The Lower School celebrates the bounty of fall with a fire, music and dance, and the traditional rolling of the oatcake. Legend has it that rolling an oatcake marked with an X on one side and an O on the other side can predict the coming winter’s severity. This year the oatcake landed on O, so we can expect a mild winter.
On September 16, elder statesman of the science department Paul Dickinson officially dedicated the new Upper School science lab with a ribbon cutting. Retired teacher Lowell Herr, current teacher Dan Griffiths, and students Rivka Shenoy ’09 and Megan Stater ’12 spoke beautifully about their passion for science teaching and learning.
Three alumni, Lee McIntyre ’80, Kristen Hege ’80, and Chris Gibson ’01, talked via video about the role of science education in their careers. Watch the videos.
By Nadine Fiedler, Caller editor
Learning by doing underlies Catlin Gabel’s philosophy and has long been a treasured and valuable practice at the school. Although field trips and off-campus projects are what you might think define experiential education, much of this hands-on learning takes place every day on the Catlin Gabel campus. The following examples show the many ways experiential education flowers in our classrooms.
|The environmental science and policy class, with teacher Dan Griffiths, downtown at the Ecotrust building|
The Green Intersection of Science and Politics
Upper Schoolers come to grips with the environment
We’re sitting in a meeting room at Portland’s Wild Salmon Center, where Forest Service biologist Gordon Reeves, one of the Northwest’s pioneers of fieldwork in salmon and their habitats, speaks with Catlin Gabel’s environmental science and policy class. The students and teachers have been absorbed by his presentation about the effect of land use policy on wild salmon populations, and they ask several penetrating questions. Reeves then steps back for a second, looks at this group of seniors, and says, “You know, this is really amazing. I was a scientist for 20 years before I came to understand anything about policy, and here you are learning about that in high school.”
The class, led by science teacher Dan Griffiths and history teacher Peter Shulman, is exactly that amazing and groundbreaking. Peter and Dan have developed an interdisciplinary curriculum in which students work hands-on in the laboratory to understand the science of the environment, and then study the political, economic, legal, and ethical implications of environmental policy. The class frequently visits experts in the field or hosts visitors to speak about the environmental issues that define their own lives and work. Peter sits in on all science classes to answer questions about policy, and Dan is there in all policy classes to help provide the scientific context. Through this course the students have achieved a remarkably deep synthesis of this complex area that will most probably be a subject of intense worldwide debate and study for the rest of their lives.
Through the lens of three overarching subjects—food, energy, and water—the class has studied topics that include solar and other alternative forms of energy, the oil market, biodiversity and wildlife conservation, corn and ethanol, ecoterrorism, and environmental toxicology. Among their many activities, they have attended a PhD student’s seminar on captive breeding at the Oregon Zoo, visited an oil depot and mixing station, and spent time with Curt Ellis ’98 to talk about his film King Corn while they were studying the farm bill. They developed a presentation on solar energy for assemblies in Middle and Upper School, and they brainstormed with 5th graders on recycling.
In the science part of the course, the students take part in open-ended investigative research of the type usually done only by advanced science students. Their research has included the chemistry of crude oil and how internal combustion engines work. In the student-run soil lab, they have grown plants to study nitrogen concentration, soil composition, uptake of heavy metals added to water, and more. “They might not find anything significant, but the labs open questions,” says Dan. “Everything’s not cut and dried in environmental science and biology, and cause and effect are difficult to establish.”
The many strengths of this class include flexibility. Both Dan and Peter will give over class time to the other if the conversation demands that. The class is structured but not rigid, so that they are able to delve deeper into what the students find compelling. Through the expansion of abstract concepts into a real world context, the students see how the environment affects people’s lives and livelihoods. This is one class where no one will ever ask, “Why do we need to learn this?”
|7th graders sharing what they learned about Confucius|
Bringing the Ancients to Life
7th graders immersed in Rome, India, China, and Egypt
Ancient civilizations have been revived at Catlin Gabel thanks to RICE, a project of Paul Monheimer’s 7th grade world cultures class. RICE stands for Rome, India, China, and Egypt, the four ancient cultures that are the subject of concentrated research and a culminating dramatic presentation. This project combines an academic component with experiential activity that makes the students’ studies tangible and understandable.
