In a recent conversation with a fellow teacher, he told me a story about the best laid plans for a field trip with his students that became a complete bust due to lack of preparation. This wasn’t your typical “I forgot to reserve the bus” type of oversight. An experienced educator, he had planned every detail of the experience with his educational goal in mind, he had reserved transportation, arranged all necessary approvals, and even secured an expert to greet the students and blow their minds with the appropriate “wow” factor. So what did he forget?
As it turns out, the experience required travel to a part of the city so unlike their own stomping grounds that the students could not get beyond what they saw outside the bus windows to focus on the educational opportunity the teacher had so meticulously planned. The students were shocked, dismayed, amazed, confused, questioning, and generally blown away – not by the educational experience planned by the teacher- but by the exposure to such a different way of life. This was the center of discussion on the bus, back at school, and beyond. “Looking back,” the teacher commented, “I just didn’t think to prepare them for that. But you have to think about the whole experience and help them to process that type of thing ahead of time so they can make room for the experience you want them to focus on.” As an educator myself, this got me thinking about what it takes to prepare students for the kind of student educational travel that we offer at Chill Expeditions. I have come up with three ways to adequately prepare the group… but would love readers to share others as well!
In my experience, a thoughtful teacher prepares students for international eco-immersion in three important ways: Helping them process the unexpected things they may encounter, setting them up for buy in, and setting the stage for the social dynamic.
“How do I help them process the unexpected?” you may ask. One brilliant teacher does so by taking the first 20 minutes of the van ride, after arrival, and asking the students to be silent, be observant, look out the windows, and take mental note of each thing they see that is different than at home. At the end of the designated time, the teacher asks what they saw, how it impacted them, and how they interpret those things based on their own cultural references. The ensuing discussion serves not only as an educational exercise, but it also clears the way for the focus to move on to other things as the student educational travel expedition continues.
The second essential type of preparation for students is what we call “setting them up for buy in.” The excitement level we see from students is vastly different when they have prior information to share and to apply to this new experience. Think of this as giving them “hooks” on which to hang their information. Assigning different topics to individuals ahead of time makes each student an expert in certain things the group will experience. When the student who researched volcanoes hears the local expert discussing the crater, as the group gapes at the gorgeous blue expanse, she cannot help but share her prior knowledge with her friends and formulate questions that are a step or two beyond basic. Studying the geology, the language, the culture, or the water system (for example) of the destination ahead of time gives the students an investment once they encounter these things in real time.
Finally, doing some simple digging into students’ interests and likes goes a long way towards setting up the group for a positive dynamic. Find out some of their favorite songs and put together a playlist of them for the bus rides. Find out about their favorite book or movie characters and why. Make it into a game a few nights into the experience for the group to match students with their favorite character. Ask each student to bring a travel game for the group and teach it – one per night – until the group gravitates to the same one night after night, having enjoyed it so much. These are memorable parts of the eco-immersion experience you are building, and you will be surprised at the impact it has on each student’s learning – not only about the world that surround them, but also about what they have to offer the world.