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By the time kids walk into their first period classrooms, they’ve likely swiped past hundreds of notifications from their social media and news apps. They’ve navigated the rough waters of interactions at home, on the bus, and in the hallways. They’re statistically likely to be sleep deprived and anxious about what the day holds for them. All of these things prime them to be disengaged and distracted in the classroom, and that’s just by first period.


But you already know that. If you’re a middle or high school teacher today, no one needs to convince you that capturing and retaining your students’ attention each day takes the stamina and focus of running a marathon while being assaulted by flying cats.


Teaching students in a way that facilitates learning is the job, but reaching the elusive adolescent brain is made even more difficult by the hurdles present in today’s environment. However, providing students with experiences during which they can, in a hands-on fashion, apply the knowledge they have been given at school is a powerful strategy to fight the many forces that work against teaching and learning.


Experiential learning opportunities present students with experiences outside of the classroom in which they can develop skills for lifelong learning, the ability to adapt to complex and novel situations, and subject mastery. As a teacher, you have seen the benefits of this type of learning yourself. You received a lot of valuable information during your seminars in college, but it was through your practicums and internships that the concepts you learned shifted from the abstract to the concrete.


It is one thing to lecture students about the American Revolution. It is another to provide them with an immersive experience in which they stand in the very room where the Declaration of Independence was signed, interact with the American constitution at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and walk through the fields of Valley Forge where thousands of American patriots remained loyal to the fight for independence despite the bitter cold and rampant disease.


Educational traveling experiences are powerful examples of experiential learning. Well-planned class trips are a fun way to get out of the classroom, reinforce academic concepts, and revitalize students’ relationships with schooling. In a world where smartphones and high technology have colonized teenage brains, there is nothing quite like it. Here are 4 benefits of engaging in experiential learning in the context of a class trip.


It’s easier to retain academic information.

In order for a brain to even pay attention to a piece of information, the content has to have meaning and cause an emotional response. But getting the brain engaged is only the first step in the learning process. Young adolescents retain information when it is delivered in a way that elicits a positive emotional response and involves social interaction. Class traveling experiences are loaded with fun opportunities during which students interact with one another and professionals in low-stress, engaging environments.


Additionally, educational class trips provide both teachers and students with exciting memories interwoven with academic concepts. Frequently accessing those memories by reflecting on them during and after the trip and using them to reinforce new information taught in class promotes the development of the synaptic plasticity that keeps memories from fading.


Students will begin to see the relevance of learning.

Whether you’ve taught the Pythagorean theorem, law of inertia, or importance of a properly placed comma, you’ve likely heard your students say something like this: “When am I ever going to need to know that in real life?” While educators are usually prepared to answer this question with a plethora of strong examples, nothing is quite as powerful as seeing the application of academic concepts first-hand.


Chicago’s incredible architecture is a reminder of the practicality of geometry. The Niagara Falls is visual evidence of the laws of physics. Debating an aspect of the Constitution provides ample evidence of the way punctuation marks can shape a nation. Class travel gives students a profound appreciation for how what they are learning in the walls of a classroom impacts their world.


It’ a great way to develop the skills students need to thrive post-graduation.

Traveling as a group provides every participant with situations in which they can hone their interpersonal skills. Short term, listening to and following instructions have a much higher stake in an airport or busy city than they do in a classroom. Sharing lodging and transportation space involves teamwork and empathy. Replacing the routine with the adventurous in new territory develops adaptability.


These are experiential learning opportunities created simply by the nature of traveling long distances. The right student tour company will also include hands-on learning activities in each itinerary that develop the kind of soft skills needed to thrive in any social environment including school, the workforce, and family.


School becomes fun again.

One of the most salient benefits of the experiential learning that occurs during a class trip gets to the heart of what all kids want—to have fun. The tedium of moving from one classroom to another day in and day out can dull the magic of learning. But it’s hard to mitigate the anticipation leading up to a destination field trip or fake the genuine thrill that comes with trying something new.


A 2017 Journal of Experiential Education study found that students participating in an experiential learning program enjoyed school more than students in traditional learning environments.   Having experiences that enhance students’ relationships with schooling will help them feel more engaged, a sentiment that plays a huge role in their success throughout their educational and work careers. For example, a 2003 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report argued that students who are engaged during their last years of high school are also more likely to be engaged in the workforce and experience less marital problems, violence, and adult criminality. While it might sound like hyperbole, teachers and students who have participated in class trips know that the power of even one of these experiences can be transformative.


By Diana Eastman


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