The 7th graders work in four teams of 16 to research aspects of their civilization that include art and architecture, science, family life, and religion. Each student picks a topic to study, write about, and create posters about for the presentation. As a group they figure out how to write a script that highlights the most important parts of what they have learned, and that will result in an interesting and entertaining stage production. They create stage sets, costumes, makeup, and props—and then perform for the rest of the 7th grade, all of whom must write essays after the presentations about what they have learned.
Leadership and teamwork are a huge part of RICE, and Paul takes care to give the students a healthy dose of autonomy. The four student leaders of each team must keep their classmates on task as they work towards the performance deadline. They must learn to resolve conflicts and figure out solutions to the many problems that arise in such a complex mental and physical undertaking. The more outgoing students learn to share the spotlight with the quieter students and recognize the value of hard workers, listeners, and observers as well as leaders.
Energy is high and nerves twang before the performances, but the 7th graders always pull it off. Although they can sometimes be self-conscious in front of the audience in their togas and saris, it’s always clear that they know what they’re talking about and have become a hardworking team. “RICE is magic,” says Paul. “We continually push the students to do things they didn’t think they could do. It’s overwhelming and daunting at first, but then they start working. They turn a corner and realize they can do it.”
RICE may not last forever, though. One of the reasons Paul started it was for students to practice dramatic skills, but since then the school has initiated a Middle School drama program. He is contemplating different ways to achieve the same goals, and says, “the important thing is to keep the sense of discovery going.”
|6th graders mapping the Paddock|
The Map is the Treasure
6th graders map the school universe
Maps are about where we are in the world and how we see it, describe it, and ultimately perceive it. For the Catlin Gabel 6th grade, mapping is the means by which, among other lessons, they learn to master measuring tools, draw a scale model, and distill the essence of place into poetry.
Teacher Jeff Paul started using mapping in 2001 as a way to make math tangible and fun. A couple of years later other 6th grade teachers decided to join Jeff and integrate the curriculum through the use of map-making. Maps have come into play in science, where Larry Hurst’s students map the body by constructing skeletons; in Spanish, where Spencer White has his class map the Middle School and label it in Spanish; and in physical education, where the students take part in a treasure hunt. With discovery as one of the key themes for the grade, mapping provides an avenue for initiating and representing the exploring that 6th graders love to do.
Students begin the year in math class by plotting a map of the campus. In groups of two they learn to measure their paces, pace out areas of the campus using fixed points, and transfer the resulting measurements onto paper. If it’s not right, they can see right away where they might have gone wrong, because the actuality is there before their eyes. They see how numbers have purpose and how they can represent and measure life. “Doing this applied work gives them a greater understanding of the mathematics,” says Jeff.
The maps grow and gain complexity though the additions of “event maps,” led by humanities teacher Hannah Whitehead, wherein the 6th graders add to the maps things they’ve seen and heard on walks around campus. Later they can expand upon these events by writing short poems about them, guided by language arts teacher Carter Latendresse. The poems are added to the maps under flip-up tabs (like an Advent calendar). The resulting map is a colorful and personal reflection of the campus, and its creation has built valuable skills in every part of its construction.
|A 3rd grader plants flowers in a marsh|
Water, Water, Everywhere
3rd graders study the source of life
Walk into the classroom of 3rd grade teachers Susan Lazareck and Richard Snell, and you’re transported to the woods and waterways of Oregon. A paper waterfall ripples on one side of the room, spilling into a paper marsh onto which students are attaching paper grasses and flowers they’ve just made. Cardboard trees frame life-sized eagles flying over a replica of the Bonneville Dam made of boxes. Children are busy everywhere cutting out giant leaves, painting and attaching branches to tree trunks, chatting about what goes where and why.
