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The exploration begins: Washington IslandSchool adopts Expeditionary Learning curriculum (with video)

Mar. 27, 2013
 
2013-03-26 18:34:13 +0000
2013-03-26 18:34:13 +0000: Expeditionary Learning open house at Washington Island School on March 22
Washington Island School third- and fourth-grade students Paige Gunnlaugsson, clockwise from left, Ryan Jorgenson, Tara Dejardin, Max Johnson and Edwardo Hutchin share a laugh viewing their commercials. To view a video clipping of Expeditionary Learning, go to www.doorcountyadvocate.com. / Tina M. Gohr/Door County Advocate
Spencer Johnson, foreground, and Miles Gordon paint pails as part of the Kindness Project inside Margaret Foss' first- and second-grade class at Washington Island School. To view a sample video of Expeditionary Learning at the school, go to www.doorcountyadvocate.com. / Tina M. Gohr/Door County Advocate

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See video of Expeditionary Learning demonstrations at Washington Island Schools by clicking this story at www.doorcountyadvocate.com.

First/second grade teacher Margaret Foss hands out paint for an art project. The community was invited to view an Expeditionary Learning demonstration at Washington Island School on Friday. To view a sample video of a couple of the classes, go to www.doorcountyadvocate.com. / Tina M. Gohr/Door County Advocate

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Washington Island students and the public got a taste of the district’s upcoming change to Expeditionary Learning Friday.

Expeditionary Learning, which is the name of both the program and the company that created it, has students engage in project-based outcome expeditions that work to build critical thinking, innovation and higher level thinking skills.

According to Jenny Seydel, school designer in the Midwest Region at Expeditionary Learning, EL is a professional development company for educators.

“We work with the teachers and the leaders in the district to transform what they do to meet the needs of all students,” Seydel said.

All EL schools are held to the same district, state and national standards for student achievement, she said.

The district decided this school year to move ahead with an exploratory year of EL. The exploratory year was funded by a $12,000 grant from the Washington Island Education Association. Friday’s open house was a chance for parents and the community to see EL in action.

Besides several site visits to the school district by EL school designers, four teachers had the opportunity to visit two EL schools.

Two teachers, Margaret Foss, who teaches kindergarten through second grade, and Dani Kickbush, third and fourth grade, have already visited Silverton Public School District in Colorado. Silverton is a rural Expeditionary Learning school of about 68 students. Washington Island has 64.

Foss and Kickbush attended a site seminar while in Silverton. The seminar included a day of exposure and involvement in crew and another day talking in depth about expeditions and curriculum techniques, Foss said.

“Crew is really all about being kind to each other ... ‘I can support my crew’ is a basic tenet of the whole Expeditionary Learning approach,” Foss said.

Foss said she is ready to start implementing EL.

“I’m thrilled. I can’t wait. I want to dig in and get started,” Foss said.

Teachers Steve Waldron, seventh and eighth grade, and Larry Hermanson, math, science and virtual academy development, are planning to travel to a green EL public charter school Evergreen Community School in Asheville, N.C.

An expedition in kindness

Last week Foss launched the Kindness Project for her kindergarten, first- and second-grade students.

“The children are going to work on the idea of supporting one another in school and take that another step further into acts of kindness ... in the school and community,” she said.

As part of the project, she has introduced students to the term “crew.”

The island students have been able to relate this to the Washington Island Ferry crew and how they work as a team.

Foss told those gathered for Friday’s demonstration that crews can be a class, the whole school or the community.

During the demonstration Foss’ students talked about the difference between “bucket fillers” and “dipping.” Dipping meant taking away from the bucket.

Students chose a slip of paper from a pail and read it to their classmates. After each question the students and Foss discussed whether it was a bucket filler or bucket dipping.

One question pertained to a student not using a kind tone of voice toward another student. The second student made a face and told the teacher.

“It would be better if the person didn’t make a face and just walked over to Mrs. Foss and told ... and just worked it out,” said Breanna McGrane, a second-grade student.

“Making a mean face at someone; is that bucket filling or bucket dipping?” Foss asked her students.

“Bucket dipping,” the students responded.

“Today’s lesson was mainly focused on obviously the feelings and the kindness we want to spread from person to person right here. But it is launching something much bigger,” Foss told visitors after the lesson.

After discussing bucket filling and dipping, students had the chance to paint small silver pails the color of their choice.

“We really are just getting our feet wet. I foresee expeditions next year that are more fully developed,” Foss said in a follow up interview.

Parent Sarah Gordon, who has a son in Foss’ class, said she is in favor of the teaching change that includes students working away from their desks and interacting more with the teacher and other students.

“I’m excited. I think this helps kids stay focused,” she said of EL.

Kickbush’s class of third- and fourth-grade students are also becoming acquainted with EL.

Her students recently wrote persuasive essays using learning targets specific to EL.

“Students learned how to write them and persuade people to so-call buy their invention,” she said.

Students learned what the word “persuasive” means, created their inventions, wrote the essays and commercials, and recorded short commercials about their products.

“I think a big part is they learn together most of all,” Kickbush said.

Another EL change is her students sit at communal tables instead of traditional desks.

Students had to learn to respect each other’s space as they adjusted to the new seating arrangement, she said.

Training and funding

The next step in the move to Expeditionary Learning is for teachers to begin their formal training. Lead school designers will sit in on regular classes April 2-3 and work with staff on how to implement EL in the classroom.

In December Seydel was at the school and gave a two-hour class about energy using EL techniques—“just exactly as it would be taught in the classroom,” Superintendent Tim Raymond said .

Raymond said the district plans to begin training teachers this summer.

Next comes working the cost of EL into the budget.

“Right now that has been my ownership to work (EL) into the budget next year,” Raymond said.

Part of the cost will be covered by diverting the district’s professional development funds to EL.

Contact Samantha Hernandez at svhernande@doorcountyadvocate.com or (920) 743-3321, Ext. 112.

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