Sunday, June 20, 2010

Do you say "field trip" or do you say "fieldwork"?

Why my school ROCKS! Part 1

Okay, so it's not actually MY school. But I am blessed to have been very involved in the founding of our little K-9 school. I serve on the board of trustees and have responsibility for helping insure that the vision and mission of our charter are adhered to. To learn more about public charter schools go here. It's been a long, rocky road these first 4 years (actually 6 if you count the time spent before we actually opened our doors!), but I wouldn't trade the experience away. Although if you had asked me a few weeks ago, I may have jumped ship eagerly! More on that another time.

But for all the anxiety involved with my responsibilities and the stress I have felt these past few months particularly, the trade off has been an educational experience for my children that I know they could not have received at any other public school. I said before I would share why I think our school is so awesome, so today is the first installment!

One of the things that sets us apart from other schools around us is our philosophy on field trips. We just don't believe in the darn things! What we do believe in is fieldwork.

Our curriculum, or the state standards, is delivered through semester-long thematic units called Learning Expeditions. Then all the disciplines (reading, language arts, math, science, etc.) are taught within this learning expedition. Their assignments have a purpose which is to lead them to the answers to the guiding questions that are driving the expedition. Hopefully I can illustrate what this means a little better in a minute.

When our students leave campus it is to perform fieldwork that is integrated into the learning expedition. Each expedition also includes a final product and a service element. Often the final product is a service project.

This year Cowgirl's class (3rd grade) had an expedition on the forest. Their final product was an informational website on the forest. They went into the field (the forest in this case) 3 times during the course of the expedition. The first outing was when there was still snow in the mountains and they went snowshoeing! Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of that. Each time they went out they were conducting research for their expedition. They planted trees, studied animals and collected water and insect samples.

I've put little smileys on the other students in the following pictures for the sake of protecting their privacy, but wanted to share with you some of their fieldwork experiences!

Here the ranger is playing different bird calls he has downloaded on his ipod, and when the birds would come, they would see if they could identify what bird it was, based on the studying they had already done on birds.

Here cowgirl is getting her waders on to go into the river and start analyzing the "health" of the water.

This is my favorite. Don't they look so adorable in their gear, marching down to the water?

Here they are collecting water insects. They had already learned that class 1 insects means a healthy river, class 2 means fair, and class 3 means that the river is unhealthy.

Here is the "water analysis" station. They collected water samples and then added a few drops of a solution that would measure the Ph level. The solution turned their water dark green. Green is 7.5 on the scale which is pretty healthy. 7 is the perfect score. Orange is in the 3's and is very unhealthy.

Needless to say, the things they learned will stay with them a lot longer than" just until the test is over".

For art, the Middle School art teacher came in and taught the students how to sketch animals. Each student was responsible for creating a page on the website for a certain animal, and the page included at sketch of their animal.

In the end they had a product that is a service to an authentic audience (the site is linked to our state's education network) and some real knowledge that they gained through active learning. We don't have textbooks, but I think the experiences our students have help them really learn and retain the things we are trying to teach them. I won't post the website, since I don't want to broadcast where my children attend school for all to see, but if you're interested in seeing the students' work, shoot me an email and I'll send you the link!

Fieldwork is one reason my school ROCKS!


shortmama said...

Wow your school really does rock! That was my favorite part of homeschooling Rhiannon was that each lesson that we learned about I could take her some place to continue the learning or to help review the things we had learned about!

Myya said...

WOW! What amazing enriching lessons these kids are learning. You should TOTALLY be calling this YOUR school, you work your butt off for it & what an awesome job you guys are doing!

FrouFrouBritches said...

That is so cool! You should be really proud of yourself and your school! BTW, they do look adorable in those waders! So cute!

Emmy said...

That really does sound like an awesome school

Paula@SweetPea said...

Your school sounds like a very good one. It is wonderful that you are such an involved parent.

Sami said...

I am in shock and awe! This is fascinating to me, because I am SO a hands on kind of learner! I want to move to Utah, just so my kids can go to your school!