Fabulous Field Trips

Attending a performance or visiting an art museum is just the beginning when it comes to arts field trips. Would you think of a trip to a park or nature area? How about a baseball museum? The arts-infused field trip concept developed by Kentucky’s Arts Academies integrates meaningful arts activities into a wide variety of settings.

Introduction: What Makes an Arts Field Trip Fabulous?

For many, a typical drama field trip means attending a play, touring a theater, or maybe even talking with actors and directors after a play. But for others, a drama field trip might be a visit to an art museum where students create a tableau based on a painting. Or a trip to a nature center where students dramatize historical events that might have occurred there. You, too, can make the world your stage by organizing a Fabulous Field Trip (FFT), and here’s how.

Developed by Jeffrey Jamner, director of school programs for the Kentucky Center, Louisville

Field-Tested Field Trips

First, it helps to know that these arts-based field trips have been field-tested by teachers and artist-trainers over the past several years. The arts-based field trip has evolved out of two professional development seminar programs for teachers presented by the Kentucky Center: Kentucky Institutes for Arts in Education and Arts Academies. The Kentucky Center developed this highly effective approach using the arts to further explore and respond to the field trip experience.

Arts Academy teachers participate in a drawing exercise at Riverside, The Farnsley-Moremen Landing, a historic home in Louisville.

Arts Academy teachers participate in a drawing exercise at Riverside, The Farnsley-Moremen Landing, a historic home in Louisville.

Goals of arts-based field trips include

  • deepening and broadening the educational impact of a field trip.
  • making connections across the curriculum.
  • providing a more powerful way to experience and remember the field trip.
  • increasing the immediacy of content for the student.
  • encouraging more focused and detailed observation.
  • providing an effective way to teach arts content.

Reasons for an arts-based field trip include

  • engaging more of the multiple intelligences, providing numerous entry points for discovery and learning.
  • allowing for different perspectives.
  • encouraging more focused observation.
  • generating an empathetic response.

For a more in-depth explanation of the benefits of an arts-based field trip, read below in the section “Field Trips: A Critical Element in Learning.”

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How To Plan an Arts-Based Field Trip

At the Kentucky Institutes for Arts in Education and the Arts Academies, the artist-trainers help to select the field trip site and plan the trip’s goals and activities. The process they use is a good model that teachers can adapt to their own field trip planning.

Since several art forms are taught at these seminars (two at Academies, five at the Institutes), the artists must look at how they schedule the day to accommodate more than one art form. Artists usually consider several options:

  • team teaching involving more than one art form.
  • rotations; e.g., group 1 does dance from 9:00 to 10:00 and drama from 10:00 to 11:00.
  • time built in for participants to just “explore” or to explore in an unguided way, but with certain tasks assigned.
  • taking the official tour (or not).
  • opportunities to respond through an art form: Is there an adequate space to do drama in a public setting?
  • opportunities for reflection.
    materials (sketchbooks, disposable cameras, clay, props, journals, musical instruments, tape recorders).
  • preparation of participants: What should they know and do ahead of time to get the most out of the experience?
  • follow-up on the next teaching day.

For example, here are some ways to use drama in a field trip:

  • Students improvise a scene at a historic site.
  • Students create an interactive tableau based on a painting at a museum.
  • Students create a “living forest” in which they tell the story from the point of view of something found in nature.
  • Students develop character studies in public places, such as the town square or an airport.
  • Students study period costumes to learn about history.
  • Students use animal characteristics in a dramatization after observing animals at the zoo.

Ideally, the artists meet at the site, if they are not familiar with it, and with the staff to discuss the day. This gives the artists an opportunity to ask whether there are spaces for the participants to perform for each other, whether they can bring in outside supplies or musical instruments, or whether there are indoor options for inclement weather.

In the one-week Arts Academies, the field trip is on the fifth (final) day and is a culmination of all the participants have worked on. At the two-week Institutes, the field trip is on the fifth of ten days, so there is more opportunity to build on that experience and work toward different culminating activities on the final day.

