In your average school, education has become a struggle for teachers to teach and for students to stay interested, let alone keep ahead of the curve. Yet, there is a cry for these kids to stay on top of things not only to get a decent job, but also so to advance fields of science and technology.
Alan J. Friedman, a consultant in the areas of museum development and science communication, presses the importance of out of school learning. Out of school learning is, as you can imagine, things you can do at a museum. However, it is much more than that. It is also places like after school programs, field trips, or even social things like 4H. The key is what theses programs offer and encompass.
As Friedman explains, these out of school learning environments focus on a relatively underrepresented area of learning, that goes by the names Positive Youth Development, 21st century learning skills, or soft skills. John Dewey called this the affective domain back in the early 1900s. This concept of learning covers the things beyond what you know and do and goes into the area of "do you care?" Terms often associated with this area are things like interest, attitude, persistence, resilience.
Even though this is clearly breaking with what we've come to think of as traditional teaching methods, assessments have been showing it works. However, Friedman says there is a lot more that could be done:
There is evidence that people learn from out of school activities, such as museum exhibitions, and that individual out-of-school activities provide both cognitive and affective domain impacts. We'd like to know the total impacts of all in-school and out-of-school learning, and the large scale assessments like NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA are the best tools we have. But those assessments look only at the cognitive realm. New research is developing instruments that can also tell us what is happening in the affective domain, and have the potential for picking out the difference of what happens in school, versus what happens out of school. American system needs to do much more in the assessment process so we know what our massive education enterprise, both in school and outside of school, is actually accomplishing.
Right now policymakers are looking at either doing an "extended" school day or an "expanded" school day. An extended school day means doing exactly what we're doing now, but longer hours of it. The expanded school day, however, integrates much more of the out of school learning experiences. I, for one, am hopeful that these new studies will persuade the policymakers that doing more out of school activities, such as field trips, will be a wise place to put some of their money.
In the event that policymakers don't expand education, though, there is something that students, faculty and administration, parents, and even volunteers of the various facilities can do to expand out of school learning. That is to be knowledgeable about what is there, allow flexibility, work more hands on, challenge yourself and kids to be more creative. We also need to create a database and do the research on the impact of these out of school activities. Friedman presses, that we have to take the affective domain of skills seriously, "If you give kids books they really want to read, they will learn to read — you can't stop them. Outcomes mean happier, higher learning, better jobs, etc."
Remember, there is a whole universe of learning out there. People on the AAAS panel are doing things that could be integrated into a lot of different areas of teaching. Take a look around at what they are studying what they are doing and why.