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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding young children's agendas, experiences, and learning from a field trip to a zoo Lawson, Bethan


School field trips to informal education venues (such as museums, zoos, aquariums, science centres, and art galleries) can be enjoyable, memorable, learning experiences for children. Children have unique personal histories of experiences, interests, and knowledge that they can bring to field trips to informal education venues. This study examined the agendas (desires, hopes, and expectations) of young children for a school field trip, and the impact of these agendas on the children's experiences and learning on the trip. A qualitative, case study approach was used to examine in-depth a field trip taken by children in a grade 1 and 2 (combined) class to a zoo. The study sought to highlight the voices of the children in the study, and to understand the field trip experience from their perspectives. The study generated a descriptive and interpretive account of the children's meanings and experiences of the field trip. The study was exploratory and generated emergent understandings regarding the children's field trip agendas, experiences, and learning. Each child had a unique, multifacted agenda for the field trip that they created prior to the trip. The children's pre-visit agendas included exhibit-based, activity-based, social, and affective elements. The children's previsit agendas appeared to be shaped prior to the visit by six factors: previous visits to zoos, previous indirect experiences with animals, desires to see animals they had never seen before, personal interests, prior knowledge, and school-related activities. An analysis of the field trip experiences of a subgroup of children revealed that these children appeared to construct exhibit-based and social agendas during the field trip, and these agendas were shaped by factors at the zoo. The children's agendas were found to impact on their field trip experiences and learning in numerous ways. Rewarding experiences of learning, enjoyment, and/or engagement were found to come from many children's experiences seeing animals that were part of their pre-visit agendas for the field trip. Many children conveyed that they had missed out on elements of their agendas during the field trip. Implications and recommendations for practice and future research are discussed.

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