Agency on School Trips?

IMG_3244Today we went on a trip to the zoo.

With so many students, half of the group went on a guided tour first while the other group explored, and half way through we switched.

I’ll admit it. I struggled.

Well prepared teachers gave all of the exploring students paper, a pencil, and a clipboard to fill out a chart about their learning as they walked around.

I can tell you right now my group did not do that. Even though they had all been to this zoo before, they were all too excited to apply their new knowledge of animal adaptations to the actual real world. They rushed to see the leopard’s spots, and ran to see the brown bear’s first day out of hibernation. My little group of 6 boys were having a fantastic time exploring the things they wanted to see. We naturally talked about habitats, body coverings, and why so many snakes were still sleeping. The paper, pencils, and clipboards just got carried around. Worksheets were not touched. Should I have pushed it? My gut said no. But what if we were the only group not to do anything on paper? My gut still said no. I’d stand up for them if I needed to. They needed to experience the zoo. (No one said anything about them in the end, so what was their actual purpose to begin with? I am not sure.)

We had lunch by the puffins before meeting our tour guide at the aquarium. Our whole trip could have been in this tiny aquarium. We would have been able to stand there in awe, admiring all of the colourful adaptations and odd shapes for an hour or more. The tour guide was amazing, but the kids just wanted to be kids. I will fully admit that even I was distracted by the fish while she was talking. A moray eel made an appearance and was highly distracting for me. This happened again at the monkeys, and again in a jungle room we sat in where a mouse-deer appeared out of nowhere (one of the weirdest things I have ever seen)! I definitely also saw other students lose interest at various different points. Was it worth having a guided tour where students were forced to stand in one spot and listen to someone talk about something they may or may not be interested in?


Naturally, this got me thinking more about student agency and what the students actually wanted to do at the zoo. I understand that learning to listen to speakers is still something that the students need to learn to do. Of course I also understand that she was extremely knowledgeable and had great things for the students to listen to.


When on a trip, can the students not just enjoy?

Could we maybe just make them aware that they will do some sort of reflection of their choice afterwards to make them accountable and to think about their learning?

Could they document the trip and their reflection in any way they want?

Could the students let us know where they want to go and what they want to do there (and why they are there)?
IMG_3426On that note, with some misconnections on public transport some students were actively looking at maps and timetables. Could they plan our route? Our day? We are already toying with the idea of giving the planning duties over to them for our next trip.

Do we underestimate what 9 year olds are actually capable of?

What do you/your team/your school do to promote agency while on school trips?

Originally posted on March 22, 2018.