School groups make up a large proportion of the visitors to science learning institutions. Several studies have pointed to possible long-term impacts of field trips—typically, memories of specific experiences (Anderson and Piscitelli, 2002; Falk and Dierking, 1997). In fact, all of the elementary and middle school students and adults interviewed by Falk and Dierking (1997), in a study of students who visited a museum on a field trip, were able to recall at least one thing they had learned on a field trip. The nature and more immediate impact of schoolchildren’s visits vary widely, however (Kisiel, 2006; Orion and Hofstein, 1994; Price and Hein, 1991; Storksdieck, 2006). Although results are mixed regarding the impact of field trips to informal institutions on children’s attitudes, interest, and knowledge of science, the majority of studies that have measured knowledge and attitudes have found positive changes (Koran, Koran, and Ellis, 1989). Most of the work on interpreted visits to museums looks at the structure of field trips and how their effectiveness can be improved.
In general, the impact of field trips made to such institutions as museums, zoos, and nature centers is dependent on several critical factors: advance content preparation (Anderson, Kisiel, and Storksdieck, 2006; Falk and Balling, 1982; Griffin and Symington, 1997; Kubota and Olstad, 1991), active participation in activities (Griffin, 1994; Griffin and Symington, 1997; Price and Hein, 1991), teacher involvement (Griffin, 1994; Price and Hein, 1991), and follow-up activities (Anderson, Lucas, Ginns, and Dierking, 2000; Griffin, 1994; Koran, Lehman, Shafer, and Koran, 1983).
Advance field trip preparation activities give students the framework for how to interpret what they will see and guide what they should pay attention to during the visit. Students who receive appropriate advance preparation from their teachers, in such forms as previsit activities and orientation, have been noted, via observational studies and pre-post survey-based studies, to concentrate and learn more from their visits (Griffin, 1994; Griffin and Symington, 1997; Anderson, Lucas, Ginns, and Dierking, 2000; Orion and Hofstein, 1994).
Advance preparation is most effective when it reduces the cognitive, psychological, and geographical novelty of the field trip experience (Kubota