The children creating these representations of Oregon habitats aren’t just making them up: they’ve spent weeks tracing the source and flow of our water, from nearby creeks to rivers, and eventually to the ocean. They’ve visited the Bull Run and Rock Creek watersheds, observing the plants and trees, and learning about the wildlife. They’ve learned about the water cycle, groundwater, runoff, and sediments from science teacher Scott Bowler, who led the field trips that began their yearlong study of the source of life. They’ve chosen research topics and studied watershed habitats in groups and individually. Their activity reflects the depth of this social studies curriculum and the careful and ingenious ways Richard and Susan have kept these students engaged in this interdisciplinary study of water.
“If you’ve done it with your hands and mind, you’ll never forget it,” says Richard. By the time the students have visited the sites and talked with adults involved in the water system, read the books, learned the science, built the tree bases in woodshop, drawn the pictures, made the animals in art class, written their research papers, and built the habitat, they all—no matter how they learn best—know this material deep down inside. They’ve also honed their skills in collaboration, creative thinking, and problem solving—as in all good experiential learning. They have brought their own strengths to their group projects, buoyed by their commitment to help one another come up with something wonderful.
“In this project work the burden of learning shifts from the teacher’s instructing to the students acquiring their own knowledge,” says Richard. “You have to be willing to give up control and be messy across the board. The room is messy, with paint spilled. Group work is messy in terms of relationships, but life is kind of messy, too.
“The teacher has to be willing to believe that children learn from this process,” he says. “The other side of that is excitement and joy in accomplishment.”
LOWER SCHOOL EXPERIENTIAL DAYS
FOSSIL HUNTING AT CAMP HANCOCK AND BEYOND
|A 5th grader loving her time at Camp Hancock|
At OMSI’s Camp Hancock, near the John Day River in eastern Oregon, we hiked and explored a gorgeous high desert landscape underlain with myriad fossils. Students discovered, touched, and dug up such things as fossil katsura tree trunks, oreodont skeletons, calcite crystalfilled equisetum stems, nimravid skulls, dawn redwood twigs, leaves from an ancient rainforest floor, and the shoulder bone of a great raptor with wings as much as 30 feet across. The children smeared their faces with red, brown, and green mud made from paleo-soils millions of years old during hikes, while the skies filled with snow flurries, rain showers, and sun.
We followed hikes the next day with a trip to the John Day Fossil Beds visitor center, where we could see fossils and reconstructed habitats, and comments like these abounded: “Hey! Look! We were just there—right there!” “We saw that yesterday in the Nut Beds!” Other highlights included learning to make string from native plants; a visit to a rock shelter with walls containing pictographs made from blood, fat, rock powders, and charcoal; and learning to use an atlatl to throw spears. Evenings were filled with after-dinner dish washing for 100 people, sing-along campfires, story telling, meeting Mariah the great horned owl, astronomy discoveries, playing the Hancock Trivia game, and a fabulous night hike.
Things kids learned: how to wash dishes fast and efficiently, make a bed, pack a bag, and sweep up a cabin; how natives moved seasonally through the landscape; that smilodonts preyed upon oredonts; that early horses, the size of cats or terrier dogs, lived in rainforests and had four toes; that central Oregon was once tropical ocean front, with avocados, bananas, and palms; how juniper trees preserve water in the dry climate; how to identify mule deer versus elk scat; how and why scientists collect, protect, and preserve fossils; and that not all really amazing fossils are from dinosaurs. So, how cool is that?
—Scott Bowler, Lower School’s “Mr. Science”
|A 1st grader prepares to decorate a chair autobiographically in "My Life as a Chair"|
ADVENTURES WITH FAIRIES AND GNOMES
|A cupcake left for the fairies|
Our children brought and shared books, gowns, experiences, wands, stories, enthusiasm, and hopes of finding a gnome or fairy. Our expectations were simple: to build relationships among peers of different ages, while exploring and identifying native habitat. After stories from around the world of gnomes and fairies, we headed off into various woods where we “walked like foxes,” not disturbing native life, participating in and deeply observing our surroundings.
