The biggest complaint that museum educators have about teachers is that they do not prepare students for trips. There is nothing quite so disheartening as asking a class of bright young students where they are and why they are here, to have them look blankly at you with no answers. That is a seemingly extreme case, but happens more often than you’d think. There can be a lot of reasons for why that is, but the truth of the matter is that when children are not prepped in advance of a cultural experience, they are not going to get as much out of it.
Teachers have so much on their plates, though. Who has time to plan trip-based lessons, as well as handle all of the logistics of busing, coordinating chaperones, and organizing permission slips? Most museums that offer school programs have pre-lessons available to teachers either on their website or by request . Contact the educator who will be working with you and make sure that you have any pre-visit materials that they suggest for your grade-level. Some programs will even expect that your group has been prepped by the time you arrive, so make sure to gather information about that when you book the trip.
In an ideal world, however, your museum trip will be the centerpiece of a unit to which it directly correlates. You will build up to the trip, so that students can have the prior knowledge to tap into, and build off of the excitement that comes from trip to extend student thinking and help ground concepts. The diagram you see is a basic outline for a unit involving a trip. Credit must be given to Roberta Altman of the American Museum of Natural History and Bank Street College of Education for the design. You can have as many lessons on either side of the trip that you want, but the most important classroom component is the culminating activity. Students love sharing what they have learned and it really allows you, as the teacher time to assess where they are in their progress.