How do you choose the right time for a school excursion?

It would be great to head out for your school excursion right at the moment when the students start asking questions, wondering, imaging and looking for inspiration.  Unfortunately that’s rarely possible.  You may have to book excursions well in advance, the venue may be booked out on the date you want or your dates may clash with school sport/theatre/assembly.

If you can’t time your excursion as you’d like, change your excursion to suit the timing!  By altering the intentions and content of your excursion you can make sure it is relevant or useful no matter where it sits in the scheme of your topic or unit.  Below are some of our suggestions on how you might match your excursion to the time you’ve got:

Before you start the topic

Sometimes your excursion may take place before you’ve started looking at the topic it relates to with your students.  This can be a challenge if you’re in the midst of another topic.  If you are still keen to have the students make the most out of their excursion you can use the excursion as an information-gathering exercise.

Students may not be developing deep understandings at this stage, but you can certainly gather lots of information and evidence as fodder for your upcoming topic.  For example, if you decide on some key areas you want to gather information about and then arm students with a digital camera or tablet/smartphone and ask them to collect as much information as possible.  It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t mean much to them at this stage, you can examine and deconstruct what they’ve discovered when they come to start the topic.

Tip: If your students are using tablets or smartphones, you might like to use a program like Evernote where students can collect photos, text, audio and write notes.

Students gathering evidence at Sovereign Hill

At the beginning of the topic

If you’re off on excursion just after you’ve started the topic you’ve got lots of different opportunities.  You can focus on:

  • gathering information – as suggested above,
  • asking questions – have students prepare questions beforehand to investigate,
  • developing research ideas – ask students to look for things they wonder about and want to investigate further, or
  • having a particular experience – provide an in-depth experience on a particular topic (Education sessions are great for this) that students can reflect on throughout their unit.

In the middle of the topic

If your students have finished their introduction into the topic and are moving to a more detailed focus, you can use the excursion as the foundation for a unit/topic assessment task.  With a bit of pre-planning, students can use their excursion experience to help them complete an assessment task or project.  If students arrive at the excursion destination with an idea of the kind of evidence they need to gather to complete their task, they can have a very productive visit.  Our Discover It Yourself program ‘Picture This’ provides a good example on how you might structure this type of visit.

Towards the end of the topic

If you’ve just about finished the topic and you’re off on an excursion, you could consider using it as an opportunity for students to consolidate and use the knowledge they have developed throughout the unit.  For example, you may like each student (or group of students) to have researched an aspect of a topic that can be seen at your excursion destination.  Then the student(s) could deliver a presentation or tour on that topic during the excursion.

You can use the venue’s website to gather information about exhibits and find a map so that students can decide what topic they will present.  If you are coming to Sovereign Hill students could give a tour of the: cottages (houses and lifestyles), Criterion Store (clothing), Diggings (mining methods), Bank (money and gold trading), or Grocers (food and diets).  For more ideas, check out our interactive map!

After you have finished the topic

If you’ve well and truly finished the topic and you’re already starting the next one it can be challenging to find a strong educational experience.  Sometimes you can use these excursions as a reward for their hard work; you can build anticipation about the excursion and interest in the topic by having the students preparing for their visit during the unit.  Alternatively you may be able to use the visit as a segue into your next topic.  We have seen this work very effectively here at Sovereign Hill, and in History in particular, it can be very useful for assisting students to develop an understanding of the broader context in which their topic sits.

Good topics to segue between include:

  • Gold to Industry – how did the gold rush contribute to the rise of industry in Australia?
  • Gold to Immigration – the gold rush was a key period of immigration, how did this differ from immigration in the 20th and 21st centuries?
  • Gold to 20th century history and the World Wars – how did immigration during the gold rush period set the stage for Australia’s involvement in 20th century world politics?
  • Gold to Bushrangers – bushranging occurring during the gold rush, see our post on Captain Moonlite.
  • Gold to Sustainability – what aspects of 1850’s lifestyles were sustainable and how can we learn from them today? (We have a great program for this.)

Got a curly one for us?  Leave a comment with your topic and we’ll see what links we can find you!

Many excursion venues can also provide you with cross-curricular experiences that cater for a range of topics.  This means you may find you can think outside the box and change your excursion topic completely.  For example, we have resources that cater for a Science and Technology focussed visit, and a Literacy program as part of the National Year of Reading.  If you call your excursion venue and ask them what cross-curricular programs they offer, you may find something that fits your new topic.  Of course, you can use an excursion as excellent fodder for reading, writing and research exercises all year round!

We hope these ideas help you make the most out of your future excursions.  If you have any other ideas, please share them!

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