Educators Smithsonian Education

This Field Trip section of has many tools to help teachers and students prepare for a visit to the Smithsonian and other museums. Though budget and time constraints often limit such preparation, we suggest that teachers try to implement at least one of these research-identified best practices. These measures will help to ensure a productive and meaningful experience for every student:
  • Introduce students to the museum before the visit. Spend a few minutes on its website, for example. (Also see the Smithsonian’s Orientation Videos.)
  • Clarify the learning objectives of the visit.
  • Link the visit to curriculum. If necessary, contact the museum’s education department for assistance.
  • Give structure to the visit (with tours, writing activities, worksheets, etc.) while also allowing time for free exploration. At any age—but especially by middle school—students want time simply to observe and interact with an exhibition.
  • Build in opportunities for students to work together in groups.
  • Interact with students during the visit. Pose open-ended questions, explain aspects of exhibitions, and get students talking about what they are seeing and experiencing.
  • Make the experience more memorable and personal by building on it when you return to the classroom.
The research shows that cognitive-learning outcomes occur when teachers invest time in field-trip planning, and especially when students can make multiple trips to the same museum. Museum visits can also have valuable attitudinal and motivational outcomes such as increased interest in a subject or in a potential career.

Source: Jennifer DeWitt, School Trips as Learning Experiences, Center for Informal Learning and Schools, October 2006.

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