Is it worth it?
We assess the value of things constantly. Is it worth the cost? Is it worth the time?
For teachers, the latter question, “Is it worth the time?” is an ongoing concern.
Teachers look for a balance between spending enough time on topics so that students can thoughtfully and thoroughly understand concepts, and retain this understanding for the long-term, with obligations to teach many learning outcomes deemed important by the BC Ministry of Education.
Students are also asking the question is it worth it? Is it worth my attention? Is it worth my effort? If a teacher spends too much time on a concept, student interest might decrease; if they do not spend enough time, retention may not occur.
As a teacher and program builder of outside45, a program that involves numerous field experiences that take up significant amounts of curriculum time to learn important concepts, I get asked this question a lot, both from parents and from other educators: Are the field experiences worth it?
In answering these questions, it’s helpful to first note the purpose of the experiences. The goals of outside45 are articulated here and, like other education programs, within the Ministry of Education’s Integrated Resource Packages. But, after ten years as an educator, my beliefs in the purposes of schooling, and field experiences as part of this schooling, can be simplified into three goals. They are for students to:
1. Love learning.
2. Learn a lot.
3. Be motivated to put their learning to use for the benefit of the human and more than human world.
Outside45 has had two major field experiences this school year: One excursion to Garibaldi Provincial Park and another to Bamfield Marine Sciences Center. Together, the excursions have occupied eight of the 180 precious days school is in session each year plus preparation time for the excursions, totalling about 6% of the school year. When one considers that these trips may have involved the use of, but not direct instruction of math or digital literacy skills, and included large amounts of time in simply getting to Garibaldi and Bamfield, one should ask if these are worthwhile uses of instructional time. I have certainly asked these questions.
But in assessing the value of these field experiences based on the learning goals noted above, I am reassured. In outside45’s recent trip to Bamfield, I overheard several students say, “I love this.” In one instance, the words were uttered while students measured the temperature and salinity of an inlet, in another they were studying marine invertebrates in the lab, and yet another while examining an intertidal zone on the exposed West coast. And even when it was not verbally articulated, interest in learning was obvious with the way students eagerly engaged in tasks and remained focused from 8:30AM to 9:00PM with few breaks in between. It was obvious students loved learning, and by visiting the Marine Sciences Centre, where parent volunteers expressed equal enthusiasm in learning and where graduate students conducted long-term studies, students saw others who demonstrated lifelong learning and a love of learning as well.
As for learning a lot, at Bamfield students engaged in numerous experiments that introduced for some, and reinforced for others, the scientific method for conducting experiments. Students got to use tools, and see and touch a variety of organisms, both in labs and in natural environments often, and I suspect they will not soon forget this experiential learning. The learning activities at Bamfield, and the journal reflections facilitated by outside45`s masterful teachers Andrea Layzell and Laura Magrath, make this learning clear.
Lastly, like every generation it seems, this generation of students will face significant challenges. Visits to Garibaldi and Bamfield, which are incredibly diverse learning environments, makes clear the diversity of life that exists just within British Columbia’s south coast. One cannot help but come away from these environments with an appreciation for the complexity and importance of the natural world, and an interest in understanding our relationship within it and possibly an interest in taking our obligations as stewards seriously.
When I consider the other benefits of major field experiences, such as the social benefits of travelling, learning, and living as a close group, the possibilities of sparking a future career, the accomplishment of doing things for the first time, and the lessons that impress upon students how much our province has to offer in terms of recreational and learning environments, I’m convinced this time is well worth it.
The conversations within British Columbia’s education communities often focus on students “going deep,” of understanding concepts and developing and practising skills through an inquiry-based approach. The Ministry of Education, as described in BC’s Education Plan and in the first drafts of the redesigned curriculum, is on a path of reducing the learning outcomes students must learn so that they can learn in depth. Taking the time, through experience and critical reflection upon experience, is proving to be a valuable way for students to do this.
As BC’s curriculum undergoes redesign, empowering teachers with greater flexibility to provide opportunities for learning in depth, the question “Is it worth it?” seems more important now than ever.