Learning Inside and Outside the Classroom

Children are the most curious of beings, they love to investigate! And we revel in providing them with as many investigative opportunities as possible. At La Tierra Community School, we use an Expeditionary Learning inspired model, which translates into intentionally sharing the world (la tierra) with our students via hands-on learning both inside and outside the classroom. When we venture outside the classroom, which we do frequently, we engage in field work to guide the exploration. The excitement is palpable when we announce field work!

What is Field Work?

Field work is taking the concepts and lessons of the classroom outside and making connections with the real world. Observation is the first step in expeditionary learning. Our students become masters of observation, they learn how to take in their surroundings using all their senses. Especially for the youngest students, it is important to pause and use all their senses. The next step is to compare what they observe with what they expected or predicted, known in the scientific community as testing the hypothesis. 

Student in tree collecting data during field work

And then our students collect data, using skills and tools that they have been taught in the classroom before engaging in field work. Whenever possible, we teach the students to emulate the experts of that particular field by using the same research techniques. Students will take the data back to the classroom for analysis.

Lastly, our students work to reconcile the difference between the observation and the expectation. This last step is often an ongoing conversation while we do our field work, and full of connections and conclusions. For example, we could be discussing “What did you picture in your head when we talked about cocoons and larvae and butterflies? What do those things actually look, smell, sound, and feel like? Where did you get your original ideas about butterflies?” and these conversations further aid the student’s investigation.

Field Work vs. Field Trip

Field work is not the same as taking a field trip. The field work we engage in during expeditionary learning builds a bridge between the academic world and the real world. We construct our field work so that students are active investigators, using research and observational tools and techniques, as opposed to a traditional field trip where students are usually spectators. Once our field work has concluded, we have observations and data to bring back to school.

Where Does Field Work Happen?

Field work can happen from the playground to the campground, and everywhere in between. We make sure our students experience field work in many different types of settings. Here are some of our favorite expeditionary learning experiences:

  • Tour of Trees: We walk through the streets of Prescott with a tree expert – looking, listening, touching, and experiencing the natural world.
  • Butterfly Wonderland: Our second graders’ field work here includes observation, but also a good dose of wonderment as they see the stages of a butterfly life.
  • Hoover Dam Camping trip
  • Local park hike: Hiking through the park, our students find and map the ant hills all over the park.
  • Grand Canyon, Montazuma’s Castle, Tuzigoot: Our 4th graders camp at the Grand Canyon for 2 nights where they see nature at work, tour the area with park rangers, and learn about native tribes.

Teacher with students looking at map

Analyzing and Presenting Results

An important part of every student’s expeditionary learning experience is creating a portfolio presentation. The portfolio is a compilation of an entire year’s work in all subjects, and a small part of that can be conclusions from their field work. Presenting their portfolio is an achievement for each student, as they weave together the classroom work with the outside work, and find a way to explain and present it to both peers and adults. Their excitement and confidence has been boosted by their experiences out in the field, and we see it in the way they stand, speak, and flourish.

About La Tierra Community School 

At La Tierra Community School, teachers, parents, staff, and students work together to create a school culture of collaboration, respect, and high expectations. Through our expeditionary learning-inspired approach, trust, respect, responsibility, and joy in learning permeate our community and our students know they can impact their world. Enrolling K-7 in Prescott, today!