Social Education 57(2), 1993, pp. 94
1993 National Council for the Social Studies

The Field Trip As a Positive Experience for the Learning Disabled

Charles C. Cox III
Senior Lecturer
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts
In self-contained classrooms and resource rooms teachers can provide personalized instruction and assistance that can be monitored, assessed, and adjusted according to the needs of learning disabled students. When it comes to experiences outside the classroom, however, it is more difficult to define methods for constructing such experiences and ways of measuring and assessing students' performance. What kinds of field trips will prove effective? What components should we build into the trip that will directly aid the students? From a social studies perspective, what learning will the field trip enhance? What kinds of pretrip activities should take place, and what posttrip assessments will help us evaluate the efficacy of the trip?
This article will examine these questions within the context of a small Providence, Rhode Island, business that area schools visit on field trips. Over the past twelve years, teachers in the area have learned that with careful thought and preparation, a field trip to Big Alice's ice cream parlor can be a valuable contribution to traditional classroom work.

Big Alice's was founded in 1979, and since that time has presented dozens of ice cream-making demonstrations to school groups throughout the Providence metropolitan area. These demonstrations are frequently offered in conjunction with student group tours through the historic district of the city, many of whose buildings date from the eighteenth century and line the streets surrounding Big Alice's. These student group tours often include a visit to Brown University, many of whose buildings also date from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The ice cream-making demonstrations coupled with the building tours and the historical information presented by experienced guides provide a rich and memorable experience to students who otherwise would be limited to classroom instruction. Big Alice's has even begun recently to produce an integrated program appropriate to groups of learning disabled students that involves teaching skills beyond watching a simple demonstration of ice cream making.

The Students
Most of the students who make field trips to Big Alice's are in grades 3 through 6. An hour-long demonstration is about right for the students' attention span. Approximately one-third of that time can be spent on information delivery, one-third on observation and drawing exercises, and one-third on sampling the ice cream. For the learning disabled students, careful monitoring of their attention levels should govern the amount of time spent at each stage.

The learning objectives of the demonstration should be limited to six or seven major points related to health, hygiene, diet, and the history of ice cream making. You should be able to expose students to new knowledge and then observe them applying it in the process of ice cream making. This year, for the first time, we tried using a pretrip program which consisted of introducing major points that would be expanded and developed on the field trip. One of the ice cream makers visited the school, made a short presentation (about twenty minutes), and prepared students for what they would later see and experience at the ice cream parlor.

The Pretrip Presentation
The pretrip presentation introduces students to basic information about foods and food groups, particularly ice cream. To reinforce the material presented, we ask students questions at the end of the presentation. During the field trip, we ask the same kinds of questions again to determine the influence the pretrip presentation made.

Part One
We begin the field trip with a presentation on the four food groups and where ice cream fits into these groups. Both in the pretrip presentation and in that given on their arrival at Big Alice's, we stress knowledge of and familiarity with the food groups and good eating habits. Whenever possible, we combine verbal explanation with other perceptual activities: feeling, seeing, and, on this trip the most important of all, tasting. They have heard about the food groups in the classroom and on the field trip; now they can observe how these groups are related in the ice cream-making process and, at the end of the program, they have ice cream to eat.

We provide specific definitions for some elements of the food groups if the description will likely capture or enhance the students' imagination. For example, we explain that the pineapple is actually the mature stage of flower formation in that plant and that the peanut actually belongs to the vegetable family. These explanations, although outside the bounds of traditional classroom instruction, help to create varied and interesting perceptions by students on ordinary grocery items.

To assess students' short-term memory retention of these various pieces of information, we question them repeatedly during the course of the presentation. Past experience shows that both in the classroom setting preparing for the field trip and on the trip itself, students repeat correct answers to oral questions and demonstrate comprehension of the concepts covered. How much of this information they will retain over a longer period of time is another matter-one that we shall explore later.

Part Two
The second part of the presentation involves issues of cost and caloric values of foods. Big Alice's ice cream is calorically an expensive food. We point out to the students, however, that this is not necessarily a bad thing. It simply means that within a balanced diet, we need to offset its consumption with a proportional reduction in calories from other foods. Intelligence, we stress, should govern how we eat and what we eat. In addition to a brief explanation of calories, we discuss cholesterol, sugar content, and the importance of eating a balanced diet. Because weight control is a problem for some students, and because of the media's focus on the idea of diet, our students already have a general understanding of this topic.

Part Three
Next, we discuss the history of ice cream-its European origins and how it came to the United States. At this point, the ice cream demonstration and social studies learning goals complement each other. We refer to ancient Rome-its location and historical time frame. We use a map to show Italy's location and its relationship to the United States. We observe that George Washington and Dolly Madison were early ice cream fans and that the first ice cream company opened in Baltimore in the 1840s. Then we mention some early ice cream makers in Rhode Island. Depending on the students' age, learning capabilities, and attention span, you can pursue some or all of these topics.

For the learning disabled, we have found it necessary to provide more than a simple recitation of names. To say, for example, that Italy is a country in Europe is not enough. We begin instead with the location of the store in Providence, Rhode Island's location in relation to the rest of the country, the location of the United States, and the relative locations of the various continents. We bring along a basketball-sized globe for the children to toss around, to get a sense of the earth's shape and the arrangement of the continents.

This exercise can provide for the students the first steps of investigation into a sense of space and time. Exploring these topics in this way, in so unthreatening an environment, extends the students' awareness and experience, and can enhance the learning process.

Concluding Activities
Beginning the actual ice cream demonstration, we delve into the topics of cleanliness in food preparation, our table manners and eating habits, and the importance of washing our hands. Finally, while the ice cream is being made the students draw colored pictures on large sheets of art paper-images or ideas they have seen or learned about during the field trip. The walls at Big Alice's are covered with these drawings, which provide a visual expression of the learning experience, an individual interpretation of how each student was affected by the discussion and observation.

Integration with Classroom Work
In the spring of 1991, we began providing students (two weeks after the field trip) with a "Do you remember..." activity-several simple questions covering the basic objectives of the trip and a drawing assignment. Questions include, for example, Do you remember the names of the five food groups? and, Do you remember the name of the continent where Italy is located? This survey suggests ways for us to modify the field trip to help facilitate achieving our learning objectives or to change our objectives.

Two classes, in which the respective teachers characterized the students as mildly to moderately learning disabled, have taken the written exercise; all the students answered some of the questions correctly, and one-third of the students answered all the questions correctly. For the drawing exercise, students most often drew the ice cream machine, dishes of ice cream, the bus, or a historic building they saw. We concluded that they remembered much of what they heard and observed on the field trip and that such information had become part of a knowledge base they could use for answering questions and drawing pictures.

One field trip by itself will provide only limited learning development. If what students see and experience on that trip can contribute to an already existing body of learned and experienced knowledge, however limited it may be, then it can be a valuable addition to the classroom experience. It can, that is, become another tool used to overcome learning disabilities and acquire learning skills.