The more we do things the same, the more we guarantee change will never happen.
I was trying to find a more profound quote but couldn’t, so a Fernandes original starts off the blog.
Education needs to change. We know that. It’s often said that the current system originated from the need in the industrial revolution of training people to work in factories. All doing the same thing, the same way and for that reason rows and rote learning made sense.
Well guess what? Factories are more and more automated now, and the need for innovation and creative thinking is everywhere. Time for a new revolution? The Educational Revolution! I believe that many to most educators are ready for change but an overwhelming fear of changing with the times permeates. Instead the need is often felt to stick to the standard way of doing things. I won’t go into my normal lament that obsession with standardized testing is one of the greatest detriments to high quality education (it is but I won’t say it again). Instead this blog is being written purely for parents (not JUST parents at my school but parents everywhere). I have two questions for you.
- What do you want your child’s education to look like?
- How do you believe that experiential education helps your child?
Let me start with making my case as I’m wont to do.
Anecdote # 1
This past week our Gr. 6-8 students were at Teen Ranch for the outdoor education experience. They learned team building, overcoming fears, problem solving, active living and working with each other. This learning happened via cooperative games, horse riding, t shirt making, orienteering, and free time trail running. They clearly met the Catholic Graduate expectations of a responsible citizen, caring family member, creative, reflective holistic thinker, collaborative contributor and effective communicator. What was missing? Well clearly a math test and some grammar worksheets. I know I’m making someone angry, but I just don’t see the balance scale at all. I am a firm believer in life long learning in all forms. I think that reading and writing are essential as ways to understand and communicate. I also feel that grammar and spelling in context will always be better than pointless worksheet questions like this one that my friend shared with me the other day.
Her gr. 6 daughter was completing the following worksheet:
Explain the use of the apostrophe in the following sentence
What on earth’s the matter with that bird?
The multiple choice options included:
A. It is used to show that the word earth is plural
B. It is used to replace a missing letter or letters
C. It is used to make the sentence more clear
B is the correct answer but how that helps me learn more is beyond me. Far better use would have been for me to write an authentic anecdote or persuasive piece, and if apostrophe use showed up in my writing then address it at that point.
I know you might be wondering what any of this has to do with experiential learning and I’m hoping it’s not too off topic. I guess the point I’m aiming to make is that we need to change how we educate our students and that change starts with moving away from old style learning to engaging our students.
I heard on the radio two psychologists discussing the possibility of the gifted program being cancelled. The proponent of it was talking about how his son was in the program for the first time and what a great program it was. The father said that his son had to quickly get through the curriculum which led to a lot of homework his son didn’t like, but then he was able to start work on his independent study that he chose to do on fish. He was learning tremendous amounts through research and videos and was completely engaged.
Um….why is this only in the gifted program? And it should sound ludicrous to anyone that we have to get through the curriculum to get to the fun learning. Finish your Brussel sprouts (sorry veggie lovers) so that you can have your dessert. Passion and engagement in learning should be there for all. The independent study on fish should completely be the curriculum – the skills of research and the curriculum content of reading and writing – maybe there will even be some apostrophes in there. And yes mathematics in an independent study on fish should be completely possible. Off the top of my head – patterning in terms of fish colours, number sense in terms of amount of species, life span, percentage of increase or decrease in population, measurement in terms of lengths of the different types of fish or capacity of aquariums. This is learning and this is curriculum, and no this is NOT getting our students ready for a factory but sure is getting them ready for life.
A few weeks back, I met with our JK, Gr. 2/3 and 3/4 teacher and we sat to plan out some experiential learning.
Each teacher started with the curriculum because that’s how all experiential learning should begin. They identified the following as areas they wanted to address.
Kindergarten – Demonstrate an understanding of the natural world and the need to care for and respect the environment
Gr. 3- Social studies –
Big Idea: Human activities and decisions about land use may alter the environment.
Big Idea: Human activities affect the environment, but the environment also affects human activities.
Given that both units dealt with the environment, we endeavoured to complete an eco trip that saw us visit three different parks to experience an up close and personal look at the natural environment and understand how we both benefit and impact the natural world. To hold true to the Gr. 3 big idea, we also visited a busy intersection to juxtapose the natural environment with a built up environment and how those differences impact all.
As part of our day we had students take pictures of both the natural environment and built up area with the long term goal being some type of photo essay where students clearly demonstrate their understanding of the big idea.
experiential letter primary park trip
We could have easily done this lesson by sitting in the classroom but as our Beyond the Classroom program keeps suggesting – go beyond the walls of the classroom and immerse yourself in experiential learning – so much more authentic.
Oh and for the record, I did not plan the trip just to get Chloe the dog some new sticks, but….check out the stash!
Our Beyond the Classroom experience at the Globe and Mail started today with our Gr.7/8 class. We will be immersing students in the world of the biggest National Newspaper in Canada. Our time at the Globe will include the chance to sit in on editorial meetings, learning about the ethics of advertising, understanding the changing landscape of print news, and hearing about how decisions are made for front page photos. Our final artifact will hopefully be the production of a school newspaper that puts into practice all that we are learning at the Globe. Mathematics will include a look at the circulation of the paper, advertising budgets, newspaper design layout, and change in cost of the newspaper over the years to name just a few things (and that includes number sense, measurement, data management and geometry).
All four anecdotes are trying to show once again how our method of teaching can and should change, and how students can and should be engaged in the learning process.
My question comes back to you parents – do YOU see the value in this type of learning? Why or why not? I’m a parent and I’m also an educator and I know what I want most for my children is to see them engaged in their learning. I believe that starts with capturing students’ interests and I believe that starts with experiential education.
If you’re willing to join in the conversation, please consider filling in the simple google doc below.
4 questions are on it (it grew from my original two!)
How do you think schools should engage students in the learning process?
What does experiential learning mean to you?
How does this blog show you that experiential learning is or is not happening at St. Sylvester school?
What do you think still needs to be done to make experiential learning more prevalent at St. Sylvester school?
Really hoping for some feedback. If the Educational revolution is going to happen, it needs to start with us all.