Getting the most out of field trips for home learners

Holding a tree frog in your hand, walking and talking with a hydrology expert about filtering dirty water through a series of ponds, picking pumpkins, watching Scrooge learn about the spirit of Christmas on the stage in front of you, binding your own book with a needle and thread, touching and playing with masks and instruments made of wood to learn how forests are used and protected around the world, or getting the Speaker of the House to welcome you in front of the whole state House of Representatives at the Capitol building? This is “school”? Well, yes, of course – it’s all par for the course for our home learners!

One of the amazing things about home learning is that families are much more able to arrange their schedules to involve educational visits and field trips to different locations. This is so empowering for families, and these excursions make a big difference in children’s educations. At DCS, we try to organize field trips or family workshops about twice a month on different days of the week, covering a wide range of subjects and concepts, and including different age groups. So far this year, we have had trips covering topics like agriculture, local history, performing arts, forestry (industry, biology, economy, sustainability), science, and civics. Before the end of the year, we’ll have trips and workshops covering genealogy, geology, gardening, engineering and world history. This is very satisfying information for those of us helping to guide our students’ learning, but for the kids, it’s all about higher levels of engagement. These trips and workshops are all about exposing them to interesting ideas, situations, and experiences, and what they are able to pick up to stimulate their curiosity for future learning and reinforce previous learning.

Research shows that exposure to enrichment experiences makes a huge difference in children’s engagement in learning, achievements, social success, self-esteem and future careers. This article shows that more exposure to innovation makes it more likely for people to become inventors. One study found that students who attended field trips to cultural institutions “demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of tolerance, had more historical empathy and developed a taste for being a cultural consumer in the future.” Another study “found that, regardless of gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, youth who take educational trips have better grades (59 percent), higher graduation rates from high school (95 percent) and college (63 percent), and greater income (12 percent higher annually). In fact, 89 percent said educational trips had a positive, lasting impact on their education and career because the trips made them more engaged, intellectually curious and interested in and out of school.”

These are all good reasons to make sure that you take advantage of the many field trip opportunities offered through DCS (and arrange your own experiential learning visits with your family)! But how do you get the most learning out of the experiences? How do you make sure that your child(ren) are making connections, gaining insight, reinforcing knowledge, and then taking advantage of the curiosity the trip inspires to continue the learning afterwards?

Try some (or all) of these ideas to make the most of your field trips, and let us know if you have any ideas to add!

  1. Research the trip ahead of time. Get books about the topic from the library. Go online and look up the website of the place you will be visiting. Make a list of questions that you might find the answers to on the trip. Think about experiences you have had or projects you have done in the past that connect with this trip. Make a list of possible vocabulary words that might be used during the trip. Discuss concepts that will be covered during the trip. Prime the learning pump.
  2. Get help from your students in planning for the trip. Talk about departure, travel, and arrival times (estimating, measuring distances, time management). Discuss a budget and make a list of items that you will need to pack and bring. When appropriate, give students a sketchbook and pencil(s) to draw, sketch, or take notes and write questions during the visit.
  3. During the trip, it’s all about the engagement, the inspiration, the exposure to ideas and information, and the curiosity. Make sure kids are engaging with the tour, experience, or exhibit – when appropriate, ask them questions, give them tasks (like sketching in a notebook or doing a scavenger hunt), help them make connections with bigger questions and concepts. (Learn about concept-based teaching and learning here.) Take plenty of photos and maybe a few video clips so that kids can make a digital slideshow, video or presentation about the trip later. Every trip is as interesting and educational as you make it!
  4. After the trip, have your child review or evaluate the trip. Have them make some notes about what was great, how they could have been more engaged or behaved differently, and what they would like to see improved.

Here are more ideas to continue to extend learning after a field trip from Have fun! 

  • Have students share observations and reactions to field trip experiences.
  • Share notes or assignments students completed while on the field trip.
  • Create a display of materials developed or collected while on the field trip.
  • Develop a home museum that replicates and extends displays students observed on the field trip. For example, if the field trip involved an art museum, develop a classroom art museum containing student artwork.
  • Link field trip activities to multiple curricular areas. For example, students can develop vocabulary lists based on field trip observations; record field trip observations in a classroom journal; complete math problems related to actual field trip budget planning; etc.
  • Have students compose and send thank-you letters to the field trip site host, chaperones, school administrators and other persons that supported the field trip. Include favorite objects or special information learned during the field trip.
  • Create a short news report about what happened on the field trip. Publicize the trip via an article in your local newspaper, video or article on the school website, or trip presentation for parent’s night.


Online Enrollment for Enrichment Classes now open until Sept. 11

Dear DCS Parents,

Online enrollment for DCS Enrichment Classes is now open until 4:00 pm on Monday, September 11. Please read the below information and instructions carefully before logging in to Course Storm, the online enrollment system.

