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: Create plenty of signs, good maps, and orient all presenters, teachers, volunteers, and participants to the event and rotation of groups through presentations before beginning activities.
Helping everyone involved easily solve the problem of getting around your event is essential to maintaining the flow of your schedule, and reducing the stress of learning/teaching in new environments. It can also have a positive influence on the continuity of your theme from station to station. But getting around may be more complicated than you think.
Wayfinding is the science of getting around. A University of Michigan website defines three key elements of the process: "knowing where you are in a building or an environment, knowing where your desired location is, and knowing how to get there from your present location." In a 1998 Environment and Planning article, researchers Martin Raubal and Max Egenhofer described this as a sort of mental algebra where people weigh 1) the number of choices where to go next, with 2) clues about which is the right choice. More choices and/or poor clues lead to wayfinding problems. On the other hand, a site with less choices may require fewer clues.
In his Designing Navigable Information Spaces, author Mark Foltz summarized a number of helpful design principles for wayfinding
- Try to give each location at your field day a visual "identity" that is different from others. Simple is best. Consider providing each station a unique color sign, or denoting each with a different animal. The important part is maintaining these identities on maps, station signs, trail signs, etc.
- Use landmarks on your maps to provide orientation clues and memorable locations. These can be global landmarks visible from many places at your event, or local landmarks that can only be seen in the vicinity of a specific place (e.g., you know you have arrived when you see the restrooms). Finally, you should pay specific attention to memorable landmarks, such as the Split Rock Lighthouse at the Lake County MN Natural Resources Field Day that most of your participants will naturally recall.
- Try to provide well structured paths for your field day. These should be continuous with a clear beginning and end, and cues about distance to end. For instance, your maps might include simple notation: "Travel from station A to B should take about 5 minutes. You will pass one side trail about halfway through this short hike."
- Divide your field day into a few regions with clearly different characteristics. These may be visual differences, ways of using the area, etc. For instance, you may tell students and teachers to meet for lunch under the pavilion with picnic tables. Or, your map may note: "Stations A - C are in the woods. Stations D - F are along the shoreline."
- Do not give your participants too many choices in moving around your event. We suggest you create a theme for your field day - the story you want to tell. No matter where students begin at your event, their movement from station to station should consistently maintain that story. It will help to ensure your presenters clearly understand from which station (s) students arrive at their site, and to which station(s) they will go next, and incorporate connections between these elements into their presentations.
Foltz and others also provide a few guidelines to ensure the signage at your field day is effective
- Make sure your participants and presenters have a good map.
- Post clear signs at all decision points on your field day pathways.
- Use "sight-lines" to keep your participants moving in the right direction. If participants move from a blue to red station at your field day, for instance, you might tie a piece of red fabric on a conspicuous branch every few yards.
- Choose the right sign for the job. The Larsen InSights enewsletter described a variety of sign-types that you may use at your field day:
- Directional signs to point the way;
- Orientation signs to give participants a clue to their position at the overall event;
- Destination signs to tell participants when they have reached a station, parking area, etc.;
- Event-related signs to mark special events like lunch, orientation or closing;
- Regulatory signs to mark control movement around the field day, keep people out of sensitive nature areas, etc.
- Make sure your signs are highly visible and accessible. Mark Green and other authors summarize the consistent conclusion of researchers that color combinations like black/white or black/yellow create effective contrast on signs. However, they are also careful to point out that you should test your signs in the event setting to see how they work in real lighting, against the backdrop of trees, etc. You need also be mindful of participants who may not be visual. Check with visiting teachers and presenters whether you need to prepare for blind participants.
- Make sure your signs can withstand the weather at your field day. Ask yourself if your signs will work on a rainy or windy day. Can you still see them if it is cloudy? It may be worth the cost of laminating signs or creating signs on cardboard or corrugated plastic.
For more information on designing effective settings for field days, review the Plan Your Setting Settings for Effective Education section of the Best Practices for Field Days: A Program Planning Guidebook for Organizers, Presenters, Teachers and Volunteers – pages 53 to 60. Curriculum copies, workshop and other information are available online at http://www.extension.umn.edu/EnvironEd/.
To learn more about the Best Practices for Field Days, read our short article in the online Journal of Extension.
Foltz, M.A. (1998). Designing Navigable Information Spaces. Unpublished Thesis.
Green, M. (2004). Color Functionality in Tradedress: A Case Example.
Raubal, M., and Egenhofer, M. (1998). Comparing the Complexity of Wayfinding Tasks in Built Environments. Environment and Planning, B 25 (6): 895-913.
Wayfinding and Signage: Getting it Right. (2006). Larsen InSights Enewsletter.
What is Wayfinding? Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.
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.