What is Fieldwork?
You may have heard our students, your children, talk about conducting fieldwork in their first unit of inquiry this year. Here at D-Prep, students engage in fieldwork in contrast to going on the traditional model of “field trips”. Fieldwork is one of the most powerful tools we have in pursuit of deeper learning. So what is the difference between “fieldwork” and a “field trip?”
The name fieldwork is derived from the term for the primary research that is usually reserved for graduate students in universities. We ask, “Why wait until after college for students to engage in this important and critical form of research and inquiry?” We believe that students are capable of building the skill set and cognitive capacity for this deeper research throughout their education.
Further, young people will be more prepared to be lifelong learners and develop 21st-century skills of presentation, self-confidence, literacy and communication skills, critical thinking skills, and the capacity to collaboratively learn from their own experience through engaging in fieldwork throughout their schooling.
Why is fieldwork important?
In each of our Units of Inquiry, it is a priority for us, as a school, to connect our students’ learning to a real-world and authentic context.
Why is this so important? Children learn the most when they understand how the skills and content they are learning are important in the world outside the walls of the classroom or school. Learning has a purpose when they see this connection and that it matters to their own lives and the lives of others.
The biggest distinction between fieldwork and a fieldtrip is that while on a fieldtrip a student is often a passive spectator, when students engage in fieldwork they are actively researching, using techniques of inquiry to answer questions and generate new ones, and engaging with their community to deepen their learning.
Teachers plan for rich and engaging fieldwork experiences that directly relate to the concepts, skills, and content area knowledge that students are learning in their units of inquiry in the classroom.
Fieldwork is not separate from the academics of the classroom but rather both a powerful extension of it and an opportunity to authentically apply these skills in the way professionals and academics do.
Three components of fieldwork
There are three important components that we use in conducting fieldwork.
First students engage in some kind of pre-work at school to prepare for their fieldwork. They develop background knowledge, research the site or topics they are going to be exploring, and develop questions that they seek to answer.
While out in the field interviewing, taking pictures, making drawings, or engaging in experiments, students are working as active researchers and are recording their learning and data for further investigation and exploration.
The third component takes place back in the school. There is always a process of interpreting data and information that was gathered during fieldwork and connecting it with the larger concept of the unit.
Teachers always hold a debrief and reflection after fieldwork so that students become self-aware of their own learning and growth.
Fieldwork, real-world learning
This authentic, or real-world learning, is why we work to plan meaningful and authentic fieldwork linked to your child’s learning. This fieldwork takes students beyond the walls of our school to learn as researchers, scientists, journalists, or any other professional roles in a real-world context or to learn from professionals in the world beyond our classrooms.
These experiences can not just be simulated in the classroom. This deeper learning, as students interview an expert in a hospital, explore and find information in a museum, learn how to plant rice in a rice field, or go to the grocery store to find, compare prices, and buy the ingredients they need for their smoothies; cannot be replicated in the classroom and these place-based learnings will last much longer than any PowerPoint they see in their classroom.
Learning is everywhere and life-long learners explore and acquire new learning in every new environment they encounter. Fieldwork is clearly a better way to create learners of the 21st century who have the skills to navigate learning and problem-solving in all contexts and know how to find ways to deepen and enhance their learning.
Fieldwork creates passionate and inquisitive learners who strive to understand the world and ultimately make the future better for all of us.