Fieldwork Management Strategies and Teacher Tips

Veteran Vital Signs teacher, Kellie Oullette shares her strategies for maximizing learning during fieldwork in a recent email conversation:

Q: How do you find enough time get out into the field in one class period?

I can get students to do their field work in one class period after they've been through the process once. They need to truly understand what their responsibilities are in the field, which some of them don't totally "get" until they've done it once and realized that they were lacking detail/information.

The first time out is a learning experience, for sure. I do everything I can to prepare the students: Introduce the note-taking worksheet, show what quality "end products" look like on V.S., explain the importance of photo evidence and written evidence that "match" and show examples of published student work that does this. We review the responsibilities of the different jobs and I have the students choose their species ID card in advance to get familiar with their species. I have them decide on who is doing what jobs once they feel as though they understand their jobs.

After their first investigation, I meet with each group to have them share with me some "like best" observations--what they felt went well, and "next time" observations--what they need to do better next time to feel as though they have done quality field work that will lead to the best possible published work.

So there is a lot of work getting them prepared to do the field work, and the first round isn't awesome. They get a "formative" grade for that first round, and the next one is "summative" once they realize what they really need to do to get the job done well and efficiently. They use a self and peer evaluation form to discuss their contributions and the contributions of their teammates; good for accountability and a chance for students to share what they and their peers did to contribute (the good and the bad...) before I score their work and assign grades (standards dealing with claims and evidence, then habits of work grades in academic and social responsibility).

Q: Do you have long enough classes?

Our science classes are one hour in length.

Q: Do you combine classes with colleagues?

I haven't. I usually bring a class of 20-24 out by myself (or with an ed tech for the classes that have ed tech support).

Q:How long does a trip usually take you?

We have really only done "trips" in our school yard and in some areas in the woods around the school. We are lucky to have some great spots right in walking distance and walkie talkie range.

Once the kids are familiar with the process, my students can usually get an investigation done over the course of three class blocks. One (partial) block for preparation (choosing jobs, species, collecting materials into their group's folder). One full block for field work/taking their notes outdoors (most finish before the class block is done, then ALL student groups are responsible for transferring photos to their laptops and sharing with ALL of their group members before they leave class. The third class block is used to transfer their notes into Vital Signs (editing their field notes in Google Docs as a team, getting their photo and written evidence in, and peer review). Occasionally peer review needs to be done during a fourth block.

I usually make sure we have an ongoing assignment or project in session, so early finishers can work on their project or blog post or assignment if they finish with their publishing ahead of others.
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You can download the documents that Kellie references from the Vital Signs Curriculum Bank.

Read more conversations between teachers on classroom management in the field in this educator forum.