Students learned about “manners” in the woods and streams, leaving no trace, something that the fairies would appreciate and the gnomes would respect. We baked cupcakes to give to the fairies, “because they are greedy and have a taste for sweets.” Some students created a fairy language, with translation keys, to write messages to the fairy folk. Others documented their days in drawings and detailed writing, finally publishing their findings and research in a shared newspaper full of beguiling class quotes and musings. We constructed colorful, jingly wands and pointy red hats. As we ventured out, students counted, collected, and pressed native plants to include in scrapbooks. They made copies of photographs, poems, and recipes to include.
The last day we practiced the life skill of quickly changing from muddy hiking gear to luncheon attire on a bus, to make a special date at the Heathman Restaurant. As we reviewed the different manners appropriate to fine dining, the students shared what they knew to be necessary: do not pound on the table when you want your food, remember to say please and thank you, don’t kick the table or your friends, try a bite before you say no thank you.
During Experiential Days students jump in, take healthy risks, and bond with one another. Maybe it is because there is magic in the woods, but more likely, I believe, with full, uninterrupted days given to exploration and creation, real magic happens.
—Mariam Higgins, 4th grade teacher
|A student gets slimed, a badge of honor|
"I was slimed three times!”
This was the magical moment I was waiting for. By our fourth day, one 7-year-old who had been a bit insecure about getting dirty could not get enough of the cows. We had talked all week about “getting slimed”— cows have wet noses and are incredibly curious, and “sliming” is their way of interacting with you. We wore it like a badge of honor.
These 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders learned about every step of the cheese-making process, watched the making of queso fresco, and ate cheese. We blind-tasted tiny cups of milk to identify which was whole milk, 2%, 1%, skim milk, half and half, and goat’s milk. A veterinarian told us how a calf is born, how and why cows are dehorned, how their four stomachs work, and how newborn calves have virtually no immune system and would die without drinking their mother’s rich colostrum milk.
One of the greatest lessons was about systems—we literally followed the process of milk from udder to grocery shelf. John, our organic dairyman, brought the children into the pasture and dug up the earth so the children could explore the soil, earthworms and all. He helped them see the connection between our earth and the food we eat, and why his cows are pasture fed. We talked about how his farm was different from the big, commercial farm we had seen. We learned about the concept of interdependency—and the consequences of choices we make—at its very basic level.
When we helped empty last year’s swallow houses, a student announced that she found what might be a dead baby bird inside one. A dead baby bird?! Everyone gathered around, wide-eyed, while Farmer John casually explained why many of the baby birds don’t survive. After a few minutes of furrowed brows, the children went back to their tasks. I learned about life and death on a dairy farm growing up, something I realize our youngsters don’t “get” as readily in the confines of city living. Life and death are all over farms. It’s simply the cycle of life
Our learning was deep and rich—and every bit of it experiential. Ask any one of our “cows” kids about it and they will go on and on. I was astounded at the connections they made in their learning. How could it be that children could learn major life lessons in just four days?
—Vicki Swartz Roscoe, head of the Lower School
MIDDLE SCHOOL BREAKAWAY
COSTA RICA TRAVEL
|Middle School students and teacher David Ellenberg work hard in Costa Rica|
Dropping off brave students at homestays scattered throughout Monteverde, climbing a high tower dwarfed by tropical jungle to begin a zip-line tour, thrilling to an encounter with Capuchin monkeys checking us out from perches in trees, pausing with journals to sit and reflect on all the Spanish phrases washing over them: these are some of the many images I conjure from two weeks in Costa Rica, over Breakaway time and more, with eighteen 8th graders.
Global travel is a challenge to provide, yet the payoffs are immediate and extensive. Students quickly transition from unsteady newbies filled with trepidation to comfortable travelers who know their way around a town with no street signs or numbered addresses. Seeing them process so many unknowns and work through unfamiliar situations, I find their personal growth truly inspiring.
