This past week, during the President’s Day break, I had the opportunity to travel to Ithaca, NY to visit the Museum of Earth. While in the museum, I explored each exhibit, traveling back in time, going through Earth’s geologic history starting with the Precambrian eon and ending with current day. Each exhibit inspired me with new ideas on how to teach fossils and evolution to my students, topics that we will be covering in the upcoming weeks. More importantly though, the day at the museum reminded me of the ability and significance of learning outside the classroom.
Although field trips are not always financially feasible options for schools, the concept of learning outside the classroom still should be promoted and can still be achieved. These learning moments can happen informally, and can even be individual experiences, as opposed to whole class ones. The important aspect is that the students internalize and learn through an experience or a cultural process. According to Gee (2004), understanding content is maximized when it is embodied, that is, when the content is relatable to other activities (p.39). “When people learn as a cultural process, whether this be cooking, hunting, or how to play video games, they learn through action and talk with others, not by memorizing words outside their contexts of application” (Gee, 2004, p.39). Here the essence of learning is through the experience, a cultural experience, that is not limited to an activity within the four walls of a classroom.
Moreover, in these informal learning experiences, students can also develop and tap into their cultural identities. Such identity development fosters a sense of belonging and connection; it also reinforces for students how a learning experience can be directly relevant to their individual lives. Then, the more culturally relevant the curriculum is, the more likely students will be motivated to keep learning. So challenge yourselves as educators, and your students, to push learning beyond the walls of the classroom. Be it a field trip, a conversation with someone new, or joining a new community, challenge your students to capitalize on every day experiences to learn. Perhaps this could entail meeting a local expert in the field and developing a mentorship or even getting involved in an online science community. Regardless, there are always opportunities to learn and to engage in scientific practices, especially the obtaining, evaluating, and communicating practice. All it requires is a little talking.
Gee, J. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York: Routledge.