There are many dimensions to our experiential education pedagogy that makes it so successful. These dimensions are evident throughout the building and our website, but a few key components of our approach to experiential and constructivist education are highlighted here.
Theme Based Learning
Through a strong core curriculum, students at The College School become proficient in traditional subject areas: language arts, math, social studies and science. Extended theme studies enhance the core academics by allowing students to apply and broaden their knowledge through studying special topics in depth. Topics are designed to capture students' imaginations and allow them to immerse themselves in a focused area of study. At each grade level, students engage in different theme study. The lower grades (preschool - second grade) often choose subjects based on student interests. Project work and extended blocks of time are integral to theme studies. Our theme studies also typically bring students into the field for their studies, including overnight learning experiences.
Mastery of Academic Skills
For us, experiential and outdoor education is not separate than our study of core academic skills. Rather, they are the same. At The College School, we know that authentically connecting to lessons requires the highest level of academic mastery from our students. The president of the National Association of Independent Schools has said that one of the top trends in education today is the need for more experiential and thematic education. At TCS, expectations are high and students are inspired to discover, create and excel. We inspire and challenge students while supporting them in a nurturing environment. Two full-time teachers are in each classroom. Our low student-to-faculty ratio allows teachers to personally know students and respond to their individual learning styles. By working closely together inside and outside the classroom, teachers and students build strong and meaningful personal relationships that make children feel valued and appreciated for who they are.
Adventure Education / Field Trips
The College School's unique Outdoor Adventure Education Program fosters self discovery, collaboration, environmental stewardship, and integration of academic skills. The concept of outdoor adventure education begins in preschool with trips to our local parks to explore the environment and continues throughout the grades with increasing levels of complexity and length of overnights. Different than other schools that send their students on outdoor adventure programs, our outdoor adventure programs are run by our teachers and are directly connected to our curriculum. Along with the benefits of any outdoor adventure program (teamwork, personal development, and environmental stewardship), our students have the added benefit of a curriculum that lives in the wilderness as the classroom. Prospective parents sometimes ask why we go on so many trips. Age appropriate trips provide children with fresh, life-altering experiences and new challenges, along with opportunities to apply skills learned in the classroom, collect data for use in the classroom, solve problems, bond with classmates and teachers and develop self-confidence. Trips aren't just fun add-ons, separate from academic studies. Our trips into the field are an inextricable part of the way we teach and learn at The College School.
When students reflect on their experiences, they develop a genuine understanding of what they've studied. Reflection reinforces and enhances their learning. It allows them to better retain information and build on earlier discoveries. While journal writing is central to this process, students also reflect on their experiences through discussion, writing, drawing and producing visual presentations. A famous quote at The College School from our past Head of School, Jan Phillips is, "An experience is only as powerful as the reflection upon that experience."
Education for Sustainability
According to Environmental Educator David Orr, the "Sustainability Revolution" is, "a rethinking of our relationship to the natural world as members and citizens of an ecological community and as trustees of all that is past with all that is yet to come." Education for sustainability inspires our students to think about the world, their relationship to it, and their ability to influence it in an entirely new way. Education for sustainability leads children to understand the interconnectedness of humans, the economy, and all of the Earth's systems as well as the important role they play in creating a sustainable future. Education for sustainability prepares our students to be informed and responsible stewards of our future world. We believe in education for sustainability. Along with our roots and history in this belief, our faculty has recently worked together to discuss how sustainability issues can and should be taught in the TCS curriculum and community. Whether in our greenhouse and garden, our biological sciences curriculum, our wilderness adventure education trips, our recycling efforts, our green construction, or our school wide Leave No Trace Ethic, sustainability and green education lives throughout our school. As educators we are stewards of the next generation. At this point in history, we are also stewards of 21st century schools that must cultivate the best of human qualities in the most imaginative and productive learning communities so that we can invent a healthy, positive, regenerative future.
The Reggio Emilia Approach
With roots in Italy, The Reggio Emilia Approach has both supported and inspired us school wide in the following ways. Our early childhood program, in particular, has benefited from the philosophies and practices from Reggio Emilia. Throughout the entire school, we strive to create beautiful, home like, organized spaces full of a rich variety of wonderful materials for our students to use. We value collaboration among adults and children and know that intellectual curiosity, having wonderful ideas and acting on them is at the heart of life-long learning. We strive to make learning visible through the artful display and publication of children's ideas and adults' reflections. We know that children understand the interdependence and connectedness of the world around them and we support their developing knowledge, imagination and skills across disciplines. We realize that multiple perspectives are necessary to make sense of many subjects and issues and we cultivate the skills of listening and dialogue in our students from pre-eighth grade. We value parents as partners and work together with them to be the best stewards of the next generation that we can be.
If you have questions about our philosophy or curriculum, please contact Kevin Navarro, Assistant Head of School.