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Learning outside the Book

November 13, 2008
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Chers Amis,

You’ve all heard the expression “thinking outside the box.” It means to think creatively, without limits, from a new perspective and free from convention. How about learning outside the book?

Now, I am a BIG book lover. I usually have a stack of books teetering on the end table next to the couch and several bulging baskets perched on our school table. We base our school work on books: workbooks, textbooks, library books, picture books, glossy coffee table art books, and living history books. Books – gotta’ love ‘um – but don’t let them box you in; there are vast resources waiting to be tapped with a little curiosity, on-line research, e-mails, and old fashioned telephone calls. How often do you have contact with researchers, experts, or specialists in a given field?

This year for science Caddie and Scarlett are participating in the First Lego League, an international science competition. In short, our team of 9-14 year olds will:

  • Build an autonomous robot using engineering concepts
  • Research and solve a real-world problem based on the Challenge theme of “Climate Connections”
  • Present their research and solutions

I am the assistant coach responsible for overseeing the research project. As a bibliophile, there is always a temptation to focus our research on books, but this project calls students (and coaches) to change paradigms and think outside the library and to actively engage with the scientific community both locally and in other areas. What a thrill! We spent most of the summer researching weather and climate through the typical means, but now the kids have moved their research to primary sources – people. Maybe it is just habit, but until now we have relied on an excellent library system and have not really mined the valuable resources in our own community.

The team started reaching out by visiting the websites of the major universities and state agencies in our area to see what kind of research was being done on climate related issues in Georgia. From there they narrowed their focus to those departments, institutions and agencies that were working on their specific topic and contacted individuals by phone and e-mail. The experts were without exception very pleased to see that young people were interested in their research, reading their articles, and becoming involved in issues that were important to them. They were more than happy to provide links to other possible contacts, send copies of papers and power point presentations given at conferences, and set up visits to their laboratories, study sites and facilities. While I still LOVE books, this experience has taught me the value of encouraging the kids to reach out and interact with people. All will be the better for it!


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