This commentary, written by Seacrest Board of Trustees Member Daniel Menelly, originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News.
We're lucky to be living in what I consider to be the golden age of informal learning.
Informal learning is an educational process that isn't directed by a teacher or instructor but derives organically from spontaneous real-world interactions. It happens outside the classroom, allowing children to absorb information and pick up new concepts while engaged in play. The advantage of it is they're learning without realizing they're learning.
In the 1980s, a study by the Center for Creative Leadership concluded that 90 percent of what we learn comes through informal learning.
As we've come to appreciate the potential of informal learning, children's museums have emerged as incubators for hands-on, multi-sensory experiences.
I came to San Antonio in early 2018 to serve as the new chief executive officer of the DoSeum after years of working in education, science media and nonprofit management. In my first few months here, I quickly came to admire the city's investment in early learning in both formal and informal contexts.
Programs like Pre-K 4 SA and many others are telling examples of San Antonio's commitment to high quality early learning. My focus and energy center on positioning the DoSeum into transformative planning and research partnerships, co-developing newly-engineered educational experiences and fortifying similar collaborations across sectors, including higher education, the arts, science and technology.
I am frequently asked "Why have you come here?" My answer is that I was deeply drawn to the quality of engagement associated with the DoSeum. On my first visits, I saw several important ideals embodied in the exhibits and programs. At our widely-admired Spy Academy, I was very inspired to see young learners examining evidence as clues to solving problems. The "problems" are presented imaginatively as "spy challenges" inspired and co-developed with insight from "master spies," who in fact are children who have mastered earlier challenges. In this way, the roster of Spy Academy master challenges is a living document, continually studied through the eyes of young learners and retooled to ensure that subsequent visits are as engaging as a guest's first "mission."
I can think of so many examples to share, yet perhaps the most inspiring is our first internally-developed headline exhibition, "Dream Tomorrow Today." The exhibition focuses on futurism and design-thinking. Using emerging technologies for learning, young guests engage in unusually sophisticated activities, such as designing cities in virtual spaces by manipulating tokens that "pop up" or render into three-dimensional models of transportation systems, green spaces and health centers. Technologies embedded in "Dream Tomorrow Today" are often more intuitive to children than to some adults. That reminds me of how, when we need help with the latest gadget, we often ask a child to show us how to make it work.
"Dream Tomorrow Today" is a telling example of the work that is important for us at the DoSeum. Our teams worked for months researching and preparing for an exhibition that asks children to envision the future of our city and deeply consider what we can all do to enhance our own future and possibilities.
In preparation for the exhibition, we developed a variety of programs and partnerships with many community learning organizations, including Ella Austin Community Center, Communities in Schools, Martinez Street Women's Center, San Antonio Independent School District, SA 2020, the San Antonio College engineering department, the University of Texas at San Antonio and San Antonio Parks and Recreation.
As "Dream Tomorrow Today" asks our visitors to "SEE, DO, and BE the future," I am committed to leading the DoSeum to continued distinction in our field. As we approach the end of San Antonio's Tricentennial year, and I complete my first year of service at the DoSeum, I am honored to build upon strong partnerships with schools and other agents in our city's learning ecosystem. I believe in the power and promise of this collective impact and I feel that together we can re-imagine learning.
Daniel Menelly is the CEO of the DoSeum.