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Thinking outside the classroom box
by Jessica Garcia
May 31, 2010 | 927 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I’m usually quite secretive about this, but I’m not very comfortable around younger children. I hope I’m not dooming myself with that confession, considering I’m an education reporter who has worked hard to develop a decent rapport with the Washoe County School District, but it’s true.

I’m not a mother, so I really wouldn’t know how to spend my time with anyone younger than 16 – or closer to 22, for that matter – because that’s my sister’s age and even she can be an enigma to me.

Yet when I’m on the job working my schools beat, I get great satisfaction out of watching the wonderment of elementary school kids when they get to do or see something they never have before.

On Thursday, when Agnes Risley Elementary School kids launched their weather balloon into the atmosphere to collect data on its altitude and temperature and take pictures of the earth from nearly 20 miles up, I wasn’t focused so much on the balloon itself as I was watching their faces light up. For some, it may have well been one of the coolest things they’ve ever done on their school’s basketball court.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to the Great Basin Outdoor School at Camp Galilee at Lake Tahoe to watch Bud Beasley Elementary School students on a research boat about a mile off the shore. That was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up because it gets kids away from their typical classroom setting and it gets them hands-on with nature.  In this case, they held zooplankton in their hands and watched how Tahoe’s water depth and clarity are measured.

Learning doesn’t take place only in an enclosed room with black boards – or white boards, as they’re starting to become these days. If it means kids are truly learning, get them outside and get their hands wet or dirty or whatever it takes for knowledge to sink in for them to appreciate our world.

Even I had the chance to hold a bit of the plankton – and that stuff tickles as you watch dots of color darting in drops of water in your palm. It was a refresher on what I learned from my days in marine science in college about how a body of water thrives with microscopic organisms.

I admit, whenever I get to cover something compelling involving the kids, it makes me a little jealous that I didn’t have nearly so many opportunities to go on educational field trips and see a little more of the world beyond windows and doors. I realize now how precious those few opportunities were because I was a hands-on learner. I needed to be active to have something sink in, especially if was a science concept. I think I understand why I became so passionate about prose. I love putting pen to paper; it’s a way for me to focus and collect my thoughts. And while not having any expertise on children, I’ll put in my two cents’ worth. If children can connect to what they’re learning about on a personal level by doing something, they’re more likely to retain an interest and the information itself.

The point is, there are so many simple things Washoe County teachers can do – and are doing – to make learning real for students. Whether they dress up and create a Colonial Day at the end of the unit with candle-making or let students broadcast their own news, our educators today are doing an excellent job of making it concrete for students in an age where personalizing education should be essential, not secondary.

Jessica Garcia is the education reporter for the Sparks Tribune. You can contact her at
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