Thinking and learning outside of the box

by | November 29, 2016 | in Opinions | No Comments

I wake up in a white walled box. I stare at the glowing box in my hand. Then I walk into a box-shaped school, into another smaller box-shaped room, sit in a box-shaped desk, and focus my attention on the box-shaped piece of paper before me. How am I supposed to think outside the box?

In a progressive society that values creativity, our education system is oddly constricting. While we encourage students to take risks and be creative, we restrict them to sitting hunched over at desks all day, dully lumbering from class to class. I am advocating for a simple solution to this: an increase in learning outside of the classroom through field trips and outdoor classes. This would reduce the monotony of school by promoting creativity and hands-on learning, thereby producing impassioned learners rather than bored, academic machines. Our school offers plenty of great resources that help students excel academically; however, only excited learners will be willing to successfully take advantage of those opportunities.

A study conducted by U.S. Travel, showed that youth who take educational trips have better grades and a higher graduation rate. Also, 89 percent of surveyed adults said that field trips had a lasting impact on their future academic careers. An “Education Next” survey was conducted to observe the difference between two groups of students’ retention: one group went to an art museum to study paintings, the other group studied the paintings in the classroom. Students who went to the museum did much better on the assigned critical thinking essay about the paintings and also expressed more tolerance and historical empathy in survey questions. All of these findings underline the importance of field trips—an educational tool unfortunately in decline.img_3835

I can still recall those anticipation-filled early mornings preceding field trips in elementary and middle school, when my blue plaid sneakers carried me to school with a new purpose. Why should field trips be objects of the past? Field trips should not be banished into the land of nostalgia once we step foot on the high school campus; instead they should become ever more present as student independence increases.

As someone who has been educated in two different education systems, American and Hungarian, I have observed the similarities and differences between the two systems. Of course there are many complexities, but I would like to highlight one aspect that is shockingly different: class trips. Hungarian high school students take trips monthly with their peers and teachers to various venues, such as plays, movie showings, and outdoor camps. I think trips like these, especially in foreign language, history and art classes would be extremely beneficial to students. The Bay Area is a cultural hotbed, and if our surroundings were woven into the curriculum it could provide students with a wonderful foundation for engaged learning.

Similarly, I think the use of outdoor areas as classrooms is lacking from the high school educational experience. Everyone constantly extols California weather, yet we sit cramped inside box-like classrooms all day. We should use the resources that we have; there are so many benefits. Not only has it been found that outdoor learning improves students’ cognitive abilities, but outside learning also improves health and decreases stress levels, according to the Natural Learning Initiative website . With the verdant park surrounding most of our campus, outdoor learning could easily be incorporated into our curriculum. For example, the AP Environmental Science classes already utilizes Piedmont Park to take walks and observe trees. This is a perfect example of utilizing outdoor space for learning; even a regular English lecture could be done outside, providing students with a change of setting–a chance to recharge.

The reasons for the decrease in field trips and outdoor activities has not escaped me, of course there are liabilities and funding complications involved. However, I believe that Piedmont has the resources to bring more of these hands-on learning experiences into classrooms. The reduction of student stress and improvement of the academic environment have been the focus of the administration and the school board. Therefore, as proven, these small changes would align with their goals and benefit the students, the school and the community as a whole.

If PHS strives to foster genuine learning and a curious, motivated future generation, we ought to have more opportunities to develop those traits. Don’t box us in!