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What Makes a Good (and Great) Excursion?

30/06/22
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Any teacher will tell you that excursions provide benefits that promote student learning while also allowing different styles of learning through experiences. In light of COVID-19, taking students on safe but also fun excursions may seem daunting but applying controlled approaches can mitigate risks, ensuring that students can experience learning outside the classroom. This article will discuss why excursions are beneficial for student learning, what makes a good excursion and tips for planning excursions in a COVID-19 changed world.

 

What Are the Benefits of Excursions?

There are many benefits to taking students on excursions. Teach Starter outlines the main student benefits of excursions as encouraging students to:

  • experience natural stimuli
  • broaden their worldviews
  • learn from specialist educators
  • experience hands-on learning
  • have their curiosity stimulated.

School Activities Australia suggests similar benefits, but adds on one extra that may be even more relevant following the impacts of COVID-19:

  • social skills - giving children an opportunity to interact with new people and in a new environment.

Studies suggest that there may be an academic benefit to teaching outside the classroom. Ofsted (a UK government body) conducted research into taking students on excursions and teachers found that excursions were integral to learning and raised teaching standards. Additionally, Educating Adventures and Nature Play Queensland, both organisations that work with children on outdoor excursions and natural learning, claim that students who participate in learning outside the classroom achieve higher test results.

In interviews with teachers who have experience in planning and executing excursions for young students, we discussed the idea that isolations and lockdowns have severely impacted student confidence and social situations. This theory is further supported by a study from Headspace in August 2020 where 70 per cent of participants indicated that COVID-19 had had a negative impact on their relationships with friends, 65 per cent reported a negative impact on their study situation and qualitative data revealed that young people felt that COVID-19 had impacted their confidence in achieving their goals. Combatting these newly-identified issues should be a priority in schools, and combining learning with positive, practical, out-of-class experiences could be an inclusive and effective strategy.

 

What Makes a ‘Good’ Excursion?

Excursions can take many forms and address several learning areas at once. The Australian Directory of School Activities, Excursions and Accommodation published an article outlining the Best School Excursions for 2022. This included potential excursion locations in each state and territory such as:

  • museums
  • zoos
  • gravity discovery centres
  • climbing centres
  • walks/tours
  • theme parks.

We interviewed a number of Australian teachers, and found these common themes necessary to create a ‘good’ excursion. It must:

  • promote key learning outcomes and the outcomes must be identifiable
  • have a clear purpose
  • identify with the school ethos
  • combine theory taught in the classroom, followed by a practical component
  • allow for new.

Furthermore, although the above factors combined make a good excursion, to make an excursion great, it should allow for students to take calculated risks in unfamiliar places – after all, this is how true learning takes place. This includes encouraging students to engage in conversations with new people, providing students with new responsibilities, encouraging them to apply what they have learnt in the classroom in ‘real world’ situation and engaging in activities that enhance leadership skills and promoting teamwork with different groups of classmates.

The Student Travel Planning Guide’s tips for organising trips includes the idea to ask students to research the location prior to the excursion and get them to participate in a quiz or create posters to encourage many types of learning on the one topic.

The Australian Directory of School Activities, Excursions and Accommodation’s Top Tips for Successful School Excursions, Camps and Incursions outlines the following as essentials for creating empowering and enlightening excursions:

  • giving context to the trip
  • preparing students with an outline
  • giving students ownership to ‘drive’ the excursion
  • keeping students busy and engaged
  • bringing learnings from the excursion back into the classroom.

One teacher who we interviewed outlined an example of these ideas in practice. The example was an excursion to local markets where students would interview stall holders and complete observations. Following their investigation, students were allowed to participate in the markets and purchase goods. This activity encouraged student ownership, allowed the students to stay focused, promoted new social interactions and combined theory with a practical learning element. The excursion would arguably have been even better if there had been prior learning about entrepreneurship and then follow up learning reflecting on the day of the excursion.

Another example can be taken from outdoor education. Students can only learn the basics and theory of abseiling in a classroom. They must go abseiling to learn how to do it and then they need to learn how to apply the skills learnt in a variety of abseiling situations. Teachers will tell you that this is true learning - when a student does not just ‘regurgitate’ what they have learned in a classroom environment, but they have applied it effectively in new and different situations.

 

Conducting Excursions in a COVID World

As life returns to the new normal and venues open, schools should follow guidelines to ensure that they are COVID-safe. Our previous School Governance article ‘After’ COVID-19: Safe Excursions for Schools, outlines COVID-19’s impact on excursions, why risk management is important and provides advice for when conducting an excursion.

On top of following COVID-safe plans, teachers planning excursions should have pre-excursion checklists including precautions for students with high-risk medical conditions, supervision requirements, excursion communication plans and others. Each excursion should also have its own unique risk assessment to ensure that appropriate controls have been put in place prior to the excursion commencing.

 

Conclusion

Excursions should be designed to bring teaching and learning to life. Regardless of COVID, this premise has not changed.

In the classroom students get theory and some practical applications in subjects such as information technology, science, the manual arts and catering.  Well-planned and carefully-executed excursions allow students to see their learning in real life situations and encourages them to put their theory and classroom lessons into practice. It gives the learning a sense of purpose and validity because the students can apply it in a variety of new situations. 

Now that we are once again venturing outside of our own backyards, schools need to re-engage with their students in excursions that enhance their total learning experience, while still keeping the students safe and engaged in quality learning.

 

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About the Author

Annalise Wright

Annalise has completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Political Science and International Relations and History from the University of Western Australia and is currently studying a Master of Public Policy at Monash University. She is an Onboarding Coordinator at CompliSpace.

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