I love learning about learning. I love thinking about what makes for a great learning experience, and what makes them fun, invigorating, and lasting. It was a delight therefore to learn about The Urban Greenlab project happening here in Nashville. The Urban Greenlab’s mission is to facilitate a range of educational and social programs that inspire participants from all socioeconomic backgrounds to make sustainability a bigger part of their lives—in their homes, neighborhoods, and businesses. They are a…
“nonprofit dedicated to improving the health and well-being of our city through sustainability. We fill a gap by offering programs that inspire people of all ages to incorporate sustainability into their daily lives. Our new Mobile Lab, a science-based interactive classroom that travels to local schools, is inspiring the next generation of sustainability leaders! Workshops on everything from green building to urban agriculture spark positive changes at home and work that save money, improve health, and conserve resources.”
This Mobile Lab is the object of my focus today. I hope soon to see it person. It strikes me as a fantastic idea for a sustainable (of course) and reproducible way to engage students in hands-on learning experiences around subjects that directly apply to their own lives. It is a free, mobile field trip; a museum that comes to you. How cool is that??!?!
I see three reasons for why this is a great idea from a layman’s point of view.
- It’s accessible. If you want to provide kids with a field trip, it doesn’t get easier than having the field trip come to you. This transformed trailer can set up shop in a school parking lot and immediately turn an ordinary school day into an extraordinary learning experience without the folderol of permission slips, chaperones, or snacks. Most importantly, it is available to schools that might not otherwise have the financial capacity to provide these hands-on learning experiences for their kids. The Mobile lab provides an innovative solution to the barrier of cost for lower-income area schools.
- It’s real. Sustainability and environmental issues bring up questions that are relevant to all of us. By contrast, so much of the American curriculum in public schools feels disconnected from the students’ lives; few teachers and parents help students make the connection for how, say, learning about calculus or the Jazz age or proper use of ellipses adds to their preparation for the real world. This is not to say that any of these subjects are unimportant, but it is rare today for students to break away from the prescribed curriculum to challenge their real-time, real-life perceptions of the real world.
- It’s immersive. I will never forget visiting Plymouth Plantation, a living history site in Massachusetts, and sitting on a bear pelt learning from a Native American guide in front of an open fire about how tomahawks were made. I was surrounded by the smells, the textures, and the scenes of what life was like for people living at the time of the Pilgrims’ arrival. The immersive factor is so critical to learning, and I feel strongly that whatever we can do to replicate and build on those experiences for other learners will be well worth our time. The mobile lab is a fantastic and innovative approach to this immersion challenge. Learners step inside and are surrounded by new ideas and the opportunity to engage, inevitably to emerge changed and challenged.
I wonder, how might we use this model elsewhere and for other subject matter? How might we reimagine immersive, hands-on learning experiences, and make them more accessible to more learners? Join me in thinking on these great questions!