EL differentiates between traditional 'field trips', in which students are often spectators, and 'fieldwork', in which students are active investigators, applying the research tools, techniques of inquiry, and standards of presentation used by professionals in the field.




Field trip

Research, immersion, answering guiding questions from the classroom and linking findings with the learning expedition.


Varies—could be to see something new, to get out of school, or to give the teacher a break.

Fieldwork is planned as an integral part the expedition.


Integration with curriculum

Some connection may be present, but intentional integration with the curriculum

Teachers embed fieldwork into teaching process, scaffolding before heading into the field, and connecting what the crew has learned in the classroom with what they will be going to study in the field. Debrief and integration of new learning are priorities upon return to their campus.

Teacher role

Teacher might ‘get the day off’ from teaching, giving responsibility for the teaching to the staff at another site

Teacher and expert co-teach in the field; the expert is a collaborating educator in the classroom and helps with assessment and going deep on studies.

Expert role

Host and lecturer for the day, or interpreter and teacher in best case scenario.

In-depth fieldwork occurs frequently, as often as twice a month, and walking-distance fieldwork occurs even more often. Students use the world as their learning environment on a regular basis.


Generally once or twice per semester, depending on the class and the teacher.

Protocols are developed by students and teachers for fieldwork to match classroom learning culture and academic rigor standards. Clipboards are in hand, guiding questions are developed, and vocabulary for the field of study is built—all before students head out the door.  Fieldwork is simply another step of ongoing deep inquiry. Students take into the field with them tools they have already developed, and will continue to use well beyond the fieldwork experience.

Structure and Expectations

The structure may be strict or loose, depending very much on the host of the fieldtrip and the teacher.

Students and teachers often return to fieldwork sites for go deeper with their inquiry, and experts often return to follow up with the crew back at school.

Follow up

Field trips are often a “one-and-done” proposition.


Learning from expertsLearning from experts

Expeditionary Learning students learn from fieldwork, experts, and service in addition to learning from text. They use the natural and social environments of their communities as sites for purposeful fieldwork and service connected to academic work, and they use professional experts and citizens with firsthand knowledge of events and issues to ensure accuracy, integrity, and quality in their work.

In addition to having students conduct research outside the school, teachers bring experts from the community into the classroom who collaborate with students on projects, teach them skills from their field, and critique their work using professional standards. Service learning in EL schools goes beyond charitable acts, such as cleaning up a city park, and extends also to rigorous academic products that provide a service for the community, such as conducting energy audits of city buildings to help a city save money and reduce its carbon footprint. Older students may participate in internships and apprenticeships.

EL definition: Experts – People skilled in a particular field of study. Teachers utilize experts to support authentic research, critique student work, model, and provide guidance in expedition development. The EL approach encourages the regular use of experts in the classroom and in the field, not just as “presenters” but as active partners in enriching the quality of student thinking and work.

Fieldwork, collaboration with experts, and service learning are integral parts of learning expeditions, but they can also be used as stand- alone structures outside of full learning expeditions. Read more about fieldwork in EL

Send Appeal Letter

donate icon

Help us grow. We are dreaming big! Send out our donation letter

Donate via Check

Make checks payable to SELS and send to:
Sierra Expeditionary Learning School
PO Box 2179
Truckee, CA 96160

Donate Online


Setup a monthly recurring contribution for 12 months.

Monthly Options

NOTE: PayPal charges 2.2% of the donation as a transaction fee. If you'd like all your donation to go to SELS, please send us a check.

SELS is a 501c(3) non-profit corporation, Truckee Charter School Foundation, dba Sierra Expeditionary Learning School. Federal Tax ID: 27-1627347.

For Parents



11603 Donner Pass Road
Truckee, CA 96161
Portable buildings M3-M7

Phone: (530) 448-8115
Fax: (530) 448-8223
Find us on a map


On top of all the teaching and learning, I'm struck by the joy in the faces of all the children as they go about their quest for knowledge. Thanks to all the courageous and energetic people who had the vision to make this school a reality. With all the challenges the world faces today and predictions of disaster, these committed teachers/staff, these engaged families, and these beautiful children are a beacon of hope.

SELS embodies everything that I feel is important in my child's education and I am so grateful that she has the opportunity to learn in such an enriching environment. Teaching our children how to think and how to treat others is critical to their future success. I am thankful every single day for all the wonderful staff at SELS.

What an amazing place. It has been everything for my son that I had hoped he could experience in school. Great teacher, stimulating learning environment, and a deeply caring and nurturing place.

I am grateful that my child is encouraged to interpret concepts and think about how they apply to his life, not just memorize and repeat material. I love that SELS asks kids to think about who they are and how they contribute to the community, locally and globally.

I greatly appreciate that SELS is a heart-centered school that teaches ethics and values along with academics. That approach makes SELS a unique and special place.

I appreciate all the teachers and staff and their responsiveness. I also appreciate all the work the staff are doing to help the kids figure out how to fill each other's buckets!

Our son is bubbling over with excitement for learning. This environment is gifting him with life long skills to succeed. We are so thankful for this school.

All the Adults and students challenge each other the THINK!

SELS is amazing in the way they teach topics hands on and allow the children to learn in practical settings. We couldn't be happier seeing our son flourish so much! Thank you.

I am very grateful to the SELS staff for offering my 5th grader their hearts, as well as their knowledge. Better yet, they make learning fun and adventurous! My youngster is THRIVING at your wonderful school!!

We are thankful for many wonderful ideals and principles at SELS, but what really brings those into reality is the caring, hard-working teachers and staff. We wouldn't have thought that someone else would care as much about the whole education of our daughter as much as we do, but there is a whole team of such people at SELS.

I am so thankful that my 5th grade daughter is a member and student of this beautiful community and school. She is receiving a fantastic education with hands on learning, caring, understanding, creative, out of the box thinking and intuitive teachers. She feels included, important, confident and is growing tons in her knowledge and place in this wonderful community. Thank you SELS for being an amazing part of my daughter's education and Life!

I truly appreciate all the staff, students, parents and families at SELS. It is these people that make SELS so wonderful.
This has become a new 'family" for us!

I am so grateful for the amazing staff; they are the most amazing guides. It is an inspiration to watch them help our children learn and grow into thoughtful, independent, productive human beings!
Scroll to Top