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Learning on the Line: How Field Trips Enrich Classroom Teaching

By Katie Henry | April 19, 2016

Since 2009, Friends of the High Line has welcomed more than 21,000 students on field trips. Students come from all over the New York City area; some visit the park weekly, and others don’t even know there is a park above their heads when they first arrive. Field trips are key components of a well-rounded academic curriculum, according to researchers writing in Education Next: “Enriching field trips contribute to the development of students into civilized young men and women who possess more knowledge about art, have stronger critical-thinking skills, exhibit increased historical empathy, display higher levels of tolerance, and have a greater taste for consuming art and culture.”

PS 11 students learn about how 10th Avenue changed after the High Line was built.Photo by Rowa Lee

On the High Line, our educators are able to explore many different topics, from the civic actions of the community through time in “Rivers and Railways” to the important connection between native plants and animals in “Native New York,” as well as how people design public spaces in “Park in the Sky.” Common Core standards are explored through new skills: observation, making predictions, citing evidence, and articulating new ideas.

A student observes a historic photograph of a factory building along the High Line and looks for differences in the structure today. He makes a prediction as to why the building didn’t always have any windows: it was used as a large refrigerator!Photo by Rowa Lee

Here are some quotes from teachers about High Line field trips:

“By viewing what the city used to look like, the students understand how the city has evolved.”

“Most of my students had never been here before, and I think many will come back. I like how the High Line expands my kids’ ideas of where and what a park can be.”

“Students loved visiting the High Line and exploring plants here. I think they’ll want to return on their own … They were learning firsthand, and through photos were able to understand otherwise abstract ideas.”

“The trip was well planned, and there was movement and artifacts. It was engaging and relevant, and students were treated as historians.”

“They learned about the history of the High Line and connected their ‘book’ knowledge to real plants.”

“Now my students understand the significance of the High Line instead of seeing it as an ‘adult park.'”

While the field trips teach the importance of content and skill-building rooted in Common Core and New York State Standards, the social and emotional benefits of learning outside the classroom are just as important. The informal learning environment lends itself to students taking on new challenges and opening up more. Group learning, hands-on activities, and sensitive educators who engage every child can all plant the seed for a student’s new interest and motivation to learn. As one teacher shared, “The tour let them feel, see, and experience the content. The tour guide did a great job making sure everyone was engaged and involved.”

Second graders at PS 33 also had thoughts on the benefits of their field trips to the High Line:

“Did you know the Hudson River is next to the High Line? I saw a cruise ship floating on the river with lots of people on it. I think people were coming to explore our city!”- Emil

“I would love to jump back in time so I could help Josh and Robert [Friends of the High Line co-founders] make the sky park because I love to help people in my neighborhood, too.” -Janiyah

“I discovered about jobs in my Chelsea Community long ago. Ms. Katie [educator] gave us a hook, a real big hook to observe. The hooks hung up the cows and then the butchers cut them up and sell the meat to the stores.” -Aaliyah

A High Line educator guides a student as she learns about the High Line’s native plant bed.Photo by Beverly Israely

This student played the role of the American Goldfinch to discover how native plants and animals are connected through the food chain.Photo by Beverly Israely

Register your field trip on the High Line this spring!

Each month, Friends of the High Line invites local teachers and thinkers to write about how they incorporate the High Line into their curriculum. This month we will share quotes from teachers who have attended field trips and explore the importance of expanding learning outside the classroom.

Major Support for High Line Education comes from Deutsche Bank. Additional Funding comes from The Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston. This program is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council—with special thanks to Council Member Corey Johnson, Council Member Mark Levine, and the Manhattan Delegation of the City Council.