Thursday, April 22, 2010

The End of Student Field Trips?

With school budgets getting tighter and learning standards more stringent, many museums these days are creating traveling educational programs, online curricula, or even videoconferencing to reach schools that are no longer scheduling expensive field trips.

This isn't exactly new, but the New York Times published a nice update on the trend on Wednesday, with some eye-opening numbers from the assortment of institutions surveyed.

At the Museum of Science in Boston, school visits have dropped about 30% since 2007. At the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, school visits have dropped more than 40% since 2007.

The big question left unanswered in the article: what do museum experts think this trend will mean long-term?

How do these drops in school groups compare to museums' overall attendance trends during this economic downturn? Is there any evidence that in-school programs create enough excitement for families to visit the museums at a later time? And, most importantly, does it matter to the long-term viability of these institutions if kids stop visiting in person?

I recently had an opportunity to get a glimpse of one local institution's new "traveling trunk," which holds all the goodies that an educator will use to present the museum's program in the school or classroom.

It looked amazing.

I don't have a handle on how widespread this trend is in the Philly region, but Bartram's Garden, for one, received grant funding in 2009-2010 to develop traveling trunks on colonial history and natural science for several local schools.

For inspiration on what your own institution might be able to present, check out the Chester County Historical Society's list of traveling trunk programs, focusing on Lenape children, the American Revolution, the Underground Railroad, and more.

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