We have approved every student for their top three choices of Enrichment Classes (except for a few on the waiting list for Yoga, K-3 on Mondays). There was some confusion about student’s top three choices and what they would be enrolled in and we apologize for that confusion. Several of the Guides informed me that most parents where hoping their student’s would be enrolled in their top three choices, so where it was possible, that is what we did. We also gave priority to the Maple and Cedar Track families, with input from the Guides.

You should have received a confirmation email from Dallas Community School with confirmation of each class in which you have been enrolled. There may have been one or two mistakes or omissions, and if you did NOT want your child to be enrolled in all three classes, you will have to email me directly to let me know which classes to cancel at Unfortunately, because of the way Course Storm is set up, they do not allow students to cancel their own classes in the system.

Now that we have entered every student into their top three Enrichment Class choices, we will be opening up online enrollment for the remaining spots in all classes. Although most registrations at this point will be first-come, first-served, the actual FINAL confirmation of students enrolled in all classes is subject to the approval of the Guides. You should receive a second confirmation email on Monday or Tuesday of next week (Sept. 11 or 12) with the FINAL confirmation of your class choices, once all the changes, cancellations, additions and waiting list adjustments have shaken out. During this weekend, people can enroll and unenroll, change their minds, and correct mistakes in enrollment (those will probably be mine!) so don’t hesitate to sign up even if a class appears to be full – there may be changes that allow students on the waiting list to get into a class at the last minute!

Payment: All materials fees will be deducted from families’ Allotment Funds (as approved by your Guide). If you got a registration confirmation email saying “this registration is pending receipt of check payment sent to Dallas Community School”, you can happily ignore it – we will take care of the payment directly UNLESS you prefer to pay by check or another way other than allotment funds, in which case, please let Andrea Wilcoxon know! If you will be doing more online enrollments in Enrichment Classes, please note: When the online payment information comes up, DO NOT ENTER YOUR CREDIT CARD INFORMATION. Select “Pay By Check” and then “Submit Registration”. You will not have to pay by check but this allows us to enter the payment in our own system more easily!

For full instructions and links to the system, please see our Online Enrollment document. PLEASE NOTE: If your phone number isn’t in the system for some reason, try entering 10 zeros (0000000000) which was the default number in the system. 

We hope that your online enrollment goes smoothly, and thank you in advance for your understanding with the complexities of this enrollment process! These online course enrollment systems are generally made for parents to enroll students in classes themselves on a first-come, first-served basis, and not for staff to enroll many students in many classes themselves, as we have done, as we are trying to make it as fair and as smooth as possible for everyone based on the Track System, and the unique needs and processes we have at DCS!

I will be available this weekend and on Monday for help enrolling in Enrichment Classes as needed, so don’t hesitate to email or call me (contact information below). By the end of the day on Monday, Sept. 11, we hope to have the class lists mostly finalized. If there are classes with spots still available, we will send out reminder notices to encourage full enrollment and participation.

Thanks again, and happy enrolling!

Monica McQueen, Communications and Enrichment Coordinator

Dallas Community School

Cell: (971) 301-4124

Work (at DCS): (503) 420-4360


Enrichment Class Schedule and Enrollment Information

Dear DCS Families,

Well, it’s finally ready – the Fall, 2017 Enrichment Class Schedule is here!  We have some very interesting offerings this term – many of which are continuing from last school year, plus several new ones. We hope that there is something for everyone in the mix! We tried to achieve a balance of classes with some PE, science, technology, math, language arts, visual arts and performing arts options for varying age groups. Believe me, figuring out the availability of instructors on certain days and times, combined with the age limits, space, and budget constraints and trying to have a well-balanced offering of classes on different topics is a lot like one of those logic puzzles we all did as kids: “Johnny has a hamster and likes chocolate cake. Susie lives in Seattle and has a green car. Who was born in August?” It was very tricky! But thanks to Miranda’s foresight and help back in May and June, the input and suggestions from staff and parents, the new space we were able to rent, and a lot of excellent new enrichment educators (and their flexibility), we think we have a pretty good selection of enrichment classes for our students this year.

We tried hard to get at least one enrichment class for each grade level during each afternoon time slot. Because we are also renting the extra building in downtown Dallas for this school year (located at 140 SW Clay St, Dallas, OR), we were also able to offer a third class during many of the time slots (some “off campus” at the other building, as we don’t have space for a third class in our current DCS building). That building is a short, eight-block walk, ride or drive away through a quiet, residential neighborhood. As per our Parent Handbook, parents are responsible for transporting children (or allowing them to walk, bike or carpool) to other enrichment class locations, even our North Campus Building.

