I never had illusions of becoming a rocket scientist, but as a child I loved classroom experiments that brought topics in science alive. What happened to two lima beans, planted separately, one placed in a dark closet and one on the windowsill? Or why does mixing baking soda and vinegar form that science fair staple, the bubbling volcano? These experiments didn’t just teach me about photosynthesis and chemical reactions; they also taught me to ask questions, observe events, and form hypotheses. In a world driven by information, these skills are more essential than ever.
Yet too often, in an effort to raise academic achievement in math and reading, schools focus on the basics without engaging students beyond textbooks and worksheets. Particularly among students in schools with the fewest resources, exposure and access to engaging project-based learning remains limited.
But what if, rather than narrowing the curriculum to improve achievement, we helped students explore the community and the world around them as a means of learning? Moreover, what if we brought the resources of a community into the school to provide more time for a balanced, experiential curriculum that includes not just hands-on science but also learning through arts, movement and service? In the current school accountability environment, this is an audacious idea.
This is exactly what the TASC Expanded Learning Time (ELT) initiative is intended to achieve when it comes to three schools in Baltimore this fall (joining schools in New York City, New Orleans, and possibly a third city). With generous funding from the Open Society Foundations, and in partnership with the Family League of Baltimore City and the Baltimore City Public Schools, these schools will partner with local community organizations to provide students with engaging, enriching activities that reinforce classroom lessons. In this video, see how it works in one elementary school.
If we want students to learn more, let’s give them more ways to learn from both teachers and community educators.