Beyond Technology: Informal Learning, Place Based Learning, Exploring New Approaches to Education
Recently, I’ve been reminded of the wealth of publicly supported educational resources outside the classroom that offer rich learning opportunities for students of all ages. I’ve also mulled over how formal public schooling can take advantage of some of the resources and experiences to which I’ve been exposed. Certainly, I’ve been involved for many years in advocating for the appropriate and effective use of new and emerging technologies to meet our teaching and learning needs in the public classroom. But I’m reminded that nothing can change the ‘being there’ and there are ways that the technology can help us ‘be there’ as learners and also explore primary sources in ways not possible before.
My first reminder of the riches available to all of us was in January when the Learning First Alliance Board of Directors met at the Library of Congress in the elegant Jefferson Room. In addition to hearing from the Librarian of Congress, we also learned from the Library’s education staff about the extensive work that’s been done providing access to the digitized version of primary sources and the educational enhancements that have been applied to these sources…i.e. you can now see the original version of the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote along with the edits, identified by their author, and see which edits appeared in the final version and which ones were discarded (you can also learn that Mr. Jefferson was not pleased to have his masterpiece fiddled with and actually believed his original version much superior to the final text). These documents and many others, as well as accompanying teaching strategies to use with students, are available free of charge to any educator and student to access electronically.
And, my other realization was how powerful it was to be inside the Library of Congress where we were also able to see up close, Mr. Jefferson’s library which he sold to the Congress after the original Library of Congress collection was burned by the British in the War of 1812. Being there was powerful; the ability to access the collection along with teaching supports from anywhere with an internet collection was an inspiration.
The second experience that provided examples of place based learning supported by public resources was my participation in the National Park Service (NPS) education advisory committee at the Midwest NPS Headquarters building in March followed by a trip to the Homestead National Monument and its exhibits in Beatrice, Nebraska. This National Park chronicles the life and consequences of the Homestead Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 and repealed by Ronald Reagan in 1986. The exhibits, resources, and education activities are fascinating (and free to the public and schools) and the Park has relationships with local school districts in this rural area and hosts place based learning activities throughout the school year.
But they also offer online resources and the NPS is in the process of finalizing an educational portal that’s scheduled to launch in August of this year. This portal will aggregate resources and information in a digital format from National Parks across the country and offer curriculum support materials for science and social studies for students at all levels based anywhere in the country. In addition, while attending this meeting I was also introduced to the NPS National Mall “app” available free through iTunes that provides beautiful support material for any student’s or tourist’s visit to Washington, DC and its national treasures. Since I live in the DC area, I know that spring and early summer are school field trip/visit to Washington season, and this “app” could supply a huge bonus to everyone on those trips as well as those who can’t make it in person.
The national or federal role in public education is frequently maligned as overly controlling and insensitive to local cultures and specific community needs. If we take the time to step back, acquaint ourselves with the rich array of information resources produced and maintained with federal (our) tax dollars, we could find a new appreciation for the inspired contributions made by the Library of Congress, the National Park Service, and other federally supported educational resources (dare I mention public broadcasting (CPB, PBS, and NPR) and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS)) that can provide new avenues for learning in our public schools.
Image from NPS.gov
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- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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