Best Practices for Field Days E-Tips for Environmental Educators
Welcome to this edition of the EE E-Tip for Field Days – the quarterly source for practical tips to raise the impact of field day programs. We want to hear your suggestions for improving this resource. Send your ideas to Nate Meyer.
EE E-TIP: Allow students to work in pairs or teams to solve problems and make discoveries during your field days.
Like hands-on activities and inquiry-based teaching, encouraging cooperative learning through teamwork is a great way to engage learners in your presentations, awakening their curiosity, tapping their collective knowledge and skill, and grabbing interest of youth. Years of research, including hundreds of studies, agree that cooperative learning can have positive impacts on learning and interpersonal relationships.
There are a range of activities commonly used for cooperative learning: jigsaw groups, think-pair- share, numbered heads, etc.
Next time you present at a field day, try adapting one of these methods:
- Team-pair-solo. When teaching students a skill like tree planting, let them try it first as a team, again in pairs, and finally on their own.
- Three-minute-review. In the middle of your presentation, at lunch, or before boarding busses, ask small teams of students to review what they have learned for three minutes, and come up with clarifying questions. Ask each team to share something they learned and one question they really want answered.
- Numbered Heads. You can assign a number (or other sign like a leaf, animal track, etc.) to each student in small groups. Let them know they may be called on to explain something learned in group work. At the end of your presentation, ask a few questions to check for learning. Call on students by number to answer.
No matter which method you use, researcher Robert Slavin explains that there are two key elements to keep in mind when designing your presentation for cooperative learning:
- Your groups should work toward some common goal, recognition or reward; and
- Group success should depend on learning and contribution from each group member.
Resources like The Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota suggest that you structure your activities and lessons to include 5 components of effective cooperation:
- Learners believe that "no one succeeds unless the group succeeds;"
- Learners help, support and applaud each other;
- There is group and individual accountability for achieving success;
- Learners are supported in developing social skills necessary to work in groups; and
- Groups process along the way how they are working together to achieve success.
Check-in periodically with your learners while they are working in groups. In a recent article, Judy Willis, a neurologist and middle school teacher, suggests a few questions that model how students can check on their group learning.
While students are working, try wandering from group to group asking these kinds of questions to help them think about working cooperatively:
- Is everyone in the group getting a chance to talk? Share ideas? Contribute?
- Are students asking questions of fellow group members? What could they ask each other to find out someone's ideas?>
- Are members of the group listening to each other?
- What could students ask to find out someone's reason for making a suggestion?
For more information on effective teaching methods for field days, review the Use Experiential Teaching Methods section of the Best Practices for Field Days: A Program Planning Guidebook for Organizers, Presenters, Teachers and Volunteers - pages 61 to 73. Curriculum copies, workshop and other information are available online.
To learn more about the Best Practices for Field Days, read our short article in the online Journal of Extension.
Slavin, R.E. (1991) Synthesis of Research on Cooperative Learning. Educational Leadership, 48(5). 71-82.
The Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota. Cooperative Learning.
Willis, J. (2007) Cooperative Learning is a Brain Turn-On. Middle School Journal, 38(4). 4-13.
Best Practices for Field Days is a University of Minnesota Extension program. The information given in this publication is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the University of Minnesota Extension is implied.