Fostering the Growth of Worldly Citizens: Classroom “Field Trips”

Here, finally, is a post about my classroom “field trips.” Let me preface this entry by reminding those of you who do not know that I teach in rural Maine. Many of my second graders have never been outside of Maine in all of their young lives. While my students differ tremendously in terms of social class, it is also worth noting that they are all white. Thus, one of my objectives this year has been to increase my students’ awareness of different types of people, places, and cultures. This is no easy task considering that the racial diversity in my school is just above zero and our location in a rural area means that I cannot easily take my students to a diverse metropolis to experience different cultures firsthand. So, one solution that I have come up with is to take my students on monthly, day-long “field trips” where we explore a different country of the world.

In September, my students and I traveled to England — the country where I studied abroad and about which I feel I have the most expertise. I was a little bit worried about whether my students would buy into the field trip — but as they sat making their passports I realized that they really thought we were going to England! (One of my favorite funny moments of the year so far happened when I had to console one of my boys who was sobbing and shaking because he is apparently petrified of airplanes!) When they returned from recess and lined up at the “ticket desk” to board the airplane I’d set up in the room, there was actually some disappointment that we weren’t headed to the airport! By the time we did our second field trip at the end of October, my students were much more sure about what to expect, and were eager to make their way onto the plane to Mexico City.

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During the “flights” on these field trips, I give the students some background information about the country. On the England trip, I showed them maps, told them how many times they’d have to drive to the local pizza parlor to travel the same distance as it is from Maine to England, tried to explain the concept of time zones, and showed them some images of England’s diverse geography. On the Mexico trip, I also showed them maps, told them about Mexican money (money was our math topic of focus in October), and pointed out parts of Mexican culture that have made their way into the US (here I was a little wary of falling into the “food and holidays” multiculturalism trap, but I tried to think outside the box as best as I could.)

On each field trip I also have a “main activity” that we do while we are there. In England, it was a jigsaw where my students learned about three different famous landmarks in England — Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Stonehenge.

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In Mexico, our major activity was actually three different centers — reading a book all about Mexico, creating their own Day of the Dead altars to honor someone in their lives who had died, and writing a postcard that included at least three Spanish words or phrases.

My students have absolutely loved these trips. After the England trip, my students continued to use the English slang that they learned — they often ask me to say “queue up” instead of “line up,” and they kept talking about the landmarks for quite some time. They also continue to ask me to share more Spanish words with them from time to time and have been making even more connections between their lives and Mexican culture.

While I am always slightly wary of being tokenistic in my representations of other cultures, I think that these field trips — just one component of my attempt to open up the world beyond their small, rural town for my students — are a great way to immerse my students in thinking about ways of being other than their own. It doesn’t hurt that they’re a lot of fun, too!

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