Photo: EdExploreSRQ

EdExploreSRQ 2020 — Trailblazing Virtual Experiential Learning

Posted on November 23, 2020 by Wendy Katz, consultant EdExploreSRQ
In my summer blog, I wrote with optimism how EdExploreSRQ was adapting to the challenges of the pandemic and reimagining ways Explorations might continue to reach students virtually as field trips and in-school performances were forced to take a hiatus. I shared that EdExploreSRQ's malleability might become an asset. The program would continue to bring learning to life while allowing students to stay safe as they connected to the rich science and cultural jewels in our community.

Months later, schools have resumed, with many students choosing to learn remotely as COVID cases are rising once again.

Many of our teachers, administrators, and local providers have demonstrated their resiliency, rising to the challenge by adapting, innovating, and creating new ways of providing meaningful learning experiences to augment classroom learning virtually.

Sarasota County Schools Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Laura Kingsley, states that the district remains committed to having every student participate in at least one Exploration during the school year — Every Child, Every Year, EdExploreSRQ.

Brian Hersh, Program Director for Any Given Child, and Angela Hartvigsen, Fine Arts Program Specialist and Manager of EdExploreSRQ, believe that experiential learning is more important than ever in helping teachers bring content to life in authentic ways.

Explorations had to be totally reimagined to be responsive to the remote learning environment for students by becoming completely virtual. Providers admittedly have different levels of technological skills, so Providers have been getting support in a couple of ways. Every other week, they can come together with Brian and Angela to hear district updates and get assistance with standards or the website's mechanics. Additionally, Providers started to meet informally for sessions called "Lessons Learned," where they contribute technical and instructional design support for each other. The sessions allow Providers to practice in a safe space and get feedback from their peers about what is working, improving their Exploration design and format. They also were able to troubleshoot using the new technology platforms.

Proudly, to date, sixty virtual Explorations generated by 12 providers are now posted on the EdExploreSRQ website. Time segments have been shortened, and new pre and post instructional materials have been developed for teacher ease. Providers have planned previews to market the new virtual Explorations for staff, allowing them a chance to get facts and watch short promotional video clips.

As these organizations came together, they learned from each other, strengthened their skills, shared their talents and knowledge, and found novel ways to connect, allowing EdExploreSRQ to evolve and respond to the new normal of teaching and learning. The Patterson Foundation promotes these actions as ways organizations can catalyze their efforts to achieve shared aspirations.

Challenges often present new opportunities. It is likely that after the pandemic is over, educators will have learned new skillsets and appreciated some of the advantages of technology, offering new ways to stay connected with students and families.

In a recent virtual discussion, Daniel Pink referenced school officials as "hidden heroes because the difficult work they do is often overlooked." He also shared his optimism that schools could come out of the pandemic stronger if they addressed issues with measured responses. "I think there's a nice mix day to day between toggling those small wins and the big issues," he said. "Small wins get you to the next day. The big issues will give you a North Star."

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