Experienced teachers know that their students learn best by doing. Not listening, nor watching, but doing work and then reflecting on the activity.
But how do teachers go about creating those opportunities? Then, what are the best ways to make them powerful and meaningful?
Teachers enrolled in the School of Education’s Masters of Education for Experienced Teachers (MEDX) program learn about experiential education – and they do it by doing.
“Through the MEDX program what we are trying to do is suggest that teachers can think differently about their teaching and about what they do for kids in schools,” said Jocelyn Glazier, who teaches in the program. “We feel like we can’t just tell them theories about experiential education or theories about progressive pedagogies in schools.
“The idea is to get them to actually experience it themselves so that they can embody what it is that we are asking them to think about doing with their own kids in schools,” she said.
The School of Education works with the North Carolina Outward Bound School to include an experiential learning opportunity in its MEDX program. During the first summer of the program, students have the option of attending a seven-day Outward Bound course, during which they hike, camp, rock-climb in a series of activities designed to offer learning through overcoming challenges.
An alternative experience – at a small farm in Durham – is offered to students who cannot participate in the Outward Bound course.
Into the woods
Michael Follo is the director of education at the North Carolina Outward Bound School and an adjunct clinical assistant professor with the School of Education.
“The mission of Outward Bound is to change lives through challenge and discovery,” Follo said. “For every MEDX teacher who comes on an Outward Bound course that challenge may be very different. For some the challenge is camping or backpacking. For others it’s rock-climbing or overcoming their fear of heights. For others it’s working in a group and communicating effectively with people they don’t necessarily know.
“But for every teacher that comes on an Outward Bound course the discovery that arises from that authentic experience, which is, of course, key to experiential education, is an authentic experience that teachers can then reflect upon and take lessons from and then apply to new experiences.”
MEDX students who take part in the Outward Bound course are put into “crews” of 10 to 12 students with two instructors. The group then works through a series of activities in the wilderness area of Table Rock, in the Pisgah National Forest near Morganton, N.C.
“They have to work together, they live together for seven days in the woods and the bonds that are built and the trust that is built in that environment is exactly what teachers want to take back to their classrooms,” Follow said. “We talk to the teachers about community building and how these activities can be a means to build that community in a traditional classroom setting.”
Working on the farm
MEDX students whose schedules don’t allow them to go on a seven-day wilderness adventure participate in activities at the Hub Farm, an environmental-education space owned by Durham Public Schools.
The Hub Farm features planting beds, ponds and trails, offering Durham teachers and their students outdoor learning opportunities. Each summer, MEDX students take part in work projects at the Hub Farm, working to enhance the facilities.
Last summer, students worked to build a trail that connected the Hub Farm to an adjacent branch of the Durham County Library.
The work involved clearing a path through the woods, and building learning stations along the way. Some of the work was hard, and required learning new skills, such as working with drills and other tools.
The activities were designed to pose challenges, and to foster a bonding between the students as they worked together to solve problems, Glazier said. Then, the students are expected to reflect upon their experiences and to explore how they can incorporate similar experiences into their teaching.
“One of the things that we encourage students to think about is how they build upon what they did and what they experienced as learners with their own students,” Glazier said. “So, how do they transfer their learning as part of this experience into the classroom?”
The Masters of Education for Experienced Teachers program is accepting applications for its next cohort through Feb. 10. Learn more about the MEDX program, and other master’s level programs offered by the School of Education, here.