"The Last Day"
It’s over, one of these days.
I’ve realized this only now, just as
I’m peeling away the skin of a grapefruit
And my tongue is wet with bitter anticipation.
I’m wondering if that day will bring leaves,
Skittering across the sidewalk, like those little orange
Plastic cars we used to race across the porch—
Or maybe it will bring sticky, salty, sidewalk heat,
The kind that bites the virgin skin of toes.
And what about the roaring women of that day?
Mouths twisted, tears skating down cheeks,
Because suddenly there are babies,
And two minutes before, there was, really, nothing.
That’s what it is, right?
Birth and death every second?
Or are the rates all topsy-turvy these days?
Twisted and arbitrary, kind of like this tree—
Bent-backed, knot-kneed, crouched outside my window?
By an 11th grade student
"Four Twinkling Stars"
Little clear diamonds still twinkling
in a dusty black spiral, engulfing
but those four gems,
spinning almost cheerily
until they gravitate to the center
and morph into more brilliant
The explosion is shattering,
a million pieces of awesome light
that rock and vibrate the darkness
until everything is more
than it ever could have been
By a 6th grade student
"This Dark is For the Light"
I’ve always loved small spaces, safely surrounded and enclosed by something. Wrapped in warmth and simple physical darkness rather than the expansive suffocating kind. This dark is different. This dark is loving. This dark is only dark to make you brighter, letting your light filter through, filling the space with each breath you take, until you are breathing light. Then your entire world is bright, shining bright, and you know.
And you know too, that when you step back into the world, you can hold it. Imagine sitting low to a ground that is rich with the scent of chocolate mulch and the subtleties of Hyacinth, waiting in this diffuse willow-dusk, surrounded by singular beautiful branches, which filter the light softly through, making it dance, filling the space until it can’t be filled anymore. And you are breathing light. Light from a sky that continues even beyond the Earth’s imagination. And you can feel it, exactly like that.
By a 12th grade student
"Where I'm From"
I am from wide-angle lenses
Seeing everything, everything present
If just from a different perspective
I am from swimming in blackberry thorns
From finding old pathways
Lost to time
I am from the chunk of asphalt on a blown-apart road
The road that I walked down for miles
I am from collecting that chunk
From placing it on top of my dresser
I am from short cuts and long-cuts
As long as they’re out of the way
From climbing cliffs to avoid the crowded path
That wide, flat, paved track
Which carries everyone, everyone but me
I am from running
Not to run, but to get away
I am from the yearning to escape
The yearning to be free
Free from life’s maelstrom
The hustle and bustle that is omnipresent
This is my time to go away
I am from that which strives to act
From the things which are unspoken yet understood
From the passage to danger, to triumph
From the secrets of nature
But that is more than I am
I am from collapsing on long journeys
Too tired to carry on
I am from waterfalls and crumbling cliffs
From recklessness and adventure
But also from the relief of safety after a long,
From fresh-cooked dinners
And my homemade puff pastry
I am from memories, photos, and my family
I am from me
By an 8th grade student
Death penalty debate statement excerpt: pro
The death penalty may be cruel, but certainly not unusual, as the ways in which it is practiced are not unusual at all. Society changes over time, so what may be seen as unusual changes as well—for example, whipping. It was considered normal when the Constitution was written, but now it is seen as unusual. A punishment for a crime is unusual if it is ridiculously high for a crime lower than it, such as life imprisonment for felony. But as the death penalty is far milder than the crimes for which it is given, it is not unusual. It is also not in violation of Amendment V of the Constitution, which states that no one shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”
By an 8th grade student
Death penalty debate statement excerpt: con
The death penalty is a “cruel and unusual” punishment, and an ineffective crime deterrent. It needs to be abolished before more innocent people are executed. For every eight people put to death, one innocent person is released from death row. The system in deciding punishments is not equally balanced with the crime committed, and the whole system is rampant with racial prejudice. Also, while there, people can change, and regret what they have done, but are still put to death. When someone is sentenced to death, they are not only going to be executed, they will have to also stay on death row for many years, and pray to be freed. . . .