—David Ellenberg, MS world history teacher
|These students were part of the FooDelicious group, which explored commercial food through visits to a bakery, wheat lab, donut shop, cheese company, pasta restaurant, and beachside candy shop. They came to understand where the typical foods they eat come from and how each component of the process is linked.|
|Learning about Shakespeare through an acting workshop in Ashland|
Live theater in Ashland, Oregon, opened the bill of this trip, exposing Middle Schoolers to a worldclass ensemble with first-rate music, costumes, staging, and venues. Diversity was key to the works they saw: Fences, a contemporary American play, The Clay Cart, a traditional East Indian play, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream— set in a 1970s disco, which the students really connected with. To further immerse them in the Shakespeare play, an Ashland actor and teacher led a workshop explaining Shakespeare as a person, discussing the play’s plot and historical context, then involving the students physically through movement and acting.
Hands-on fun continued at the science museum in Ashland, which is totally experiential in its nature. “You have to touch and move everything, and the students loved it,” said trip co-leader Mark Pritchard, Middle School music teacher.
One important lesson of Shakespearience for students was learning to stay within financial limits. They stayed in a dorm at Southern Oregon University to save money. They had a strict group budget for eating out, so everyone was responsible to the group and had to make good decisions, both monetarily and in terms of healthful eating. “The other fundamental lessons were learning to act responsibly in public, support each other, and do the right thing so the group represents the school well, and we stay welcome,” says Mark.
HOOP DAYS, a joint project with the Middle School and the 5th grade
|Visiting the Rose Garden, home of the Portland Trailblazers|
Hoop Days was the most wonderful four days EVER! I got to meet Jerome Kersey and wear his NBA championship ring! I got to go to the Blazers locker room and see Brandon Roy’s locker and touch his shoe! I learned all about the Rose Garden arena—did you know that Paul Allen built a secret apartment in it so he could spend the night after the games? I learned how radio and TV broadcast sports and I got to design my own shoe at Nike and meet with a designer who talked to me about it. It was also great to learn basketball tips and tricks from Pee Wee Harrison, of the Harlem All-Stars. This is just some of what I got to do.
The places we went all said they loved having the Catlin Gabel students, and even though they never did this kind of thing before they would love to do it again next year!
—Matthew Bernstein ’15, who had the original idea for the Hoop Days experience
UPPER SCHOOL WINTERIM
BECOMING A WORLD-CLASS NEGOTIATOR
|Online meeting with students from Gaza|
Upper School history teacher Peter Shulman and IT director Richard Kassissieh first gave us a quick overview of the history of Israel and Palestine, focusing on land ownership and the conflict over thousands of years. We took in a lot of information that day, and we gained a lot of understanding for both sides of the conflict. Our teachers also had us go around the room and explain who we are here and now, what we stand for, and where we come from. As people spoke around the room, every person had something special and unique about their origin and what brought them to where they are. Despite our different backgrounds, we all wanted to learn more about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The next day we met at 7 a.m. to speak with a group of students from Gaza through Skype, an online audio and visual connection. Remembering the experience continues to remind me how I want to change policy and injustice in the world as I continue to grow up. We were told that the group that we’d be speaking with was made up of Palestinian students my age living in the Gaza Strip, where attacks on both sides of the conflict continue to cripple the two fighting powers and prevent them from reaching an agreement.
As I walked into the room that morning, our mentor Richard, who is of Palestinian descent, explained the guidelines to my peers and me. “Withhold any questions you might have in regard to internal fighting between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza. As you know, Gaza is very small and very isolated. Words fly fast to the ears of harm-doers and direct, honest answers about these questions might have serious consequences for these students,” Richard told us.
The question that one of the Palestinian girls asked that will remain in my memory was, “Does the conflict here in Gaza, where we live, affect the daily lives for you guys?”
At that moment I felt embarrassed because it didn’t really enter into my mind daily. I attend school with the freedom to learn what the teachers have the autonomy to choose to teach us, and as citizens of the United States we have the freedom to travel. When it was my turn to speak, I stood up, and sat in front of the screen. I played with my hands, rearranging my scarf, and began to bite my lip, nervous and full of anxiety, thinking that the girl on the screen must hate us, the Americans, who get to be free.
