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Purposeful Field Trips Good For At-Risk Rural Students

Purposeful field trips can be a good way of helping at-risk rural high school students connect the classroom to the real world, according to a new study.

"Describing Connections between Science Content and Future Careers: Implementing Texas Curriculum for Rural At-Risk High School Students Using Purposefully-Designed Field Trips" was published in the fall issue of The Rural Educator, the peer-reviewed professional publication of the National Rural Education Association. It doesn't appear to be online yet.

Authors Tommye Hutson of Baylor University, Susan Cooper, of the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and Tony Talbert, of Baylor University, did the study in Texas, where some high school science courses require students to be able to link the content they're learning with future jobs or training. It's called an "essential knowledge" component.

They looked at a pool of 37 seniors in a small, rural central Texas high school, and they ended up with four students who qualified for participation. All of them had been identified by the school as at-risk for not graduating on time—they ranked in the bottom half of their graduating class, qualified for free- or reduced-price lunches, and none of their parents had higher education training or degrees. Also, none of the students could make the kind of classroom to real world connections required by the state.

The study involved a career-focused field trip to a nearby vocational training center, and students spent more than four hours touring the site and talking with instructors. Researchers relied on students' school records, surveys, field notes, and post-field trip interviews for their data.

They found each student was able to articulate the essential knowledge component after the field trip. The study described a few of the instances when students made that connection, such as during the diesel mechanics program tour. The faculty member guiding them explained the need for physics equations and metrics conversions, both of which were covered in students' chemistry and physics classes. One student said: "When we walked into that one classroom with the formulas on the board ... it looked just like the equations from the physics class at schools."

All of the student participants planned to enroll in career training or college before the field trip, and they agreed afterward that field trips such as this one should be a part of science and other academic courses.

Researchers recommended further study on using field trips in K-12 settings.

"The overall positive results of this study, from describing connections to increased awareness as well as expanded awareness of other programs and opportunities, would indicate that field trips should be further studied as effective pedagogy in rural high school science classes," the study stated. "If this is indeed an effective option for 'at-risk' rural high school students, field trips may represent an effective pedagogy for all high school students across the curriculum because they may all be 'at-risk' to some degree."

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