Field-trip study shows improvements in critical thinking


Students learning on their trip to Crystal Bridges Art Museum (photo by Education Next, © 2013 Stephen Ironside/Ironside Photography)

Students learning on their trip to Crystal Bridges Art Museum (© 2013 Stephen Ironside/Ironside Photography)

What is your first memory of a school field trip? A recent study on students in grades K-12 found that a short one-hour field trip to an art museum improved their critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and interest in art museums. While school field trips are declining, in part because of budget cuts and an increased focus on teaching to the test, this study shows their importance by comparing the performance of over 10,000 students in Arkansas, 50% of whom attended a field trip to the new Crystal Bridges Art Museum in the first half of the school year.

The researchers found that field trips are more important for disadvantaged students because of their lack of opportunity for such experiences in other parts of their life. In high poverty and rural schools, the gains that students made in critical thinking and other skills were two or three times as large as the average. Similarly large gains were made by students from all backgrounds who were visiting a museum for the very first time, supporting the idea the influence of a field trip is greater if the students have no prior experience and that schools can be instrumental in providing this opportunity.

The researchers conducted a related study to see if the benefits of field trips were unique to art museums, or also applied to other forms of art such as plays, dances, or music performances. By looking at over 2,000 seventh grade students in adjacent counties in Arkansas, they were able to find increasing benefits with the number of field trips taken to cultural institutions, especially among disadvantaged students. The findings from these two studies suggest the benefits of educational field trips, whether to a museum, historic site, park, or other venue outside of the traditional classroom.

At Freshkills Park, we try to give every student the opportunity to attend a field trip by proving them free of charge. Find out more about our walking tours that teach critical thinking skills through stakeholder role playing and environmental education as students explore the former landfill. Giving New York City students the opportunity to discover this unique park fosters environmental stewardship and children’s development as engaged citizens. For life-long students, we also offer public hiking, kayaking, and bus tours.

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