Experiences Matter

The kids from Center High School just returned from the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial a few minutes ago. I am constantly amazed by our group of kids. Last year was our first year taking this trip*, and it went great. The second year and consequent years make me nervous. It's not new anymore, which naturally takes off some of the glimmer from the trip. The longer you do a particular activity, the harder it is to drum up anticipation and excitement.

*Thanks to the generosity of the World War One Educational Foundation that provided free admission and free lunch to our group! Also a big thanks to our director of Secondary Curriculum, Sally Newell, who somehow found some money in her ever-tightening budget to help us pay for the buses to get there. 
Center High School and Center Alternative School
March 15th, 2015
Students took five pictures to use on an assignment in class the
next day.

A student takes a look at one of the artillery guns on display.
Center Board President Joe Nastasi and High School Counselor
Krista McGee look on as their group talks with the guide.
Students learn about trench warfare.
A student looks from the glass bridge in the atrium down on the
9,000 red poppies - 1 for every 1,000 military deaths in WWI.
Students listen to their guide explain the older parts of the WWI Museum.
Kids use an interactive display to learn about some of the items
they've been looking at during their tour.

This could be my favorite picture. Students listen to stories of
trench warfare.
Students begin their tour on the glass bridge above the poppy field.
Beautiful weather. Beautiful view of downtown KC. Beautiful students.

As I reflect on this year's trip and think forward to next year's trip, I wonder what we can do better and differently to make this an exciting and worthwhile experience for the kids. Part of the key is - and this should probably be more obvious than it is - to ask the students what their opinions are. What did they like? What didn't they like? I'm giving out a survey tomorrow in class, so we'll see what issues that brings up. Besides asking though, it's important for me to be mentally present with my group during the trip. As much as possible, I need to not worry about the buses, or lunch logistics, or why in the world is she walking in that direction right now??! These are all valid concerns. But as much as I can, I need to be with my kids and experiencing what they experience.

From doing this, I found out that we probably need to ask the tour guides to speak a little less next year. I found myself wanting more time to just look and explore. I also found that I needed some time to sit down and rest. Perhaps we could work in some kind of activity mid-way through the tour that could exercise some of the students' creative juices. Maybe we can utilize some of the great space the museum has outdoors.

I'll stop there - you're probably not reading this blog to get an insight into my logistical thought-process. If you are, well, you are a very dedicated individual!

The bigger picture here I think revolves around two questions:
  1. What does success look like? 
  2. Do kids want to be in my class?
What does success look like?
Steve Parker is the other Modern World History teacher here at Center. This trip has been a collaboration of sorts between the two of us. As we were walking back to our classes after we finished the trip, he started to vent some frustration with the small group (like 2 or 3) that seemed totally disinterested. At first, I was nodding my head in agreement. But when we parted ways, I started to think about Dave Burgess and Teach Like a Pirate.

Dave Skyped in with a group of Center teachers on Monday. One of the great insights I got from listening to Dave was this idea that teaching is not a "perfection" activity. We are not in a position to reach and touch every child. We will not change every life we meet, no matter how hard we try. If we judge the job we do by the standard of perfection - Was every single student engaged in this field trip? - then we are doomed to a life of misery and suffering!

We will rarely achieve 100% engagement. When we do, it is something to be celebrated like crazy! But when we get close, and we get all of but one or two or three kids really engaged, is that success? Dave seems to think so, and I agree. While it is tempting to focus on the few students who did not latch on to our lesson or who looked disinterested during the field trip, that is to in part ignore the other 25 students who were, as Dave puts it, on fire. We have to take the time and have the poise to take a few steps back and evaluate on the overall effect. If I don't catch a particular student, do I have trust in my colleagues that one of them will catch her?

Do kids want to be in my class?
I went to #edcampLiberty last weekend. It was, like every #edcamp I've ever been to, pretty awesome. One of the concepts of an #edcamp is that teachers can get up and leave sessions - in fact they are encouraged to do so! This is called voting with your feet or some other variation, but you get the idea. Sessions that are no good will naturally be poorly attended while those that are great will have teachers literally spilling out of the doorway. When I see a session with teachers craning their necks to get a part of the action, I wonder what I'm missing and try to join in!

Sometime during the morning, I sent out the tweet below:

The answer to that question could be jarring.

If your class were voluntary - let's say kids were required to attend 7 classes each day, but they could pick which one's they attended - would anyone choose to spend an hour in your class?

Field trips and experiences are important because they help us find answers to these two questions. We are able to see kids on fire by putting them in new, challenging and unique situations. Kids will remember these moments more vividly than the best lecture you will ever give. And while we cannot go on a field trip each day, we can fine-tune the art of experiential learning every moment of every day if we so choose.

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

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