Monday, October 27, 2008

In-Class Visits a "Poor" Substitute

Recently the Boston Globe wrote an article about how high gas prices and economic downturns are affecting field trips. Needless to say, field trips are on the decline, kids are stuck in their classrooms and museums are feeling the pinch. The article briefly mentions an alternative, that I think gets short shrift and deserves a little more attention.

In-class visits, are on the rise at Old Sturbridge Village according to the Boston Globe, and that is good news for Autumn Tree Productions and other groups that may not have a physical location, but provide an interactive history experience for school groups.

How does an In-school visit differ from a field trip? Well the obvious one is that the kids never leave the building. In relation to history classes, it means usually a visit from a costumed character talking about life in their own time period. Often they bring props for the students to handle, and give demonstrations of the way things were done. Many museums offer in-class services, Plimoth Plantation has different programs for different age groups, Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Mass will bring swords and armor into the classroom, even science museums like the Museum of Science in Boston, Mass have programs. There are also groups not affiliated with a museum who do in-class visits, local reenactment groups will often come to visit, though the risk with amateur groups is in accuracy and appropriateness of material presented. There are a great number of unaffiliated people presenting specific historical characters or time periods that will visit a school for a reasonable fee.

Of course something is lost when the student can not see the architecture, walk the grounds, and experience all that a museum has to offer. There is no doubt that a field trip can be more immersive and very stimulating. However a class visit can be very personal, and geared towards the specific audience, and covering very specific topics that a teacher or student may ask about whereas it can be hard for a teacher to guarantee that in the rush of the field trip, their students are actually absorbing the facts and lessons that the teacher had in mind when she let her class loose in the museum galleries or historic house. When the students get to have a back and forth discussion with a medieval monk who is sitting there in front of them, it is much easier to maintain focus on life in the monastery than it is when the kids travel through an exhibit at their own pace and in their own order.

Another advantage can be timing. Is your local museum putting up a spring exhibit on local involvement in the civil war while the classroom schedule covers that unit in the fall? Is the particular day that your class can get free already booked up at the museum? A visit to the classroom often is easier to schedule around a class’ needs than an entire exhibit installation is.

Teachers, please do not be discouraged by the high price of buses, and the inconvenience of disrupting an entire day’s routine. There are a lot of us out there working tirelessly to bring to your school a taste of the past that will spark your students’ appetite for history!

Photos of Autumn Tree Productions offerings at schools in Newington, CT. Photos by Alena Shumway.

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