Regular classroom teaching usually includes viewing presentations, doing projects, watching videos, completing worksheets, and other similar work. While learning about many different subjects this way can be very effective and interesting for many, sometimes a hands-on experience is better.
Field trips to places such as museums, aquariums, and events can help students get a grasp on what they’re learning, but there’s only so much that lies here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for students to study. This problem is solved through FHC’s Science Department’s yearly trips. Last year brought a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and this year opens up a six-day-long trip in June 2017 to the country of Iceland.
Science teachers Kristy Butler and Patricia Richardson are leading the trip, and both are looking forward to it as a wonderful learning experience for students, but also for it to be much more. Iceland is a place many might dream of studying, due to its fascinating geology and interesting life. The country is one of the most active volcano regions on Earth, and almost all types of volcanic and geothermic activity can be found there.
The group is traveling with EF Educational Tours, and the trip has every day packed with things to do. The group will be doing a variety of activities such as walking on a glacier, swimming in the Blue Lagoon, seeing effects of volcanic activity and geothermal and hydroelectric power. They will also visit multiple waterfalls, see a geyser erupt, visit natural hot springs, and experience Icelandic culture.
“You cannot appreciate the forces of the Earth, like volcanoes, glaciers, and geothermal action without seeing it in person,” Richardson said. “The immense power of waterfalls, geysers, and glaciers in forming land is unfathomable. Without them, Michigan would not have the Great Lakes. Being able to see these impressive geologic forms in person will give students an appreciation for the world around them, and the forces that create it”.
Last school year, Richardson and Butler created a Google form with four different destinations for students to vote on as possible locations to travel. Iceland and Belize tied, but the two chose Iceland because they felt it was a different experience than kids would have had previously. Students have vacationed to the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean, or other tropical locations, but Iceland was one place they had not heard of kids visiting.
Although this is the first year students have been able to go to Iceland, it isn’t the first trip for Richardson and Butler. Last year they went on a trip to the Galapagos Islands with students, a trip that both feel was a great learning experience for everyone in the group. Students were able to see animals they had learned about in Biology, see many different ecosystems across the islands, snorkel with animals, and much more.
Being able to see in person what they had learned about in school is a completely different learning experience, and can help students understand the ecosystems of the islands much more. The group was also able to experience the culture in Ecuador, and visit many different villages to see how people live there. Students learned about the history of these people, and practice their Spanish due to it being the national language.
“Taking thirteen students to the Galapagos and experiencing seeing three of the Islands with them was a highlight of my teaching career,”Richardson said.
Sophomore James Aidala is one student attending the trip, and this is his first time traveling with this program, as he did not travel to the Galapagos Islands last year. James is looking forward to learning about Iceland’s geology, and feels that taking educational trips such as the Iceland trip can help students learn more effectively and retain information much more easily.
Senior Molly Weiner went on the Galapagos Islands trip last year, and she thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Although she has not signed up for the Iceland trip yet, she says that going on another trip would be hard to pass up. She loved traveling all around the islands with friends, and was able to see and study the diversity all across the islands. Molly says that she would be very interested in seeing the glaciers and geothermal geysers, along with the Northern Lights.
“Going on trips gives students different perspectives than a textbook could offer,” Molly said. “Freshman year, we had studied Darwin’s research, mainly on the finches in the Galapagos, but until we were actually in the Galapagos observing the birds at every island, none of us realized just how distinct each minor adaptation made the finch.”
Both Butler and Richardson feel that the trip to Iceland will be a great experience for students, not only for learning and studying, but because it teaches independence. For many, this will be their first trip without their parents or siblings, and is a completely new experience for them. The group will be immersed in Icelandic culture and will be able to experience the country firsthand. Students will be able to study the geology of Iceland and see plant and animal life that they can’t in Michigan, and this experience can truly open students’ eyes to the world and how much diversity really exists.
“When you travel, you get immersed in the culture. [You learn] what’s different, like different types of food, different ceremonies and traditions, and that’s a huge learning experience,” Butler said. “Those are things you can’t experience in school. We can show you pictures of mountains and glaciers, but when you’re actually there seeing them, it’s just a completely different experience.”
The trip includes a project that must be done and submitted to the tour company and students can earn college credit at a great price. For example, a student on the Galapagos Islands trip earned three credits for around $300. Although the trip provides a great learning experience and educational opportunity, it’s also a cultural eye-opener. Students are able to see what the world is like outside of their hometown, state, and country, and can learn by experiencing a new and different culture with completely different surroundings.
Butler and Richardson have high hopes for the trip, and are looking forward to all of the experiences the trip will contain.
“I want the kids to have fun. I want them to think about their place in the world,” Butler said. “It’s easy for us to think about what we do in our everyday life because we get into a routine, but I’d like to expand their thinking outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan and learn some cool science along the way.”