By an 8th grade student
Excerpt from science lab report
The charged strips of acetate and vinylite attracted and repelled various bits of string. To quote Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” [Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Sc. II)]. Although we cannot pass this off as a scientific fact, it is logical to assume that a name has little to no effect on the object to which it is tied. This led my partner and me to believe that changing the name of the charges would change nothing about the nature of the charges themselves.
By a 10th grade student, in answer to a question about whether changing the names of positive and negative electric charges would affect how these charges act
"Its a Boy?"
As babies we sleep and occasionally coo
Boys and girls both, our differences few
But similarities end in just a blink
When boys dress in blue and girls dress in pink
We face gender choices at every growth stage
And they powerfully shape us into old age
Dolls and cute animals aren’t much of a hit
For boys dangerous toys are a much better fit
Boys hide their emotions and shed fewer tears
Putting away feelings and childish fears
Watching ballet is tough for a boy
Nothing can beat a slam-dunk by Roy
Passing, shooting, or kicking—boys want control
In all types of sports being first is the goal
Shopping for clothes is not a boy’s cup of tea
Unless shopping includes buying games for the Wii
No make-up or heels or dresses with lace
For boys it’s just clean and no food on the face
What’s important to boys is big, brave, and strong
And in a perfect world to eat all day long
But is all this true? Is this who boys are?
If it is, then we haven’t come far
The male nurse or secretary, the stay-at-home dad
Breaking gender stereotypes should make us all glad
We are impossible to classify
Except girls are xx and boys are xy
By a 6th grade student
I can feel the difference in the terminal’s width.
It’s smaller and we’re bigger. We take up too
Escalators that had appeared dormant wake to
take us up, too fast
Unloading its cargo, it drops us off like
baggage on the empty floor above.
It’s smaller and we’re bigger. Why do we take
up so much space?
We sink into the thick green carpeting,
swallowed whole and unable to speak.
We’re like our cargo, dropped us off like
baggage on the empty floor above.
Our smiles flicker off, like the open signs on
the shop doors.
The thick green carpeting cushions the blow,
swells our throats until they are tight.
The calm voice from the PA matches the air
conditioning, soothing our dry skin like lotion.
Somehow we can’t turn our smiles back on.
Her eyes are weighed down with fear but she
keeps a brave face on. We all do.
The air conditioning soothes our wet eyes
when she turns away while the woman on the
PA tells us everything will be alright.
Our words run through the conveyor belt,
making sure nothing sharp or metal enters our
We keep on our brave faces and don’t look up.
I watch her plane roll on to the runway.
Our conversation is littered with tiny shrapnels,
no matter how hard we try and keep them out.
Escalators that had appeared dormant wake to
take us farther from her. It’s too fast.
We watch her plane from the empty shell of
the parking garage.
I can feel the difference in the terminal’s width.
By an 11th grade student
Of Chang Tuan’s cats,
Cloud Pattern was the loneliest.
She would look upon her brothers
Silk Brocade’s fur was the softest in all of
Drive-Away-Vexation’s dainty paws were the swiftest rat-catchers
in all the land.
Purple Blossom had the most gentle mew ever heard in that dynasty.
Guardian of the East’s ears reached the farthest; she heard the
cream bowl hit the tile before it had.
White Phoenix’s tail was the bushiest and waved about a great deal.
And lastly, her brother, Ten Thousand Strings of Cash.
He was the most well-loved among the staff and visitors at
Chang’s house for his golden eyes.
Of all those magnificent felines, those careful creatures
Cloud Pattern was the loneliest.
His fur was often matted;
His paws, at times, had failed at Cat’s domestic duty.
His voice was loud, and screeched at Master Tuan’s ears;
He was always last in the scramble for the cream, since he
never sensed the delicate clink of porcelain on tile.
