, contributing to the solution of environmental and other social problems or gaining work experiences through the cooperation of employers. These experiences can be brought back into the classroom, discussed, simulated, and problems, projects, and lessons can be based upon them.

Field trips to the world of work outside education can make valuable contributions to the goals of career education in the elementary school. Examples are visits to:

  1. Private businesses and work sites of all kinds

  2. Work places of parents, relatives, and neighbors

  3. Public agencies and services

  4. Local unions

  5. City council and other public meetings

  6. Away-from-work interviews, taped or otherwise, with these and other workers
However, field trips can also-if not carefully planned and executed-be almost a complete waste of time. In viewing the possible utility of the field trip, what does the elementary school teacher have to consider?

First and foremost, it is important that the teacher know exactly why the field trip is being made. A field trip without a purpose is a purposeless activity and has no place in the curriculum. Examples of possible purposes of class field trips include:
  1. Acquainting students with the general nature of the occupational structure in the specific time and space dimensions of their own communities

  2. Demonstrating the essentiality of various kinds of work to economic or human progress

  3. Demonstrating the ways in which different kinds of work provide a useful set of personal and societal benefits

  4. Helping students see how workers in various occupations make use of the basic academic skills taught in the elementary school

  5. Helping students understand the need for cooperation and teamwork in the production of goods and services

  6. Helping students see and understand that different kinds of skills and expertise are required for different kinds of work

  7. Helping students understand why both "bosses" and "employees" are essential in the world of work

  8. Helping students see first-hand the variety of settings and environmental conditions in which work is performed
The teacher who expects to accomplish all of these purposes in a single field trip will be disappointed. The best class field trips are those that involve a very limited set of objectives that are clearly understood by the teacher, the pupils, and the business-industrial-community setting in which the field trip is to be conducted.

Second, it is important that the faculty of an elementary school plan their field trips in a coordinated way in terms of objectives, frequency, and sites to be visited. Any field trip is costly to the business-industrial site to be visited in the sense that if pupils are to really learn, there will be some loss in total productivity during the time of the visit. For all teachers to choose the same business establishment is not wise. A business-industry advisory committee to the elementary school can avoid such an error. If the teacher can tell such a committee exactly what it is hoped the class will gain from a field trip, such an advisory committee can be helpful both in suggesting possible best places to visit and in making actual visitation arrangements. In the absence of such a committee, one staff member in the school can be appointed field trip coordinator to contact employers and determine that they are not being overused and abused.

It is especially important that teachers in a given elementary school coordinate field trips in terms of their basic objectives. To repeat trips with the same objectives for the same students year after year is bound to "turn students off" to some extent. This need not happen, and certainly it should not happen. There are many ways in which the scoping and sequencing of trips can be divided among teachers in a given school. For example, a particular elementary school may seek to acquaint students with the general nature of the world of work in fourth through sixth grades. The U.S. Office of Education has formulated fifteen occupational clusters covering most occupations in the total world of work; others have advocated differing cluster systems-all of which provide useful formats for a general awareness of the occupational world. If the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers each plan to acquaint pupils with five of a total of fifteen career clusters, students can become generally aware of all fifteen by the end of the sixth grade, with no overlap between different grade levels. There may be one outcome that is pursued only by one teacher at one grade level; there may be other outcomes pursued by teachers at all grade levels. But each teacher could contribute to a different emphasis within the same or different settings.

An example of scoping and sequencing cluster exposure can be found in an Iowa exemplary project. These take into account the child's ability to accommodate increasingly wider horizons as he matures. They also find applicability in sequence to the program entry age of the child. For example:
  1. Level I might consist of those occupations that the child has direct contact with during his day, those that directly affect his way of life. These should be visible occupations where something is being made or done that the child can see.

  2. Level II includes occupations that directly affect the child or his family, the occupations again being those the child can visualize as a product or service.

  3. Level III has those occupations that affect him indirectly through his family or community. They would be occurring in settings to which he would not ordinarily have access.

  4. Level IV has those occupations that the student may not be aware of at all. They would typically deal with the more abstract or hidden types of work or product components.
Third, it is highly advisable that the teacher make a "dry run" through the field trip prior to taking the class on the actual trip. If this is done, the teacher will know in advance what the students will be seeing and what activities are planned for them. Personal contact can be established with the key individuals who will be responsible for handling the visit at the work site. The teacher and management should agree on such "ground rules" as how long the students will stay, whether they can interact personally with workers at work stations, the kind of introduction (if any) to be made by officials at the visitation site, whether refreshments will be served, and the numbers of students the business can expect to have visit them. Such a "dry run" will help the visitation site get ready for the students and will also help the teacher ready the class for the work site.

Finally, it is important that the students be instructed (at the school and before the actual visit) as to their behavior and the real objectives of the visit. It is doubtful that any planned objective for a field trip can be accomplished unless the students know what the objective is prior to making the visit. In fact, students can enhance their own career awareness by entering into the planning of field trips. The teacher should also plan some follow-up activities after the visit has been completed.

An alternative to actual visits could be to take small groups of students on a field trip with their being assigned specific tasks to be accomplished and then have them report their findings to the rest of the class. This method has been found by many teachers to be more effective and cheaper. Eventually, all students get to go somewhere-the class has had the advantage of several field trips rather than just one. Parents or paraprofessionals provide transportation in these cases. Tape recorders and cameras can enhance the productivity of the experience. Again, to avoid sites being overused, the business-industry advisory committee, the field trip coordinator in the school, or a career technician who serves an entire district or county can be used to arrange these visits. In the absence of this service, teachers themselves, as discussed in chapter 6, can best work out their system of articulation.

It will be rare indeed if any stated outcome can be accomplished completely at the visitation site. Students will need some time after they return to the classroom to discuss the visit in terms of the differing perceptions they received and what the visit meant to different students. By systematically planning such follow-up activities, the teacher can help correct misimpressions particular students received and, at the same time, reinforce and more effectively maintain the basic concepts surrounding the purpose of the visit.

An example of individual student expeditions which can then be brought back into the classroom for exchange with other students is the practice in a densely populated California city4 for elementary school children to be "officially late" to school on certain days. They enter a local bus or trolley at peak worker transport time in the early morning and ride to the end of the line and back. During the trip, they interview people on the bus about the work they do and how they use English, social studies, math, or science in the performance of that work. At school, they compare notes on their random sampling and build a chart which tallies the numbers of people in each job category, as well as a consensual "mean" as to the like/dislike reflected by each worker. Thus academic skill acquisition, as well as career awareness, is furthered.

Field trips can also be combined with simulated work experiences while developing human relations skills as well as career awareness. Arizona, the site of one of six U.S. Office of Education school-based models, has launched a statewide effort to introduce career education as the basis for the entire educational process.5 Children there find themselves the writers and actors, as well as the audience, for a television series called "The Three Rs Plus." The cameras follow students into their communities as they visit workers and return with the students to their classrooms where they merge life skills with basic academic skills and devise new scripts from viewing teachers, communities, and children in other schools.

Teachers can capitalize upon the child's open admiration for physical prowess and poise by asking him to spend a full day observing parent, neighbor, or older sibling at work. Children could record the physical skills they see employed on a prepared form. After reports to their classmates, they could create a wall mural depicting careers calling for:

Fine muscle coordination

Eye-hand dexterity

Large muscle coordination

Long hours at desk or in car

Long hours on feet

Sleeping during daylight hours

Balance and comfort in high, (night shift) open spaces

Ability to concentrate despite

Climbing skills noise and distraction
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