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 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

A K – 8th public charter school in Truckee, CA