I was wrong. She looked at me as a peer, a teenager, just like her. I found the words tumbling from my mouth easily as I addressed her.
“I go to school, and I never have to worry for my safety. My family and I don’t live in fear. The conflict doesn’t really cross our minds at all; in fact, many of us, in this room, never knew how profound and wrong the world still is in your part of the world. I know about it now, though, from taking this seminar, and I will do what I can to make your voice heard,” I said, wanting to speak more, but I didn’t.
Next, another one of my peers spoke from his heart, “I am sorry. I’m sorry that you can’t go to the movies and play with your friends in safety. I just want to say that our leaders’ actions do not reflect how the people in this classroom feel, because I know I’ll follow this conflict and have your life conditions in my mind from now on.”
The girl on the screen, a citizen of the world just like us, replied, “What you just said is enough. The fact that you understand what we are going through every day here in Gaza makes me have a smile on my face.” As she made this statement, the dimple in her cheek was visible. As she sat, wearing a headscarf that covered her hair, her body language shifted, her arms opened, and she sat forward in her chair; she was happy.
I noticed that the teacher coordinator beside her began to cry. She told us, “You see, the Palestinian youth never travel or meet anyone who isn’t Palestinian. I was lucky. I was able to travel, and I have friends who are Israeli and from other places around the world. These students do not even have that; they are isolated from the world.” I have an opportunity to make her problems and concerns heard.
I have the opportunity to learn and get an education that fits my characteristics and interests. Now I can look at the conflict from both sides, understanding that the conflict is not based on religion, but on land and power. Dialogue with these students made this conflict more real in my mind than I had ever previously imagined.
I know that my role in the lives of others will continue to strengthen and grow through my education. I hope to help the students who are not being given the chance, like my peers in Gaza.
—Aurielle Thomas ’08
MEXICO CLIMBING AND CULTURE TRIP
|Upper Schoolers reaching the summit of Iztaccihuatl|
Nine intrepid students and three adult leaders traveled in central Mexico for 10 days during Winterim to combine cultural exploration with a mountaineering adventure. The group gained an appreciation for the rich and deep culture of the country during their stays in Mexico City and the small town of Tepotzlan. The trip culminated with an ascent of Iztaccihuatl, a 17,373-foot peak.
The Mexico expedition achieved some deeper goals, too: students learned to live and work together; they were challenged physically, socially, and culturally; and finally, they came to understand more than they could before about the communities and people in a far less developed country.
—Peter Green, outdoor program director
|Community service is an important Winterim option. Gwen Survant-Kaplin ’08 and a group of students helped build houses for Habitat for Humanity and worked at a building materials recycling center.|
PORTLAND: THE CITY BY DAY, THE CITY BY NIGHT
|Students learn how the fire department works|
This year for Winterim, I had the rewarding (and somewhat taxing) opportunity to take on the responsibility of a student organizer. It all started when student activities director Mark Lawton asked me if I’d like to investigate “what makes Portland tick.” His idea was nebulous: travel around the city by foot, by bus, and by sheer ingenuity in order to get a feel for the kinds of minds behind our social and civil services, entertainment, and media organizations, and to see what really goes on behind the scenes. After recruiting my friend Rohan Jhunjhunwala ’11, we joined Mark and librarian Sue Phillips to begin the daunting task of scheduling trips to such places as fire departments, bowling alleys, fine dining establishments, Portland Impact, the Portland Planning Bureau, and the newspaper headquarters of Street Roots and the Oregonian, in addition to the Oregon Department of Transportation control room and the newsroom of television station KATU. Even before we set out, I became adept at navigating the information superhighway in order to locate interesting people to speak with, getting in touch with and speaking to important city officials, and juggling the agenda as it evolved out of the minds of the four of us.
