When school budgets are tight, the first item to be cut are field trips, in the belief that they are frills. But several studies have shown that students who go on field trips to museums perform better on standardized tests than those whose schools do not do so (“Going to Museums May Be Good for Your Health,” The New York Times, Jan. 1).
The question is why this correlation exists. One explanation is that such field trips engage students in ways that few classrooms can. Studies have found that students retain a great deal of factual information from these tours. Perhaps viewing art enhances their ability to remember details in other subjects as well. For example, teachers often ask their students to write short essays in which they express what they think is going on in a particular painting and then ask them to explain why.
Critical thinking depends in part on the ability of students to observe a given subject carefully and use their observations as the basis for developing a thesis. I know nothing about art, but even I notice that I become more focused when I visit the Getty Museum, where great works of art are exhibited.
Of course, the greater the connection between what is observed in a museum and what is being taught, the greater the likelihood of transfer. If I were teaching history, for example, I would make the Smithsonian the destination for my students rather than the Getty, even though both museums are world-class.
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