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What Teachers Say

“Incredible! I had been to Blackacre before, but not like that. I especially enjoyed our Underground Railroad experience.”

“A day I’ll never forget.”

“It taught me how much role playing can teach.”

“I’ll never look at nature (or humans) in the same way.”

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Field Trips: A Critical Element in Learning

Contributed by Philip Shepherd, arts and humanities consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education

Field Trips and Learning

New discoveries about how the human brain processes information reinforce some of our long-held assumptions about learning. In recent years, more has been discovered about how we are able to store and retrieve information—in other words, our memory systems. Educators commonly use field trips as a way to solidify learning. New research and understanding of how the human brain processes information supports this practice and provides an understanding of why field trips are so important to learning.

We have different kinds of memory. We have short-term memory that enables us to remember just long enough to dial a phone number before forgetting it, and we have working memory that can last for a more extended time. Working memory enables us to cram for a test and retain the information long enough to transfer it to the test form the next day. Once we no longer need the memory, we begin to lose it. We also have long-term memory that we keep with us over very long periods of time, and even for an entire lifetime.

Brain research has helped us to understand that there are different ways that we create memory and different ways that memories are retrieved. These “memory pathways“ provide a map for educators as to how they can most effectively organize content and instruction so that students will be able to recall information over the long term. Research findings also help us understand various educational strategies and their impacts on students’ learning. Based on this knowledge, educators can intentionally use practices that are most effective in establishing long-term memory.

The Memory Pathways Table included in this section outlines our different memory systems. The chart outlines the different kinds of memory, the role of each kind of memory, examples of how we use each, and strategies that help to aid the creation of and retrieval of memories. It is important to note that all categories of memory are important; each plays an important role in the survival of the human species. But some play a greater role in relation to educational practices and remembering subject matter content.

For example, semantic memory is used when we repeat our times tables over and over again until we can recite them from memory. If we continue to do this, eventually we can create a conditioned response involving embedded memory that tells us when we see the symbols 6 × 6, the answer is 36. This is an example of over-learning or implicit memory. If we don’t repeat the times tables enough to enable this over-learning, we simply don’t remember them.

Our most powerful kind of memory in terms of capacity is episodic memory. There are “episodes” in our lives that we can recall clearly no matter how long ago they may have occurred. If we focus on an episode from our past, we can begin to recall more and more details about it based on what we have determined to be the important issues. We can also recall and even experience the same emotions that we experienced at the time of the episode. In fact, emotions can trigger the memory of the episode. This is an incredibly powerful kind of memory, and skillful educators make the best use of it.

Field trips are a critical tool for creating episodic memory. Episodic memory is created through sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, location, and emotions. Field trips combined with arts activities before, during, and after the experience enable students to create powerful memories that they can recall the rest of their lives. The arts help to provide emotional content for the episode and establish emotional triggers that enhance storage and recall of memories from the experience. This approach incorporates both explicit and implicit memory pathways, thus increasing the likelihood of retrieval.

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Memory Pathways

Adapted from Arts with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jenson
(Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2001)

