Academic journal article Science Scope

Science Safaris: Developing Bold Academic Explorers outside the Science Classroom

Academic journal article Science Scope

Science Safaris: Developing Bold Academic Explorers outside the Science Classroom

Article excerpt


Anyone who has ever taken a group of 70 active, happy, and enthusiastic middle school students on a kayak trip knows the true meaning of fear. As I watched my group charge down Florida's Sebastian River, I eagerly scanned the banks for signs of alligators. Seeing none, I relaxed and enjoyed watching as my students embarked on an exciting hands-on learning adventure, the first of many such trips that would bring science into their lives in an exciting and very real way.

Four years prior to this adventure I had made the switch from elementary to middle school teaching and become a full-time science teacher to groups of largely disinterested adolescents. In the new school where I taught I had many wonderful and supportive colleagues, but I went home and cried every night, feeling like I was in the deep end of the pool with no life preserver. Textbooks were old and riddled with errors, behavior problems flourished, my students were listless, and for many of them science was both meaningless and boring. I knew that to reach these children, I would need to make science come alive.

When I considered science pedagogy, I instinctively knew that science, like most subjects, can only come alive when students are actively engaged in real-life pursuits that interest and challenge them (Van-Tassel-Baska and Bass 1998). Educators in the field of talented students have long known that a "rising tide lifts all ships," an idea that Renzulli (1998) believes can be applied to all students. That is, if educators provide activities that are interesting and challenging for all students, they will rise to the occasion. A well-documented phenomenon, known as the Pygmalion effect, found that learners rise to higher levels of achievement if an atmosphere of trust is established and more is expected of them (Rowe and O'Brien 2002). How was I to implement change that would both interest and challenge my students?

Setting a goal for inquiry-based lessons, I realized it was important to involve students outside of the textbook and classroom. However, our district had recently imposed limitations on the number and types of field trips students could take during school hours. The answer was obvious--we had to go during off-school hours on weekends or holidays. I decided to institute Science Safaris.

Science Safaris consisted of six excursions to a variety of locations for the purpose of generating interest in science. These excursions were completely optional, but most students wanted to participate. They were not closely tied to the content of curriculum in the class, but existed for the purpose of generating enthusiasm for and engagement in science as a domain.

Choosing a site

Living in Florida, a state that abounds in natural beauty and interesting field-trip sites, I found I could easily make a list of many exciting places my students might love to visit. But it should be apparent that good field trips exist everywhere, and that the most important criterion is that the field trip should remove students from the classroom to engage them in interesting, real-world experiences. Sites might include local, state, or national parks, local businesses, utility companies, museums, manufacturing sites, libraries, hospitals and labs, technology centers, and more. A quick internet search will often reveal a wealth of untapped community resources suitable for engaging science field trips. Checking with the local Chamber of Commerce may open up unconsidered possibilities as well.

After making an initial list, I called each site, researching what a trip there might entail. Usually the sites had some type of education coordinator who was more than happy to spend time on the phone, walking me through a proposed visit. Admission fees and logistical details were duly noted. It was important to research several key points:

* Could the trip be scheduled over a weekend or school holiday? …

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