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: Make your theme a declarative sentence.
What makes a good theme? Participants in Make the Most of your Field Days workshops typically spend time developing concise, school standards-linked themes to focus the main messages of their events. One question is frequently asked during these exercises: "Does my theme have to be a sentence? One with a period?" The answer is yes.
A good theme is more than a one word topic, like conservation, or a catchy phrase. It begins as a declarative sentence - a sentence that makes a statement and ends with a period. However, it can subsequently be delivered to your field day participants through a provocative question, slogan, exciting exclamation, etc.
Technically speaking, an effective field day theme is a proposition. In an online article on concept-maps, Joseph Novak & Alberto Cañas define a proposition as two concepts connected with linking words or phrases. Consider, for example, the theme:
Bison, fire, and drought kept our prairies alive.
In this theme, the terms bison, fire, drought and prairies are all concepts - classifications of objects, events, ideas, etc. that we can describe with a word. The words kept alive are linking words that connect them.
Another example theme:
Fires slow tree growth.
In this case, the terms fire and tree growth are concepts. The word slows links them.
Distilling your theme into a non-technical declarative sentence will provide a clear guide for everyone involved in the field day. The more specific you can get, the more guidance you provide your presenters, teachers, volunteers and participants:
- Organizers get a straightforward strategy for assessing their participants before the event, asking what they already know about the key concepts and linkages in the statement.
- Organizers and presenters can communicate effectively about the right mix of activities and learning objectives that will best help students understand the theme.
- Presenters can more easily discern how their presentations connect with others to teach key concepts and linkages.
- Teachers can more easily discern how to connect the key concepts and linkages into their classroom curricula.
- Students get a straightforward message to help them make sense of the field day activities.
Imagine, on the other hand, developing a theme as a question:
What kept prairies alive?
What are the correct answers? It would be difficult to judge whether a presentation on water, raptors, soils or prairie flower identification more clearly teaches something about this theme. Presenters, teachers and students may subsequently fill-in some blanks, but miss the overall message or important connections.
Unfortunately, a declarative sentence theme may not be effective for promotion or participant motivation. It can help to adapt your theme as a catchy slogan or a question to motivate participants and help them remember your event:
- Imagine participants beginning a field day focused on soils, concluding every session and the entire event with the group chant Don't treat soil like dirt! Memorable.
- Picture a problem-based field day, asking students at the beginning of the event Just how do you think fires slow tree growth? Today, we are going to investigate this question. Provocative.
Of course, it is necessary in either case to start with and clearly communicate the declarative statement that defines what specifically you mean by your slogan or how you answer the question you pose. After all, the complete sentence is the main message of your event.
For more information on developing themes, review the Structure Your Field Day around a Single Theme section of the Best Practices for Field Days: A Program Planning Guidebook for Organizers, Presenters, Teachers and Volunteers - pages 26 to 33. Curriculum copies, workshop and other information are available at the Best Practices for Field Days website.
To learn more about the Best Practices for Field Days, read our short article in the online Journal of Extension.
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.
McGraw Hill Grammar Dictionary
Novak, J.D., & Cañas, A.J. (2006). The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them.
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Problem-based learning.