DCPS task force to promote use of D.C. museums, other sites as classrooms

A D.C. Public Schools task force is working on a new guide that aims to help promote hands-on and experiential learning throughout the city, Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced Monday.

The curriculum — titled “The City as Our Classroom” — will compile a set of field-trip ideas and sample lesson plans to help teachers identify opportunities to connect academic skills and themes with the District’s museums, parks and historical sites.

“D.C. has so much to offer,” Henderson said in a statement. “I am excited that this task force is going to create a comprehensive and living document to help us leverage the unique cultural and natural resources of the District and beyond.”

The task force is composed of 30 people, including parents, teachers and central office personnel. They will meet in the coming months and plan to prepare a “guidance document” in time for teachers to use it during the 2014-15 school year.

Teachers hardly have to be convinced that students can have some of their most meaningful learning experiences outside the classroom. But it can be difficult to come up with enough time and money to give children those experiences, especially in high-poverty schools and others that face pressure to raise math and reading test scores.

Nonprofit organizations such as Live It Learn It — which works with more than two dozen DCPS schools, designing academic programs connected to field trips around Washington — often help fill the gap.

Next year, as part of her effort to improve the city’s middle schools, Henderson has proposed giving each middle school $28,000 to help provide “exposures and excursions,” which she has said are essential to the kind of enrichment students need and parents expect. The new investment totals about a half-million dollars.

Elementary and high school budgets for field trips range from zero to a few thousand dollars and, at more affluent schools, are often supplemented by parent organizations.

The new task force comes several weeks after D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) called for a more uniform curriculum to ensure that academic expectations are consistent across schools.

Schools officials have pushed back against the notion that the system lacks such expectations. During the past three years, school system officials have created suggested units and themes for each grade level and subject, producing what they say is a citywide curriculum that never previously existed.

The experiential-learning task force members will work to identify field trips that connect directly to the school system’s “robust, consistent, standardized curriculum in use across the city,” according to a school system statement.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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