Friday, May 11, 2012

Leave the Classroom Behind

Originally posted at The Tallahassee Democrat Online - click here.

Odd thing for a teacher to say, I know.  However, I was reminded just last week about how much I truly believe that statement.  Just as I’ve done for the past three years around this time, I hit the road with fifty seventh graders on an adventure that took us to our nation’s capital and a swing through parts of southern Pennsylvania.  I sit here today as convinced as ever that what kids need less of is time in the traditional classroom setting.

Swift Creek MS Tour Mount Vernon
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to review a group of civics texts as part of our district's upcoming textbook adoption.  I felt as though I had taken a step back in time.  All I could think the entire time was, how boring.  Do we really expect our kids to get excited about this stuff?  With so many exciting opportunities out there for our students and teachers - both online and in person - why do our schools remain trapped in a vacuum of antiquity?

I have a challenge for parents.  Pick-up your child's history textbook, turn to the section on Pickett's Charge, then sit back and enjoy.  Riveting isn't it? Now, imagine talking about Pickett's Charge as you look out over the field of battle from your view atop Seminary Ridge. That's exactly what my students and I did last week. To be sure, we probably can't put every student in the United States on the battlefield at Gettysburg (though we should).  But why not take them on a virtual field trip?  Why not harness the power of today's technology to give our students a panoramic view from the same spot that my kids and I stood on last week?

Now, I'm only using last week's extended field trip as an example.  The truth is that there are hundreds of learning opportunities that pass us by each year with hardly a notice from teachers and parents.  Tallahassee, while our state's capital, could hardly be considered a big city.  Yet, I would argue that not a week goes by when one could not find quality musical performances of various genre, theatrical performances ranging from Broadway-style productions to community theater, fine art exhibitions of many stripes, or events of historical importance from reenactments to lectures on a broad range of topics.

The point is that teachers have to be willing to step out of the comfortable (if not boring) confines of the traditional classroom environment.  Parents need to demand more from their schools.  The most common questions that I get from parents at the start of every school year are about when my annual DC trip will happen, or what local field trips I'll be taking their kids on that year.  That parents have come to expect these opportunities is a good thing and something that pushes me to be more innovative.
The fact that schools should be doing more doesn't absolve parents of the responsibility to mind the gap. So, I have another challenge for parents.  With summer break approaching, make a commitment to find at least one learning opportunity a week to introduce your child to.  Visit a museum or a neighboring town's historic district.  Take a drive to a nearby state park. If the weather keeps you in, find a virtual field trip online.  Just do something. It might just turnout to be the best summer ever.

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