Last spring, when I first became involved with the EdExploreSRQ initiative through TPF, someone casually remarked that the explorations on EdExplore catered more to elementary rather than the high school students.
I totally disagreed with that statement because so frequently people underestimate the talent and ingenuity of our young people. In my mind, why not entice high school students to create their own explorations around a relevant issue or area of need? How novel it would be for them to choose something they want to learn because it interests them rather than just another topic required in a textbook?
I couldn’t imagine a better way to motivate high school students. Why not allow them a chance to take greater ownership for their own learning? Education research endorses that authentic, real-world experiences automatically increase levels of engagement and the complexity of the content (Dewey, 1938; Schlanger, Lengfelder, & Groves, 1999) for students.
So, I shared this challenge with some of my colleagues and landed in Linda Nook’s office -- Linda is the principal of Riverview High School. After some initial conversation, she shared my enthusiasm for the idea and suggested that she indeed had teachers that would welcome a chance to become involved with such an exciting venture. Riverview High School already has two EdExploreSRQ explorations posted on the website: The Planetarium and Stars to Starfish.
Three months after this initial conversation, Effa Beauette, the faculty facilitator for this project, invited me to a planning session for the creation of a Nature Walk on the Riverview campus linking the Aquadome to the dock on Phillippi Creek. Although I had great confidence that these students would be successful with our initial idea, what I witnessed that afternoon was transformational. These young people were not only taking the lead for the project, they also took our vision to an entirely new level in constructing a nature trail on the Riverview High School campus.
The session took place on an early release day after mid-term exams. The students and sponsoring teachers were engaged in sharing each of their roles and responsibilities with the project. The energy and enthusiasm of the students was contagious. They were all focused, detailed, and genuinely passionate about creating this lasting landmark for their school. They took initiative and ownership of scheduling, contacting community experts, and conducting the research and developing the materials to complete the project by the end of the year.
The Engineering, Environmental, and Papillon Butterfly Garden clubs all had participants. One of the students rolled out his architectural rendering of the nature walk so the other students could give input. Two other students were videotaping the session as they are making a documentary of the entire project. These students had to make critical decisions and were accountable for the results.
They were asked to think about their vision regarding the native plant trail. Like Selby Gardens, should there be little signs interspersed with student-generated children's “stories” or “poems” about some of the plants …or some poetry by famous authors like Wordsworth? Beauette (2014)
The design of the Riverview Nature Walk learning experience encourages students to learn from natural consequences and mistakes as well as successes. These types of experiential learning opportunities include reflection, critical analysis and synthesis throughout the entire learning project. I can’t think of a more authentic way for students to investigate, to be curious, creatively solve problems, and construct meaning -- all of which are necessary skills to be successful in life.
The Nature Walk completion date is May 1. I can’t wait to see the finished product!
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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