For five years now I’ve been taking a busload of students from my high school (Analy in Sebastopol, Calif.) to Maker Faire in San Mateo each spring. We go on Saturday so students don’t miss any school. Over the years I’ve learned a few things about how to make the trip go smoothly, and thought I would share these lessons with you.
Approval: First things first, get the field trip approved properly by your administration. Our district requires several weeks’ notice for a field trip like this. Talk with your site administration to figure out what is required.
Buses: I recommend getting the school bus reserved months ahead of time. We go in a large yellow school bus that officially seats 56 people. I allocate space for 45 students and five staff chaperones (leaving six empty seats as a buffer). I talk with fellow teachers and line up chaperones months ahead of time. Sometimes a teacher wants to bring a friend or their kids, and that’s why my extra six seats are up front.
Funding: We fully fund the trip using a portion of our school’s GATE money (Gifted and Talented Education). This means all our expenses (primarily the bus and the entrance tickets) are fully covered by our school. There is no cost to our students.
Tickets: You can get discount tickets if you buy in advance for a large group. Go to Maker Faire’s ticket site to find details. Often school groups get an even better deal; check makerfaire.com/education.
Letter to Parents: I write a cover letter explaining that the trip is free, that sign-ups are first-come-first-served, that we meet at school at 7:30am, then go down on a bus, and that once at Maker Faire, the kids are on their own. (See editor’s note, below.) That’s right: we let the students explore Maker Faire completely on their own; I make sure they enter the fairgrounds with the group, but then we disperse. I also explain that there is no cost to attend, but that walking shoes, sunscreen, and money for food and refreshments are good ideas. Finally the letter explains that we will be back to our school by 6:30pm. (Our school is nearly two hours away from San Mateo.)
Editor’s note: We do not recommend letting minors roam around Maker Faire unchaperoned and by themselves. In fact, we discourage this! Please come in small groups with an adult who takes care of a few students at once.
Permission Slips & Paperwork: About five weeks before Maker Faire I send paperwork to families:
- The cover letter to parents, explaining what Maker Faire is about and how the field trip will work. See my example here.
- School field trip form with student cellphone and parent emergency contact info.
- Maker Faire Liability Waiver form. This one is key: once at Maker Faire, students are only able to take part in hands-on activities if they are wearing a Maker Faire waiver wristband. The normal way to get wristbands is having a parent or guardian sign the liability waiver form at Maker Faire. Since these kids won’t have their parents there, and since I am not their parent or guardian, we need parents to sign the waiver form ahead of time. My form, with the language used onsite, is linked here.
Sign-ups: The first year I took kids to Maker Faire, several students didn’t bother to show up early Saturday morning. I had a waiting list, but by then it was too late to get kids to come take the empty seats. (As far as I could tell, some kids figured “whatever, it didn’t cost me anything, I’m going to stay home and sleep in.”) To help motivate kids for all subsequent years I require that students give me a $10 deposit when they turn in their paperwork. This holds their spot on the bus, and I give it back to them when they show up Saturday morning to go to the Faire. If you have to charge students to go on the trip, I think that would be its own incentive to show up.
At Maker Faire: Our bus drops us off near one entrance to the Faire. This isn’t where the bus gets to park; they just pull up and we get out. Before we get to Maker Faire I give all the kids my cellphone number for emergencies, I give each student their ticket, and I give each student a map of the fairgrounds with our 4pm meeting place (the East Gate, also known as Gate 7) circled. Get and print a map of the Faire the day before off the Faire website. Our bus has usually managed to park near there. I get the bus driver’s cell number before we get off in the morning to help us connect in the afternoon.
Departing: Students meet at the gathering point at 4pm. I check everyone off carefully to make sure no one is left behind. The other chaperones help me find the bus, and we walk kids over to it. I again check everyone off when we think everyone is on the bus.
Fingers crossed, we’ve done the trip five times, and the worst thing that’s happened has been a few kids showing up 10 minutes late. Each year it’s been a fantastic experience for the students and chaperones.
Editor’s Note: Our Classroom Playbook prepares teachers for their visit to Maker Faire. It includes Walt’s writeup as well as activities to do before, during, and after your visit. Plus some handouts! Get it here: Maker Faire Classroom Playbook 2014.