His tail was thin, and oft hung limp;
And, above all, Cloud Pattern’s eyes were not gold;
They were green, green on his stained fur.
And for these reasons,
Cloud Pattern was Master Tuan’s favorite.
By an 11th grade student, inspired by Wang Chih, 1100 C.E.
"The Night Painter"
sweeps over my face
cleansing my soul
twirling and dancing in the wind
bringing on a heavy sadness
in the water colored air
with gently painted strokes
dipped from a stormy ocean
Grey wisps which kiss the silent leaves
flying through the stars
continuing on forever
as I stare out my window
on a dark night
By a 6th grade student
"The Two Aliens"
Once there were two aliens and they liked pie. Their names were Bob and Joe. Bob looked like a shark. Joe looked like a firebreathing orange-headed wolf. It had been ten years since they blasted off the planet.
The next day they landed on a pie-covered planet. There were frog leg pies and pasta pies and spaghetti pies and bunny pies and eraser pies and underwear pies and rice pies and ball pies and seaweed pies and feather pies and hair pies and they didn’t know if they were poisonous.
They walked around to see if anybody was there to tell them if the pies were poisonous. Six years later they found some fish to tell them if the pies were poisonous. None of the pies were poisonous, so they started eating the pies. Then one day they were too full. They went to sleep and they got knocked off the planet. They did not know where they were. They were on their home planet. They wanted more pie.
By a 2nd grade student
I am a small, free-flowing river rushing through
I feel energetic as I stream over damp, mosscovered
I laugh as fish tickle me as they dart upstream.
I hear deer softly trample grass as they come
to lap up my water.
I feel frisky as I hustle over waterfalls.
I feel good when the sun heats me up on a
I feel scared and race away when bears
come lumbering in to eat my fish.
I am curious as I flow into
a larger river bound for
By a 4th grade student
Excerpt from essay "Gods Soldiers"
Eight years later, September 11 has had a larger impact on recent global history than any other date in the last five decades. Two wars, countless bombs, and endless amounts of civil unrest, misery, grief, and sorrow have defined the results of this monumental date. Dozens of nations engaged in painful arguments and arrangements, all involving the increasing interest in the Middle East and her oil. Car bombs killing hundreds explode every day in India, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, many traced back to the same causes that fueled 9/11.
I remember this date myself, although I was thousands of miles away from the catastrophe; the date was a day of shame, despair, and unity for all Americans. I recall being shuffled into the school library, and being informed of the recent tragedy just hours after the event. The nation was on red alert. I also remember knowing that my uncle worked in the World Trade Center, and I remember thinking for days that he was dead until he finally called, and notified us he had actually just taken the day off to spend time with his family. All his colleagues were dead. All their deaths in vain because of one single cause: religion.
By an 8th grade student
Most of us attended schools with report cards and infrequent parent-teacher conferences that may have been convened only when a student was in trouble. Things are different at Catlin Gabel. We asked our division heads, Pam McComas, Vicki Roscoe, Paul Andrichuk, and Michael Heath, to talk about our unique approach to student assessment and grades.
How does Catlin Gabel differ from other schools regarding assessments?
Pam: In some schools, students focus their attention and energies on tests. Getting good grades is then linked to the ability to anticipate what will be on the test. Catlin Gabel teachers do not define learning in this way. As goofy as it may seem to some to not give letter grades outright, the practice helps focus student attention on our instructional goals: depth of understanding, creative thinking, and analytic reasoning. These are the lasting gifts of a good education. In a world in which the fund of knowledge doubles every couple of years, these skills will serve students best.
What do we assess?
Pam: As a progressive school we are firmly focused on the development of more than academics. Intellectual growth and social-emotional health are also fundamental elements of a well-rounded education, and so our assessments include these as well. Teachers are interested in their students’ abilities to reason and their depth of thinking, as well as the specific content and skills they have learned. Creative approaches to problems, resiliency, and interpersonal skills and dispositions (persistence, for one) also figure into assessments. Our goal is to educate good people as well as academically skilled students.
