Fast Company April 2000 : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Fast Company April 2000 Schools That Think By Sara Terry

Everyone Agrees: Education is essential for the future of the new economy. Everyone Agrees: The public education system needs reform. No one agrees on how to do it.

The Expedition School Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning, Denver, Colorado Grades: K-12 Founded: 1993 Number of Students: 315 Mission statement: To apply Outward Bound's Principles of expeditionary learning and individual support- to the field of education.

Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning (RMSEL) uses learning expeditions as the foundation of the curriculum. Children from four local school districted are selected by lottery. The "voyages of learning" are near total immersions in one subject, explored from every possible angle, for the months at a time.

An example they utilized is: World War II- for nearly five months, middle-school students explore the war through literature, memoirs, film, museum visits, science projects, a camping trip to a nearby war memorial, creative writing, and talks with senior citizens and concentration-camp survivors. Besides learning that Robert Oppenheimer was head of the Manhattan Project, they've also conducted experiments to test the theories of matter and energy that the bomb is based on. They've studied the effects of radiation and written pamphlets about its danger. And with all learning expeditions at RMSEL, the class topped off its months of studying World War II with an in-depth project of creating their own museum.

Now that's learning, and the kids know it. Reaction of students interviewed claim that learning wasn't interesting in traditional schools and RMSEL makes it interesting. Teachers interviewed claim that you just don't skim the surface, that learning is living, breathing, hands-on, hearts and minds engaged experience with high goals and lofty expectations.

It is exciting to me to note that RMSEL students routinely outscored other area students on national standardized test. 72% of youngsters who transferred to RMSEL improved their reading scores. Also, (probably because of our research project) I find it engaging, students are also assessed by students' portfolios! They prepare and present these portfolios to be judged by a panel of teachers and community members. These comprehensive reviews are required on four different occasions during the course of a student's career. In addition, students are measured for how they think, how they perform, how they progress, and what they have in their portfolios. Loren Brinton, a student comments, "I think RMSEL is like life." He says, "It's taught me to be self-directed, and that teaches you how to learn. It doesn't just teach you."

Alternative education is a hot topic now because there seems to be a driving force to fix our schools. Last year I wrote on an article from the Unte Reader June 1998 magazine How I go my DIV Degree Wimsatt's University of Planet Earth. It was about alternative education. Wimsatt's University of Planet Earth is designing your education and major. Developing a curriculum to learn through experiences to obtain information (such as seeking mentors, library and Internet, etc.). I also am amused when I see match book covers selling a degree by earning credit by life experiences. Maybe because I've been in the field for so many years, but alternative education is something that seems to go full cycle. New "buzz" words for old ideas. Learning happens naturally and school mostly just gets in the way". That is something I hear very often. I think educator should listen more carefully to the attitude of students feeling that education now is just a pay-your-dues to get a diploma. However my answer to good education, no matter what the method is labeled, it is the teacher that makes the difference and what makes it happen! Good teacher-good learning!

-- Anonymous, April 03, 2000

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