Walking from DCS to North Campus Building

Enrichment Class Enrollment: Because of our space and staffing limits, we are unable to accommodate every student who wants to take every enrichment class. In order to make it more fair, we ask that each family communicate the top three enrichment class choices of each of their children to their Guide by the end of the day on Friday, September 1. Guides will be starting back to school and contacting their families this week (Aug. 28-Sept. 1). By September 6, we will have made sure that each student gets a spot in at least one of their top three enrichment classes and inform parents of the confirmed registrations. On Thursday, September 7, we will open up enrollment for all remaining spots in the enrichment classes for online enrollment via Course Storm. At that time, families can technically enroll a student in as many Enrichment Classes as they want as long as spots are still available. On September 8, we will send out a reminder email to let families know which classes still have spots available, to encourage full enrollment in every enrichment class. By September 11, Enrichment Class lists will be closed and finalized, and registration confirmation will be sent out to families and instructors. Enrichment classes will begin two weeks later, the week of September 25. See our Enrichment Class FAQs page for more detailed answers to some other frequently asked questions about Enrichment Classes.

We spent quite a bit of time this summer analyzing the results and feedback from the latest DCS Parent Survey from the end of last school year. One trend was that parents (and students) wanted more appropriately divided age groupings for certain classes, so that younger students did not feel overshadowed by older students, while older students could delve more deeply into some topics without the instructor feeling like they were going too fast for the younger students. In other words, parents want a depth of subject exploration appropriate to students’ level of understanding and ability. To this end, we still have a good mix of ages in our class offerings, with a few K-8 or 1-8 classes on offer, but we also have a lot more classes for younger OR older age groups.

Flexibility was another key word from the last parent survey. DCS parents consistently said that one of the best things about DCS was our flexibility. And in fact, it’s even in our mission statement: “Dallas Community School is an inclusive public charter school supporting collaborative, standards-based education in a flexible, non-traditional environment.” And we ARE flexible – for example, the age / grade guidelines for each enrichment class are still flexible. If you have a precocious second grade student who would love to learn about Ancient Egypt (listed as being for grades 3-6) or a 4th grader who would like to be with a younger sibling in a class listed for grades 1-3, you can let us know of this preference. However, we leave the ultimate decision (and criteria for deciding) up to the enrichment educators themselves, who know the class materials and teaching styles better than we do.

Please keep in mind the other parts of the DCS mission statement relating to our enrichment program: Non-traditional, collaborative, standards based, and inclusive. “Non-traditional” in that we do not offer full-day classes like traditional public schools and are able to offer a wider range of innovative and interesting enrichment classes and opportunities to spark students’ interest and curiosity. “Collaborative” in that we work together with various educators including homeschooling parents, of course, to make connections between many different aspects of students’ learning experiences, at home, in morning core classes, in enrichment classes at DCS, on field trips, and in other learning experiences in the wider community. We don’t expect (nor would we be able to accommodate) children to enroll in an enrichment class every period and stay in our school all day as they would in a traditional public school, but we do expect (and hope) to collaborate with you (parents), and with each other (community educators and DCS staff) to provide the best possible learning experiences for your children. In keeping with our strength in flexibility, please let us know if you have any special challenges or need special considerations in scheduling your children’s afternoon enrichment classes and we will try our best to help.

This year, in our theme of collaboration and community, every enrichment educator enthusiastically accepted our suggestion to include parents more in the enrichment classes with their own child(ren) as learners / participants (and a little bit as helpers…). This is exceptional because many schools do NOT encourage regular parental involvement.  Teachers or administrators might cite examples of parents chatting or being disruptive in a class, taking discipline into their own hands despite the presence of the instructor, or being “too engaged” with their own child, to the detriment of the rest of the class. However, there is a lot of research showing that the involvement of parents in their own children’s education has a huge influence in the children’s achievement. As homeschooling families, you already know all about this, and we do too. Which is why we are so excited about being able to encourage parents to attend enrichment classes on a regular or semi-regular basis. Please see the Enrichment FAQ page of our website for more information about parents attending and helping in our Enrichment Classes.

Finally, we appreciate your input and feedback, both from the official parent survey(s) and polls and from your in-person and email communications. We appreciate hearing what students and parents think of the classes, instructors, materials and facilities. We try very hard to take it all into account as much as possible (again, within our budget, personnel, space, and time constraints). However, when you have questions, feedback or issues with the school, please contact us directly by phone or email at school and not through social media (like the DCS Facebook page). You are guaranteed a more prompt and productive response, and we would prefer to have respectful, honest, direct, and accurate exchanges of information than indirect and possibly accidentally inaccurate or misleading information exchanged on Facebook.

And, without further ado, here is the list of enrichment classes for you to peruse for Fall term, 2017. We think it’s a great selection this term, and we thank you all for your understanding of the challenges in offering enrichment classes to such a wide range of ages, abilities, and educational backgrounds. Please have your child(re)’s top three enrichment class choices ready to communicate to your Guide when you speak with her this week (before the end of the day on September 1)! Meanwhile, don’t hesitate to let us know if you have suggestions and preferences for future enrichment class offerings, or if you know other community educators who would like to teach enrichment classes at DCS. We look forward to making our flexible, non-traditional and collaborative educational environment as rich as possible for all of our families!

Monica McQueen, Communications and Enrichment Coordinator
Dallas Community School
(503) 420-4360