Museum Field Trips Tailored To Teach To The Test

Many children visit museums for the first time with their classmates on school-organized field trips. But as school districts face budget cuts and teachers feel pressure to prepare students for a battery of standardized tests, museum field trips are falling off of the curriculum.

It's hard to quantify on a national level exactly how much the number of museum field trips is decreasing, but for many teachers, several hours at the museum is starting to feel like a luxury.


Elizabeth Babcock, director of education at the Field Museum, says the natural history museum in Chicago used to welcome more than 300,000 students every year. But that number has dropped considerably; she says that a few years back, the number was below 200,000.

So the curators at the Field got serious about designing field trips to include skills that kids will be tested on in school: They started including relevant math equations in archaeology exhibits, and added timelines to historical exhibits.

"I actually think this has been an opportunity for museums to show their relevance," Babcock says. "We've had to take a step back and say, 'Those old models as a field trip destination are wonderful, but they're not sufficient.' "

Cynthia Moreno, curator for education at Kentucky's Speed Art Museum, says she's fine with tailoring museum visits to help schools teach to the test. She knows teachers are careful about scheduling field trips, and she says her museum is constantly evolving exhibits to lure them in.

But Moreno doesn't want the real value of museums to get lost in the process. At the end of the day, Moreno says, museums should be about "wonder and discovery" — and not about reinforcing math skills.

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