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Co-op Field Trips: True Three-Dimensional Learning

By Jessica Hulcy
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #57, 2004.

Fantastic field trips add a new dimension.
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Jessica Hulcy

Though I concur with the poet's line, "There is no frigate like a book to take you miles away," I believe two-dimensional reading, even when coupled with a vivid imagination, should be stretched to the third dimension through field trips that allow students to experience first-hand, participate in the process, grow in appreciation, voice their convictions, and understand with greater depth. It is in the third dimension that students truly begin to internalize information, making it part of their own life fabric. Studying a topic in depth, then seeing it in real life, generates understanding and appreciation that transcends typical, traditional, read-and-regurgitate learning for students.

Kids learn about airplanes from the source
Experience First Hand

While studying the character trait of Trust, we study the laws God put in place to govern the universe and recognize how man can trust those laws to remain constant, thus allowing him to fly. It is one thing to read about flying and to even dramatize being a pilot, navigator, or flight attendant and quite another thing to actually take a ride in a private plane! How memorable to have the pilot first explain how to bank left and then actually bank left or sit in the cockpit and personally move the plane's ailerons. The plane ride in Bob Reese's private plane was not only a fun and exciting field trip, but it also provided real-world practice in trusting in those physical laws that govern the universe. It was experiencing trust.

Participate in the Process

Question: Who learns more... students who read about government or students who participate in government? Question: Who learns more about archeology... students who read about archeology or students who go on an archeological dig? There is really no contest. Field trips that require participation and involvement permit students to apply their book knowledge to a real-life situation. Face it. Would you want a doctor operating on you that had only read about surgery in a textbook and never gone through a surgery residence? I already know your answer, and your answer reveals the truth that you and I know... people, young and old alike, learn more and better when they participate.

KONOS kids lobby at the Texas capital
The KONOS unit on the character trait of Wisdom focuses on government and the wisdom our Founding Fathers had in establishing the three branches of government in the Constitution. Likewise, we must be wise in maintaining our freedom, so a field trip to the Texas legislature to actively lobby our elected officials is a natural choice. After reading numerous bills being considered during the session and deciding our stance on each bill, we break up into groups and visit Representatives and State Senators, armed with our positions and arguments to deliver in person. What great by-product skills are developed: public speaking, critical thinking, poise, manners, confidence, and political savvy, as well as how to participate in the political process.

The KONOS high-school program provides ample opportunity for participation as well. We begin History of the World Year I with a study of Creation and move to a survey of numerous archeological digs that give validity to Biblical and historical events. From the unearthing of Jericho to ancient Troy, archeology has added affirmation to Scripture accounts of Joshua and to the Iliad's literary accounts of Achilles. After studying approximately 30 major digs worldwide, our students camped near a local dig in Glenrose, Texas, were instructed by a learned archeologists, and were even allowed to spend a day helping dig at a site. No Jericho or Troy was found in Texas, but a wealth of participation gave them incredible insight into the painstaking labors necessary for archeology.

Appreciate Work Involved

Our field trip to an incredible traveling Chinese artisan craft exhibit that only visited six US cities netted the same appreciation for the difficulty of another person's work as the archeology dig. The exhibit featured ten different artisans doing their craft as the visitors watched. It was our Honor unit focusing on different cultures, particularly the Chinese culture, that brought us on this related field trip, but not before we had done a plethora of Chinese activities attempting some of the crafts we were to view. One of our activities, making batiks in the oriental fashion, had been a supreme flop. The colors had run on our fabrics to the extent the designs could not even be discerned. I finally just had the young artist redraw their designs with a marker on their mottled colored fabric.

Budding archaeologists participate in a dig
The craftsmen at the Chinese exhibit were astounding, unlike anything I had ever seen before. The students gave due praise and respect to all the craftsmen, but stopped dead in their tracks when they came to the batik lady. Their failed craft garnered them unique perspective. They could not believe her talent. So impressed were they, they collared complete strangers at the exhibit and personally explained the difficulty of batik making.

Throughout the unit, I had stressed the definition of honor and why we honor all people. We honor people of other cultures not because we agree with their religious or political view, but because they are made in God's image. Our honor finds root in our Creator's work not necessarily in a people's beliefs, practices, or lifestyle. The Chinese culture ennobles honor, and this young Chinese batik maker felt extreme honor as seven young, American boys brought massive attention to her craft.

The kids visit the U.N. and get to voice their opinions about it
Voice Beliefs

Our 12-day KONOS American History tour last year was one giant field trip. Numerous places from Plymouth to Boston to New York to Gettysburg to Washington D.C. to Williamsburg were favorites, but it was at the United Nations building in New York City where students did more than take a tour of the U.N. They voiced their views on the U.N., to the shock of the tour guide!

It all began when the tour guide innocently asked the students if they knew the purpose of the U.N. The students silently looked at me. Noticing their glance, the tour guide asked me, "Have they not studied anything about the U.N.?" to which I answered, "Oh yes, they have, but I think they are not sure, if you really want to know their thoughts on the U.N." The guide assured me he really did want to know, so I nodded to the class, "Go ahead and share your thoughts with him." With that nod, a number of kids launched into their disagreement with the U.N.'s promotion of One World government, birth control, the rights of the child, disarmament, etc. as well as the inequity of the USA picking up the major portion of the U.N. tab. The guide was stunned by the width and breadth of their knowledge and statements, plus bewildered by their conservative positions that were not at all in keeping with the standard politically correct view of the U.N. This field trip did more than simply provide places to visit. It provided an opportunity to express an entirely different worldview.

The sheep farm teaches the real meaning of trust
Understand with Greater Depth

One of the sub-units of our Trust unit featured sheep and shepherding. After all, sheep must trust their shepherd, and shepherds must be trustworthy. Our activities included an in-depth study of King David as a shepherd, the practices of sheep, designing a shepherd's slingshot, and memorizing Psalm 23 as well as learning what Psalm 23 means to a shepherd. From Phillip Keller's book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, we learn the words of the psalm have more than spiritual meaning.

Keller, a sheepherder for eight years, relates the practical instruction Psalms 23 imparts to the shepherd on how to take care of his flock. He describes how pesky nose flies will lay eggs in sheep's damp nose. A few days later the fly larvae hatch and work their way up the sheep's nasal passage, finally burrowing into the flesh in the sheep's head where they cause intense irritation and severe inflammation. For relief from this agonizing annoyance, the sheep will beat his head against rocks, trees, earth, or anything he can find, doing real damage to himself. "Thou anointest my head with oil" refers to the shepherd's protection of his sheep from the destruction of the nose fly. Reading this to my kids, I never realized how this information would be expanded on our field trip to give a full meaning of what it means to trust.

Our field trip took us to a sheep farm right in the city limits of Dallas to watch the sheep being sheared. We then planned to buy some wool, bring it home to card, spin, and weave. During the shearing, my niece noticed one of the sheep separate from the rest not being sheared. Upon close examination, we saw the sheep had a huge chunk of flesh out of his face. Relating back to the nose fly information and how good shepherds should protect their sheep from them by anointing oil on their face, Lindsay said, "That man was not a good shepherd. He did not take care of his sheep." How amazing. A simple field trip to spell out the meaning of trust and trustworthy.

Good field trips should be enhancers of whatever is currently being studied. They should be three dimensional, filled with first hand experience, plenty of participation in the process, promotion of appreciation, opportunity to voice convictions, and those incredible moments provided solely by the Maker that give greater depth of understanding.

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