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A field trip

GAYS MILLS - As a high school agriculture teacher for 32 years, I organized and went on many field trips with my classes.  The very words ‘field trip’ excited the students and they excited me.

For them, it was “we get to get out of school.” For me, it was “we get out of school, get into the real world and the world is our classroom today.” My goal was to sneak up on the students and teach them something, something they couldn’t learn from a book or a lecture, but maybe ignite a spark of curiosity in them about what they saw and what their rapidly approaching futures might hold.

I got my bus driver’s license to make it easier to go on local trips. The local trips might be to a farm, an agribusiness (the Kickapoo Locker was always a hit), or the school forest. For longer trips and larger groups than a class, it was better to have a bona fide driver do the driving. This was easier on me and gave me a chance to interact with the students while on the trip.

One of my favorite recurring field trips was to the World Dairy Expo, held in Madison early every October. This is a global event and showcases some world-class dairy cattle and a large trade show. Just 90 miles from home, this huge international show was just too big to miss. Going to the expo involved either leaving early before school or leaving when school started and coming back after school was over; we needed some extra time to do the event justice.

With 30 to 40 students involved, we didn’t see the expo together. The students went their way and didn’t tag along with me. I invited parents to go on this trip as chaperones and we often wandered around the grounds together. I would have the students check in with me midway through our stay at the event, usually at a large globe made from, it looked like, and fittingly, two metal silo roofs joined together.

After a couple of visits to the expo, I hatched the idea of giving the students an assignment during their time there to help them get more out of the experience. It was a sheet of paper with 10 to 12 items to look for, people to talk with, a college or tech school booth to visit, or events to observe:  a cattle show, a workshop or a demonstration. To get full credit for the day that sheet had to be filled out and turned in when we got back to school the next day.

Another thing I did was to collect a dollar from every student as they got on the bus in the morning. To get their dollar back they needed to be back on the bus at the appointed departure time for the return trip. You’d be amazed at how well that little trick worked at getting the bus loaded in a timely fashion.

One of my favorite parts about a trip to the Dairy Expo, or any field trip really, was the day after the trip. We would spend the class period sharing what the students had seen and getting their perspectives and thoughts about their experience. I would explain what we had seen and ask questions to make sure they understood what we had accomplished by getting out of school and into the world.