Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Making That Back-To-School Checklist

In preparation for the new school year, I am creating a to-do list of items that need to be taken care of before August 18th. This year, one of those items is new: write a grant for field trip.

In the spring, I was working on my master’s degree, and I was inspired to put theory into practice. Research has proven that students learn best by doing. Authentic learning experiences allow them to act out their exploration (Oblinger, 2007). Although this is not radical news, I decided to try to theory into full action for an upcoming botany unit. One of the fundamental objectives of this unit is that students will understand that parts on a parts have a specific goal in the functioning of the plant. Around the school, there are a handful of different plant species, but in some museum, there are countless. Three hours north of my school lies the Field Museum of Chicago. What is special about the Field Museum is that it host the largest diversity of plant species in the world! In my mind, I imagined a lesson in which  students acted as scientists trying to learn about new plants. They walked through the museum, carefully drawing an illustration of the plant, as well as determine what each unique duty must be of each part. Another goal of the unit was to learn about the uses that people employ of plants. Also, in the Field Museum, there are simulations in which students can see plays and act like they are using the plants for traditional purposes. In my mind, this was a perfect example of learning by doing.

The only catch was the cost. To send seventy-five kids north three hours to the Field Museum of Natural History did not come without a price. Therefore, I began my search for grants. I thankfully soon learned that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources funds field trip projects, specifically like the one I had in mine. If you are an Illinois teacher and have goals for your students to learn about Illinois biodiversity, you can fill out the grant proposal here.  After several months after submitting the grant, I finally learned that I have received the grant! Click here to see all of the famous grant school recipients.  After a month of scrambling to get permission trips, buses, lunches, chaperones, and everything fun that comes with a field trip, we were on our way north!

At the museum, the kids had a blast. One of the students came up to me during the day and said, “Mrs. Repking, I feel like a real scientist”. Kids laughed (appropriately, which is always a plus) at the skits that demonstrated how plants were used for human purposes, and others were busy spending hours drawing plants in their botany world. It was a great feeling to know that the kids had so much fun and absolutely loved the museum, but more importantly the kids had the opportunity to learn about so many plant species through acting like a scientist would. They truly had the opportunity to experience authentic learning. I was always a believer in authentic learning, but I never saw the immense power and excitement that comes with it until that day, which brings me back to my checklist. My wish for you is that you will put one thing on your back-to-school checklist that will allow students to experience authentic learning to the fullest. There is no way that as human beings we can make every day like the Field Museum experience. However, if we do one added thing each year, we can slowly and manageably turn our classrooms into 21st century places, where students mimic the real world. So go forth, my teacher friends and warriors, and put that extra item on your to-do list under getting school supplies.

Click here to see my grant proposal that I submitted last year.