Science-Related Field Trips That Won’t Break the Bank

Try some of these tips to put a new spin on the old field trip favorites.

By Cathy Neushul

Teacher with students on a field trip

With budget cuts being a reality that affects all aspects of the educational system, field trips might seem like a luxury. However, they really don’t have to be expensive. Take your class on a walking tour, or plan a virtual field trip in which you expose your class to a new experience without leaving the classroom. Common Core is based on the idea that students should be making connections with curriculum in deeper, more meaningful ways. Field trips are a great way to give learning a context and a practical application that will help contribute to satisfying some of these standards with your class. Here are some ideas for making field trips meaningful without incurring undue expense.

Don’t Recycle Your Field Trips Year After Year

In some schools, grade levels take the same field trips every year. While there are some trips that are must-haves, such as an annual four-day trip to a marine institute, most field trips can change. Each year, get to know your class and plan field trips that you think would reinforce curriculum, while catering to their particular interests. If you have a class fascinated by space, plan an event in which an astronomy group in your area meets you in a nearby location and provides a chance for your students to learn about, discuss, and view the stars and planets—this could even be an evening event.

Use That Beautiful Open Space as Your Learning Tool

One of the greatest free educational tools we have at our disposal is nature. Use a local wetland, the beach, a lake, or even a park as a laboratory. Ideally, this open space should be close enough so that you won’t need to hire a bus. Depending on the grade level you are teaching, design lessons that meet the curriculum goals. Here are some ideas for topics that can be covered by visiting a nature area, green space, or park:

  • The life cycles of particular animals.
  • The migration patterns of local animals.
  • The habitats of animals found in the area.
  • The ways that areas of land are protected and conserved.
  • The types of species found in the area, identifying any endangered species.
  • How and why certain areas have been protected and a discussion about the groups that worked to protect the local open spaces.
  • Pollution and its effects on the area.
  • The geology of the area.

Put a New Twist on a Historic Building

Almost all regions have historic buildings that can be used as learning tools. Often field trips to these sites are done in a cookie cutter style, with docents guiding the experience. As part of looking at curriculum in new ways, have your class decide how they will learn about the site. As a class, or in small groups, they can work together to list the types of things they would like to know, and also how they plan to find the answers. They might find that people who inhabited the building wrote books, or left diaries. Maybe there are old pictures or newspaper articles about the site. After students have learned as much as possible about the building, you can take them on a virtual tour. If the building does not have a website with a virtual tour, create your own. Just visit the building, take video, and add commentary. Voila! You have your own virtual tour! 

Make a Field Trip More Meaningful

First and foremost, a field trip should be something that is both enjoyable and a learning experience. This doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. You can have one day each month that you devote to either a walking field trip or a virtual one. Either way, your students will get the benefits of connecting curriculum to the world outside their classroom door, despite the fact that your budget is tight. 

Field Trip Lesson Plans: 

Google Earth Geology Virtual Field Trip

Take your class on a virtual field trip in California. They will explore the geology of the area, as well as identify rocks and landforms.

Weather and Science: A Central Park Field Trip

This resource provides a template for using open spaces as a learning tool. Learners discuss seasons, the flora and fauna, and identify trees. While designed for use in Central Park, it could be used as an outline for a lesson on any area.

Virtual Field Trip to the Vancouver Aquarium

Taking a virtual field trip can be a research experience. In this case, you can use a virtual field trip as a source for information for a research project. Then your scholars write essays about marine animals. 

Bell Live! The Great Lakes: A Superior Adventure

Take virtual tour of the Great Lakes. The class discusses pollution levels and toxins. Use the lesson for the Great Lakes or as a template for a discussion of a local lake, river, or watershed.