Place based, experiential learning field trip: a success for Graduate School of Education

Pre-service teachers on bikes.


Release date: October 22, 2018

It's early afternoon on Friday, October 12, and I sit with two Graduate School of Education Professors, Noemi Waight and Sarah Robert, as they excitedly describe their trip from one week ago today. The passion and dedication the two professors possess, and share, makes for a lively discussion and a compelling argument for taking learning further than the classroom, literally and figuratively.

Professor Waight and Robert work in the Department of Learning and Instruction within the Graduate School of Education, focusing on preparing and supporting teachers for public schools. This semester, the pair decided to take an integrated field trip (or an experiential learning trip) with their masters and doctoral students (LAI 520 and LAI 533) to Unity Island in Buffalo. 

The difference between this field trip and others? Waight and Robert took their pre-service teachers (terms used for students in Grad School of Ed.) to Unity Island on bikes! Not only did students travel to the trip destination in a non-traditional (and sustainable, I might add!) way, the professors created a multi-disciplinary learning experience out of the bike trip. Waight and Robert explain that designing their field trip in this way allowed for a richer experience that fostered community, place-based learning and appreciation amongst their students.

A critical operational issue when planning the trip was access to bikes and bike helmets. Luckily, many students had bikes, could borrow bikes, or utilized Buffalo’s Reddy Bike bikeshare program. Additionally, with the help of Tom Johnson from the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, Waight and Robert were able to make sure each student had a helmet for this trip and hopefully more to come!

Once equipped, the classes were ready to go and began their journey at Jersey and Porter Street near Grover Cleveland High School and the International Preparatory School. As the group made their way towards Unity Island, Professors Waight and Robert stressed the importance of place-based local context learning for their students, such as stopping by The Buffalo History Museum to understand the neighborhoods in which they were biking and the rich social and scientific history associated with those neighborhoods.

Professor Robert mentioned that many new teachers do not live or are unfamiliar with the community in which they are teaching, distancing themselves and their knowledge from their students. Teaching their pre-service teachers to explore local communities and understanding the inherent knowledge those places can provide, Waight and Robert hope to enrich the experiences of future students taught by UB pre-service teachers.

Place-based context learning was also very apparent to students once they reached their destination and were able to study the natural environment that was right in front of them. Waight believes that teachers who are more environmentally aware are more likely to engage their students in this type of science, and physically putting students in these spaces increases appreciation for both the learning material and their local places and spaces.

Not only do Waight and Robert feel strongly about place-based learning for a comprehensive and successful learning environment, Professor Waight and Professor Robert feel strongly about an objective that goes even further than a better understanding of learning material. The two professors talk of educational theories like “science for understanding,” “teaching for tolerance,” and “facing history, facing ourselves.”

In short, these theories encourage the teaching of empathy, new perspectives, and the ability to empathetically interact with those new perspectives. Just as sustainability extends past the natural environment, encompassing social, political and economic sustainability, Waight and Robert strive to extend their respective subjects (science and social studies) past simply learning facts to encompass interdisciplinary learning of life skills.

Professor Waight and Professor Robert hope to make this interdisciplinary, experiential learning trip a regular part of Graduate School. The pair has received interest from other faculty after completing the successful trip, encouraging the potential of making their idea a permanent tool.

As well as expanding experiential learning throughout the Graduate School of Education, Waight and Robert hope to bring these experiences to undergrads as part of the new UBTeach program, offering a five year undergrad and graduate program to future teachers. What’s one better? If the pair can create an entire outdoor experiential learning course to add to their curriculum.

The combination of social studies and natural science knowledge derived from the bike trip was nothing more than what the city of Buffalo already had to offer. This reality plus the forward thinking and passion from Waight and Robert, led to a new kind of field trip that current pre-service teachers will bring to their future students, in hopes of creating a more knowledgeable, understanding, and interconnected society.

field trip.
global goals.

Sustainable Development Goals:

4. Quality education: Promoting inclusive, quality education

11. Sustainable cities & communities: Developing safe, resilient and sustainable places to live