Imagine how rewarding it was when it all finally came together, when I realized that our grand scheme no longer looked good simply on paper, but had taken on a life of its own. What really struck me was that wherever we went, there were people who enjoyed what they did, who took great pride in telling us all about it. Their excitement transferred onto us, and we found ourselves filled with questions such as, Whose responsibility is it that individuals who have been arrested maintain their human rights? How does a homeless newspaper operate? How are you making the Pearl District more environmentally friendly? And the most important question, How can I get involved and make a difference? By taking a bit of a risk in order to answer a deceptively simple question, our small group came away with a deeper understanding of the community at large, and thereby armed ourselves to make a positive difference in it.
—Josh Langfus ’11
|Counselor George Thompson ’64 and arts teacher Tom Tucker ’66 led “Guitars, Guitars, Guitars!” Students of all levels improved their guitar skills through workshops with visiting musicians and hours of playing music together.|
Just before break I had the pleasure of getting together with alumni who live in the Bay Area. Catlin Gabel’s former students are always interested in what is new at the school and how we adapt to technology, globalism, and current trends in education. They also love to hear about traditions that they remember from their school days. Lower School Experiential Days, Middle School Breakaway, and Upper School Winterim are among our alumni’s favorite memories, and they are delighted to know that their alma mater continues to offer breaks from classroom learning for cross-graded extended blocks of time devoted to experiential learning.
I am impressed every year with the imaginative, educational, fun, and new offerings our students, teachers, and parents design for Winterim, Breakaway, and Experiential Days. This year for the first time we ran Breakaway and Experiential Days concurrently, so there were several groups that were not only cross-graded, but cross divisional, as well.
Learning by doing
The benefits of experiential learning are numerous. Most people learn best by doing. The hands-on activities offered through these multi-day immersions in an activity are truly hands-on. Lower School students in the “From Sheep to Shawl” project learned to knit and further immersed themselves in the topic by visiting a sheep farm to learn about turning wool into yarn. Middle Schoolers in the EnertiaKarts class designed and built both conventional and electric racing go-carts and learned about batteries, brakes, chassis design, and steering along the way. Upper School students interested in computer games didn’t just play computer games; they developed a computer game using design, programming, music, and creative skills.
Learning by traveling
Helping students take risks is a major component of experiential learning. One of our favorite ways to stretch students is through travel. Fourteen fifth grade students traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where they stayed with host families from the Summit School. This exchange is a longtime tradition for our two schools. Middle School students who study French traveled to Martinique, which gave them a language and cultural experience they will never forget. A group of Upper School students traveled to San Francisco to explore the city’s cultural and ethnic history through museum visits, talks with history professors, and tours.
Learning by going outdoors
We like to encourage students who are not experienced outdoor adventurers to take advantage of Experiential Days, Breakaway, and Winterim to try something new. Both the Lower and Middle Schools offer snow adventures for novice skiers or snowboarders. Hiking and rock climbing are also popular options. This year, 12 Upper Schoolers had the good fortune of traveling to the Grand Canyon to raft the Diamond Down stretch of the Colorado River and hike its many side canyons.
Learning by playing
Many of our students take part in sports experiences during our four-day learning periods. One of the combined Lower and Middle School offerings gave students a chance to learn about basketball from all angles. They played the game, went to a Trail Blazer game, visited the Nike campus to design shoes, and met with former Trail Blazer Jerome Kersey. Another group learned all they could about fly-fishing. Upper School students explored the world of sports in a Winterim dedicated to sports played around the globe. We’re not sure cricket will catch on at Catlin Gabel, but at least one group of students tried their best to learn the rules and ropes of the game.
Learning by helping others
One popular Winterim class is volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. Catlin Gabel Upper Schoolers and faculty leaders work hard to improve housing in our community. Learning construction skills while benefiting our community epitomizes our commitment to experiential learning and service.
This is just a sample of the exciting, creative, and focused learning that happens during Experiential Days, Breakaway, and Winterim. Students gain enormously from the chance to engage in activities in depth, take risks, form new relationships, and make choices about what they want to learn. Catlin Gabel’s commitment to experiential learning is steeped in our progressive tradition. When our current students are alumni, they will ask if we still have experiential days programs at Catlin Gabel. We will most certainly answer in the affirmative.