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Extend Learning Outside the Classroom

Science Under the Microscope

Extend Learning Outside the ClassroomThere is only so much a teacher can do with their few hours of instructional time each week. More than ever, we need to encourage students to learn outside the classroom.

Luckily, learning opportunities are everywhere, especially in science!

As a classroom educator, I sometimes feel enormous pressure. After all, I am responsible for preparing my students for their future; for jobs that don't even exist yet. As a science teacher, in particular, I am tasked with ensuring that the next generation of citizens have the fundamental science understanding necessary for our democracy to function. It is a daunting challenge.


A recent study from two professors at Oregon State University, published in the magazine American Scientist, has helped put my fears to rest. The authors, John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking, looked at the advent of science museums and science channels on television and determined that most of a person's science education takes place outside the traditional classroom.

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This decision came from surveying a wide range of "free choice learning opportunities" available to Americans, including public libraries, zoos and aquariums, and science museums. They examined the wealth of television and internet resources that most citizens can enjoy. They found that while we may lag behind other countries in our science understanding, the opportunity exists for our residents to catch up.


Most interesting to me is the revelation that, especially in high-needs communities such as inner cities, after-school programs are growing rapidly. These "out-of-school-time" educational experiences are proving vital to making science literacy a race- and income-blind ability. Suddenly, I feel like a professional science educator supported by an immense network of complementary resources.


In fact, as Falk and Dierking pointed out, the average American spends less than 5% of his lifetime in a classroom. That makes my job of developing young scientific minds seem even more impossible, unless we find ways to encourage more of our youth and families to visit science museums, undertake science hobbies, and expose themselves to science programming online and on TV. This is one great way to close the science literacy gap between the U.S. and other developed countries.

How do you encourage students to learn outside of the classroom? Share in the comments section!


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