Learning Beyond the Classroom

Idaho fifth graders have been heading out to Gowen Field for the ultimate STEM experience since 2018, when the Department of Defense unveiled the state’s STARBASE program. The popular field trip provides 25 hours of hands-on instruction and activities in science, technology, engineering, and math.

While the program is free to all students, a portion of the transportation cost to the Boise military base is provided through voter-approved levy funds.  The levy earmarks $485,000 for activities, including student field trips

For some of our highest at-risk students, field trips are their first opportunity to travel outside of Nampa. For all students, they provide a chance to stretch beyond the core standards.

“This is an opportunity for them to engage with the base personnel and be exposed to experiments in chemistry, robotics, engineering …” said Kenton Cornett, a new fifth-grade teacher at Central Elementary School. “The more depth there is to the experience, the more it seems to stick.”

Susanne Finney, who also teaches fifth grade at Central, said field trips also allow kids to take on a more responsible roll as a student outside the classroom as they follow rules and behave respectfully.

She also appreciates the fact that, while she likes science, she isn’t a scientist. Field trips like STARBASE allow kids to hear experts talking about their areas of interest. “They get exposed to engineering, physics, astrophysics – elements we don’t quite get to in class. And they’re being told they can do this one day.”

In fact, after Finney told one of her students after the STARBASE trip that he could be an astronaut one day, he decided to make that his goal. “He loved the experience,” she said.

But students get exposed to more than just STEM subjects. Field trips also include history, civics, and arts programming, such as the popular Boise Philharmonic performances for school children. For many Central students, this is the first time they’ll have been to a live concert or heard classical music.

Finney recalls a trip where her class was seated in the center of the auditorium, close to the stage. “They weren’t just experiencing it, but they were IN it. The kids were totally engaged with the music, watching everything. The director talked about sound, and how it reverberates off the walls, and they got to experience that.”

Cornett still recalls the impact of field trips when he was young – how the sights, smells and sounds stuck with him long past the actual trip. The smell of the printing press at the Seattle Times newspaper building, or the experience of seeing an old dial phone on a historic tour.

“Historically, I started connecting the dots,” he recalled. “I was able to put myself in other peoples’ shoes.”

Both teachers agree that experience trumps simply researching a subject in the classroom.

“If you Google something, you only see what you searched for,” Cornett said. “When you go outside the classroom, you see things you wouldn’t normally see.”

“Kids get tangibility more than pen and paper,” said Finney. “So give them more in-depth experiences. Give them novelty and opportunities to try things out that we might not have the tools to do in the classroom.”

For Cornett, field trips are ultimately a chance for kids to practice basic life skills, like how to interact with adults, not waste time, think of good questions to ask, and be prepared.

“It’s another way to practice life.”