Learning beyond the classroom is an essential part of a complete education. The Morgan County School District Community has an expressed dedication to this concept through our Mission Statement and imbedded within our instruction. “What does it look like?” is a common phrase educators use as we challenge ourselves and our colleagues during professional development and is also a phrase that is appropriate when planning successful educational experiences beyond the classroom. What is learning beyond the classroom and how can it be linked seamlessly to the activities and learning prepared for school?
Scaffolding Theory, introduced in the 1950’s and then explored and developed in both daily practice and academia ever since, attempts to articulate the pre-learning and simultaneous learning that students have when approaching a new concept. Originally a theory used to explain how a parent helps their toddler learn to speak; our later research has applied the concepts of Scaffolding Theory to many other learning experiences. A necessary outcome of learning beyond the classroom is to build the “scaffolds” needed for future learning.
How then, can we provide learning experiences beyond the classroom that scaffold future learning or support current learning in an attempt to make life-long learning continuous and contagious? Susan Moore, a former teacher and current NASA educational specialist suggests that the best complement to a good formal education is a hands-on experience. Discovery learning that happens organically through family vacations, dramatic play, and interactions with our social environments are perfect breeding grounds for hands-on learning beyond the classroom. Our goal as parents and educators should be to purposefully create and then capture these experiences. This will help our children by supporting the lessons prepared for the classroom and ensure a complete education.
For example, journaling at the end of each day during a family vacation allows a student to reflect on experiences and revisit their thoughts outside the hurried pace of our typical vacation schedules. Topical play is another way young learners can investigate academic disciplines. Pretending to be a scientist who has discovered a new breed of dinosaur and must prepare a presentation for their fellow scientists is an example that would support many of the skills also taught within the classroom. Service learning and the social relationships they nurture are also great opportunities when attached to problem-based learning activities. A penny drive to support victims of a national tragedy is a great activity, but when combined with a discussion unpacking the real needs in such a situation this becomes more meaningful and certainly promotes higher levels of problem solving, again a skill valued highly within the classroom.
Classrooms, textbooks, and lectures are necessary pieces of a formal education. This education is exponentially enhanced and connected to our mission through additional academic opportunities. A concentrated effort at home to extend learning beyond the classroom is a great way to start.