Putting the Student in the Driver’s Seat of Education

How expeditionary learning is transforming the American classroom

 

Sarah Metzler – The Good of Goshen

 

 

 

When Sarah Kingsley Metzler (GC ‘98) worked in a school district near Denver, Colo., she began to visualize the way she thought school should look: a place where students are engaged in their own learning, aren’t afraid to try something new even though they may fail, and are encouraged to be constantly curious.

Soon, she found out about an entire school program that embraced what she envisioned, called Expeditionary Learning. Now, she is helping to bring this innovative curriculum shift to Goshen.

“There is joy in that place of discovery and curiosity and taking an active role in their learning,” Sarah explained. “Once all the cogs are in motion, I think we’ll see a different joy of learning for students — and for staff, too.”

Sarah connected with Horizon Education Alliance, a local group working to make Elkhart County a place to get a world-class education, which was also starting to look into Expeditionary Learning. Horizon began discussing the idea of transitioning a school to Expeditionary Learning with Goshen Community Schools.

Goshen Community Schools decided to work the program into Chamberlain Elementary, where Sarah now works.

Chamberlain won’t formally be a part of the Expeditionary Learning network until December 2014 or January 2015, but are working to gear up for the transition.

 

 

 

“There is joy in that place of discovery and curiosity and taking an active role in their learning.”

 

Expeditionary learning follows 10 design principles including 1) the primacy of self-discovery, 2) the having of wonderful ideas, 3) the responsibility for learning, 4) empathy and caring, 5) success and failure, which allows schools “to keep building confidence for students to take risks,” 6) collaboration and competition, 7) diversity and inclusion, 8) the natural world, 9) solitude and reflection and 10) service and compassion.

“This is something that Goshen does well,” Sarah said about the service and compassion principles, “and it feels like a really wonderful fit.”

Right now, Sarah is working to strengthen the partnership between Chamberlain and Expeditionary Learning officials, who help create a program that fits the exact demographics and feel of each school.

While it will be a few years before the school is a fully developed Expeditionary Learning school, Chamberlain has implemented a few pieces, including “Crew” time, which is a half-hour every day dedicated to talking about topics like teambuilding and responsibility and character development.

“This is a very Expeditionary Learning concept: We are the crew, not passengers,” she explained.

“If we’re passengers, we are not engaged, we are sitting by and letting our team down. When we are crew, we take ownership for our actions and we work together to support one another, thus doing more than we thought possible. Down the road, this sense of “crew” should permeate the whole school day.”

 

 

“This is something that Goshen does well …”

 

While her work in Colorado didn’t directly involve this type of schooling, it did emphasize students taking on their own learning.

“The shifts I saw happening with really tricky populations in the district were very powerful and I was very, very excited about the prospect of what was happening for students when they became owners of their education and take on their own learning,” she said. Successful Expeditionary Learning schools view the integration of academics, character development, and high-quality work as interconnected components. “When all of these things are in place students have the opportunity to become leaders of their own learning.”

“I really hope to see ideas like this spread across Goshen Community Schools,” she said. “Goshen has been really courageous and I hope they continue to move forward with inspiring students to learn, beyond just knowing what’s in the book.”

“Once we put students in the driver’s seat of their own education,” she noted, “that is a game changer.”

“Once we put students in the driver’s seat of their own education that is a game changer.”

“This is something that Goshen does well,” Sarah said about the service and compassion principles, “and it feels like a really wonderful fit.”

Sarah Metzler • The Good of Goshen

“There is joy in that place of discovery and curiosity and taking an active role in their learning.”

A recent study by Mathematica Policy Research shows statistically significant evidence of Expeditionary Learning’s impact on student achievement.

The study found that EL’s middle school students gain an extra 10 months of learning growth in math and 7 months of extra learning growth in reading after three years.

Sarah Metzler • The Good of Goshen

 

 

Good of Goshen Photography • Lynne Zehr
Good of Goshen Editor • Marlys Weaver-Stoesz

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