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Explicit Memory: Memory we are conscious of/verbal  Implicit Memory: Habit, motor memory,
unconscious non-verbal memory
Weakest retrieval system
Unlimited capacity
Hot-stove effect
Emotions trigger memory
• Involves words, symbols, etc.
• Short-term and working memory
• Requires strong intrinsic motivation
• Need big picture/global to aid recall
• Organize material again and again
• Use spaced learning, peer teaching, cliffhangers
• “Yes, you can” attitude
• Memory forms easily and quickly
• Involves locations, events, circumstances
• Contami-
nated by too many events or materials embedded at same location
• Memory is contextually embedded
• Learning corresponds to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, location, and emotions
• Easy to master, well remembered, lasting
• Activated by physical movements, sports, games, theater role play
• Hands-on learning
•“Just do it”
• Embed emotions in middle of lesson
• Daily celebrations
• Student presentations to class
• Instant associations
• Over-learning
• Conditioned responses (Pavlov’s dog)
• The more practice, the more automated the learning
• Quick-reaction activities help with storing/retrieving of memories
• Emotions ranging from trauma to pleasure create/trigger long-term memory
• Emotions contribute to all memory pathways
• Auditory cues are potent emotional triggers
• Many students who struggle with semantic memory can succeed here
• The arts provide emotional triggers for storing/retrieving memories
Sample Arts Strategies
to aid memory
• Visuals, pictures, illustrations, bold colors, posters, storyboards, pictorial maps, etc.
• Graphic organizers
• Open lessons with hook music, props, costumes, dramatic event
• Close lessons with sharing and same hook music
Sample Arts Strategies
to aid memory
• Movement, designated location for each concept
• Novel class-
room positions
• Dance/
movement to change locations and/or circumstances
• Use visual art to create location and/or mood
• Use music to create mood
• Use drama to create circum-
stance or connection to event
• Field trips include arts activities
• Drama games
Sample Arts Strategies
to aid memory
• Nearly everything can be done with movement
• Dance
• Sculpture
• Create a song
• Rewrite lyrics to a song to include key information
• Rap key terms/vocabulary
• Dramatic concert readings with music
• Improvisations
• Drama games
• Dramatic debates
Sample Arts Strategies
to aid memory
• Visually enhanced flash cards or quest
• Use pictures for quest
• Music, especially rhythms, clapping/tapping, speaking rhythms, rapping, singing using key information
• Use repetitive movement along with auditory cues (music, rhyme)
• Movement games
Sample Arts Strategies
to aid memory
• Start lessons/units of instruction with one or more art forms that provide emotional content and/or offer connections to locations, events, celebrations, prior knowledge, or to create a new emotional context for memories
• Embed the arts at critical memory points in lessons or units
• Connect arts examples to critical content and/or concepts that should be committed to memory

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Fabulous Field Trip Idea: Trail of Tears Commemorative Park and Heritage Center

A field trip to this historic park and Cherokee museum is an opportunity for students to connect with a Native American culture, incorporate historical information into their day, and explore and participate in a variety of arts experiences. The field trip can be adapted for a variety of grade levels, depending on the activities teachers select.


Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Contributed by Kathi Ellis

About the Location

Trail of Tears Commemorative Park and Heritage Center
Pembroke Road
Hopkinsville, KY 42240
To schedule a field trip: (270) 886-7342
For additional information: (270) 885-6070


This historic park is one of the few documented campsites from the Trail of Tears route of 1838-39, when the Cherokee people were forcibly removed to “Indian Territory.” The park has a small but comprehensive museum of Cherokee artifacts, maps of the Trail of Tears, and a burial ground for those Cherokee who died on this part of the trail. There are also picnic and ceremonial areas, as well as walking trails. Every year, in September, the Trail of Tears Commission sponsors an intertribal powwow at the park.

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About Artist: Kathi Ellis

Kathi E.B. Ellis is an independent professional theater director who directs at theaters around the country and a member of the Kentucky Arts Council’s Roster of Artists. Her residency experience includes after-school programs at Canaan Community Development Corporation and Tully Elementary School in Louisville. She has worked with the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival at Wheatley Elementary and at various Louisville-area schools for Actors Theatre of Louisville.

With the KAC, Kathi has done residencies in Jefferson, Knox, Larue, and Ohio counties. She has conducted professional development workshops for teachers for the Kentucky Center’s Arts Academies, Jefferson County Public Schools, and the Kentucky Theatre Association. Kathi is a member of the Lincoln Center Theater’s Directors’ Lab and serves on the editorial board of Southern Theatre, a Southeastern Theatre Conference publication. She is also executive director of the Kentucky Alliance for Arts Education.

Kathi has developed a number of classroom-appropriate scripts from a selection of Native American and West African stories that can serve as models for the kinds of activities described in the Trail of Tears Field Trip. These scenes can be presented with minimal or no production elements and still give students a valuable drama experience.

