On Vigorous Learning 10.16.13
A few days ago, I was enjoying a conversation in my office with one of our history teachers. I noticed, outside of my open door, a girl, clearly trying to decide whether to interrupt what could have been, from her point of view, a casual conversation. I asked her to come in, and she politely approached her teacher. “During the revolution,” she asked, “how were the Amish affected?”
Her teacher answered her – the Amish were such a small presence at the time that they did not play a role in the American revolution– but what I loved about the exchange is that this girl had made connections between “taxation without representation” and the religious exemptions on social security tax that are a part of American government. Rather than just stay within the discussions and assignments that are part of her American History curriculum, she pondered the era, and the consequences for various groups.
That is vigorous learning. Vigorous learning, in my book, depends on teachers who make content relevant to students. Vigorous learning depends on creating connections for students, through instruction, through assessments and through the enthusiasm that teachers bring to the classroom.
While this exchange with an upper school student was occurring, our 8th grade students were engaging in vigorous learning through a multi-disciplinary and experiential class trip to New York City. An immigration simulation on a ferry dock (no Ellis Island due to our government shut down!) helped girls understand how overwhelming and, frankly, terrifying, the experience had been for immigrants of yore.
A reflection of how immigrants must have experienced entering the Free Library in the city drove home the sense of promise this country conveyed to its new residents. A scavenger hunt was not only filled with fun, it also made girls realize that immigrant experiences have built who we are as a people and a nation.
A few weeks ago, a number of our upper school girls hosted a “by girls, for girls” leadership conference. Getting out of their way, we allowed girls to create a day that was relevant to their experiences. They wanted to inspire and educate. They invited girls from across the Philadelphia area to attend and thought through every detail of the day’s schedule. 150 girls attended – and the conference was a resounding success. That is vigorous learning, too. Yes, for the attendees, but for our girls, our conference organizers, as well. They researched areas of leadership development in order to ensure workshops matched the needs of girls. They put together an information fair with issues as they relate to girls and women. Topics ranged from Women in Business and Politics, to Women of Color in Leadership, to Domestic Violence, and so much more. The girls learned how to secure sponsors and learned to cope with the disappointments that are part of every endeavor.
Vigorous learning is an essential ingredient of a well-rounded education. It brings about a passion for always making connections, for creative problem-solving and for a life-long path of seeking new discoveries.
Monday October, 21, 2013 at 03:04PM
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