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Research Shows At Least Some Kinds of Field Trips Really Do Benefit Students

I’ve been delinquent from blogging so much lately, you may think little Eddie just has been on a long field trip. Well, before you get too critical, you might want to consider the great advantages this could have for me. The results of a first-of-its-kind study, outlined by Dr. Jay Greene for Education Next, are worth a closer look:

Today, culturally enriching field trips are in decline. Museums across the country report a steep drop in school tours. For example, the Field Museum in Chicago at one time welcomed more than 300,000 students every year. Recently the number is below 200,000. Between 2002 and 2007, Cincinnati arts organizations saw a 30 percent decrease in student attendance. A survey by the American Association of School Administrators found that more than half of schools eliminated planned field trips in 2010–11.

So what did Greene and his colleagues decide to do? Measure the effects of taking field trips to the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in northwest Arkansas. Using a rigorous research method, they made some key discoveries:

  1. “Students actually retain a great deal of factual information from their tours,” including paintings that depict scenes of abolitionists, World War II factory workers, and Depression-era farmers
  2. Using independently graded essays, students’ critical-thinking skills showed measurable increases
  3. Students also exhibited significantly higher “historical empathy,” or demonstrating a better understanding of how people in different time periods of American history may have thought and felt
  4. A half-day at the art museum leads to slightly greater expressions of tolerance for different viewpoints among students
  5. School tours lead students to have a greater interest in returning to art museums, and encouraging their friends to do the same

On nearly all counts, rural and low-income students demonstrated significantly higher gains.

Some readers might be saying: “Even if you did take a field trip this week, it probably wasn’t to that art museum in Arkansas.” Correct, you’ve got me there. Guess it depends on what kind of field trip I take. But could it hurt to research the effects of a full-day visit to Elitch Gardens? In that case, I’m willing to put myself out there as a test subject–for the sake of science.