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Teacher's Guide: Trail of Tears Commemorative Park and Heritage Center

Description of Field Trip

The Trail of Tears Park is a little-known Kentucky treasure that provides students with a combination indoor/outdoor field trip location at which it is possible to incorporate history, nature, and the arts. The benefit to students at this venue is that they have an opportunity to see firsthand the consequences of the so-called Trail of Tears for the Cherokee nation.

PLANNING TIP: Videotape your day at the park. Then, back in the classroom, give your students an opportunity to respond to the field trip activities they performed.

The dramatic nature of the Cherokee experience on the Trail of Tears is one that students can explore in mime, tableau, spoken word, and ceremonial (including dance) activities. Visual art activities can also be introduced into the event. Giving students opportunities to act out traditional Cherokee myths and legends, as well as stories from the Trail of Tears, gives them not only experience with the elements of performance, but also a chance to use their imaginations to re-create the experiences of another culture.

The key to making this field trip work is to determine how many (or few) activities you can reasonably accomplish with the time that you have and the number of students and parent chaperones available to you. For example, older students may be able to develop and perform several scenes in small-group work, while younger students would benefit from one or two scenes and/or formal dances in which they all have a role. While it is a more rounded experience to include multiple art forms (e.g., making a dreamcatcher, writing a poem, performing a scene, learning a ceremonial dance), if each of these is so rushed that there is no time for reflection, you will be better off selecting one or two activities that the students can really spend time on. Evaluating the day can be accomplished through written reflections back in the classroom and a pre- and post-field trip test to assess vocabulary and content.

Student Preparation

Ideally, students should prepare for this field trip by learning about the Cherokee culture in the classroom. A good resource for learning about the history and culture of the Cherokee is the www.cherokee.org web site, which includes a student section. Reading Cherokee myths and legends should also be part of the preparation; books include Two Bad Boys and many compilations of Native American stories. After reading the stories, students can begin to create short scenes through improvisation, adpating the story that they’ve heard, and creating dialogue from the narrative. The Hopkinsville park also has a number of resources that can be used in the classroom, including information about tribal dress, dances, and the Cherokee alphabet.

PLANNING TIP: Before or after the field trip, show students the video of master storyteller Marilou Awiatka telling the traditional Cherokee story “Little Deer and Mother Earth” from the Storytelling Sampler in the Drama Arts Toolkit. Program 7 of the KET series Telling Tales also includes contextual background and discussion.

Classroom Follow-Up
Back in the classroom, follow-up activities can include adapting traditional stories, myths, and legends from African culture into plays. This project reinforces the use of drama to enhance reading. Students can also write personal narratives of what the Trail of Tears experience might have been like, based on the information they learned at the park.

Expanding the Idea
Many field trip locations can be used as backdrops for dramatizations of the stories of the people who once lived there and the context of the venue. Re-creating a Native American-specific field trip would mean finding another location rich in the history of a particular tribe or family. Many other historic homes and sites also have stories to tell about our Commonwealth that can enrich classroom work and come alive through the use of drama, dance, and the other arts.

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Sample Field Trip Outline

The field trip day might include these activities:

  • A brief tour of the museum. Please note that the docents are very enthusiastic and tend to go over their allotted time.
  • Gathering by the graves for a ceremonial dance/walk.
  • Lunch in the picnic area.
  • A reflective writing piece. These papers can then be gathered up and placed on one of the barbecues and burned, so that the students’ thoughts can be shared with the spirits of the Cherokee.
  • Small-group work to prepare for presentations of scenes begun in the classroom. Depending on how much time has been spent on these, students may bring costume pieces and small props to the park with them to enhance their presentations. Examples of stories that can be acted out include “Two Bad Boys,” “Why the Possum’s Tail Is Bare,” the tale of a brave woman’s sacrifice to save a child, and the legend of the Cherokee Rose.
  • Making a dreamcatcher. Students can work in small groups with a selection of inexpensive craft items (beads, colored string, feathers) and sticks of wood found at the site.

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K-12The Arts