Field Trips

As teachers or parents who have taken children on field trips to museums, you are probably very familiar with two common scenerios that make the educational experience less than satisfactory: One, I call the "arcade phenomenon". It goes like this: Your kids burst through the doors of a science museum, and race helterskelter through exhibits, pushing buttons, turning cranks etc. to see the "gee-whiz" response, and learn little about the science concept illustrated by the exhibits The other extreme, the "blah,blah,blah" ( ala Charlie Brown grown-up speak) problem: You visit a facility with a group, and a tour guide lectures to the students for an hour and a half.

We think we may have an alternative to these two familiar field trip experiences-- creating science specific problem-solving scenerios in which your students will participate. A kind of role playing, if you will:

Teachers, scientists, and informal educators will develop grade specific programs that include:

  • inquiry-based activities referenced to specific national and regional science instructional goals;
  • background information on how NRAO staff use the concepts students learn in the classroom;
  • career information that integrates school to work objectives;
  • relevant and appropriate Web Sites culled from the Internet;
  • other reference resources;
  • list of associated local field trips that would extend the learning into other related areas.

    Teacher curriculum guides, designed for a specific program, will have three parts:

    "Before you Visit";

    "While you are at the NRAO";

    "Extending the Learning".


    Example: consider a guide for sixth and seventh graders entitled "Be an Electronics Engineer" which focuses on the content theme of electricity, and electromagnetic energy. There are several content and many inquiry-oriented goals that pertain to this theme according to the West Virginia Instructional Goals and Objectives (WVIGO) in science. Students in grades six and seven should be able to relate light to waves and should be able to describe the relationship between different frequencies in the EM spectrum and different receivers used to detect them. They should be able to construct and analyze simple circuits and interpret characteristics of AC and DC circuits. They should be able to recognize the energy can be changed from one form to another (Goals 6.49, 6.55, 6.60, 6.627.47, 7.50 WVIGO). Inquiry/Nature of Science goals for students in grades six and seven are constructivist in nature and more numerous than content goals. For example: students must collaborate to design experiments, collect data, and draw conclusions based on close observations. They must "apply skepticism, careful methods, logical reasoning and creativity in investigating the observable universe" (Goals 6.5, 6.10, 6.13, 7.18, 7.17, WVIGO).

    Before You Come

    Part one of the guide, "Before You Come", will outline activities that students should complete within the areas of the EM spectrum and electricity and circuits. Right before the students come we might ask the teacher to facilitate an open-ended discussion with the students on the question: How do you think your radio works? All ideas are valid; but the teacher can ask students to use the knowledge they have gained through the study of the spectrum and electricity.

    Short narratives about each of the electronics related careers at the NRAO; technician, and electronic engineers specializing in different areas will be included in the guide. Additional appropriate resources such as web sites and contact information for engineering societies will be listed.

    Field trip Activities

    The on-site activities will be group problem solving scenarios where students will be involved in an active investigation within the context of being an engineer or technician. In order to solve their problem, they will work with a subset of exhibits.

    A small group might be given the following problem statement: "Martha Haynes, astronomer from Cornell has 3 days of observing time on the Green Bank Telescope. Her experiment must be a good one - not many people get the telescope for three whole days! She doesn't want to waste a minute of her time! After one successful day of observing, she began to notice that her data looks noisy. Something may be wrong with her receiver. The mechanics brought the receiver down, now it is up to you to find the problem and fix it. Hurry - she only has one day left."

    We will provide the students with a tool box containing spare parts, a digital voltmeter, other diagnostic tools. The "engineers" will decide how to diagnose a receiver - perhaps first learning how the components of a receiver work by interacting with a receiver exhibit. Then the would plan a trouble shooting experiment and diagnose the problem in a second receiver and fix it. Finally, they might prepare a report for the "astronomer".

    Another group may be given the task of building a dipole antenna that works for a signal at a given frequency, or test the efficiency of different sized parabolas for a signal at a given frequency.

    Extending the Learning

    Part three of the guide will contain follow-up activities such as suggestions for ways for each group to communicate their findings to their peers. Related field trips like a trip to a local radio station or a visit from an amateur radio operator and related activities on topics such as electromagnetic induction will be included.