What do written evaluations and parent-teacher conferences tell parents about their kids that letter grades do not?
Paul: Written evaluations tell parents about their child’s learning disposition, motivation, response to feedback, and what engages him or her in school life. The teachers can write and talk about specific challenges, such as a child who seems to know the material but does not hand in homework or a student who does fine in class but is experiencing social challenges. Middle Schoolers are experiencing rapid physical and emotional changes. We want parents to understand how these stressors can affect their children’s learning.
Vicki: We do not give letter grades or standardized achievement tests in the Lower School. We believe that showing parents evidence of learning is much more authentic and powerful than a letter on a page. And if the children themselves take ownership of their learning and are responsible for presenting it to you, and are part of celebrating their strengths and successes and setting their own goals - well, in short, it doesn’t get better than that.
Why do students get grades in the Upper School?
Michael: All in all we do a good job of focusing on the things that grades fail to measure: knowledge, sophisticated self-reflection, the ability to think deeply and communicate lucidly, and the cultivated desire to invest in a community and the world. At the same time most colleges and universities request a transcript with letter grades. While we want our children to earn these “measures” of high achievement so that colleges will recognize our students as the intelligent, engaged learners they are, we do not want to overemphasize the importance of the GPA.
How does our Upper School grading compare with other schools?
Michael: Our grade spread is typical of independent schools across the country. Colleges know that when a school awards 50 percent of its students a 4.0 GPA, then that school’s standards are not comparable to a school like ours. Last year a faculty task force compared Catlin Gabel to other highly academic benchmark schools and their grade distributions. As a result of their work three substantial changes were put into place. We added an A+ for truly outstanding students, giving all students the possibility of earning higher GPAs. We instituted the practice of giving individual faculty members a report on how their grading matches up with others in their departments and with every teacher in the Upper School. Finally, we revamped our school profile that is sent to colleges and universities so that students from Catlin Gabel are viewed in the specific context of our program and standards—including how we grade. These changes have made a positive difference already.
What do you say to parents who just want to know where their child stands?
Michael: We resist what I call the Antiques Roadshow syndrome. On the Antiques Roadshow, participants bring in family treasures from their attics so an expert can assess their value. The experts go into all kinds of interesting detail about provenance, design, etc. The owner feigns enthusiastic engagement—when everyone can see that what he really wants to know is how much the thing is worth. We never want parents in conferences or reading narrative reports to think, yes, this is all very interesting, but what’s her letter grade? We provide useful information about how children are learning and thriving. We do want you and your daughters and sons to fully understand where they stand, as it were. It is vital that in every case where a student is struggling, teachers are clear and honest, and offer ameliorating strategies for the individual. The last thing we want in those instances is for parents to be surprised further down the road.
What is the value of parent-teacher conferences?
Vicki: Teaching is about relationship building. Once healthy bonds are made between the teacher, the student, and the student’s family, there is no limit to the learning that can take place. Conferencing is essential to strengthening this partnership. Sometimes parents see a side of child that is not revealed at home. Occasionally, when parents hear about a child taking personal responsibility for cleaning up or helping others they say, “Are we talking about the same kid?!”
Michael: And in the Upper School, when each student has as many as six or seven teachers, these teachers may see a different side to the child when they hear what their colleagues observe. For example, a parent told me about a conference where her son’s math teacher described a problem the boy had with differentiating symbols. His history teacher leaned forward excitedly and said, maybe that explains why he writes well but doesn’t use proper punctuation! Then all six teachers talked about how they could help her son with his particular learning challenge.
When children work with so many teachers how are assessments shared by faculty members?
Pam: In all four divisions teachers, counselors, and learning specialists have formal and informal conversations about individual students. We continually share insights, anecdotes, and progress reports with one another. This gives us a 360-degree view of the child’s learning from math to art to language to social skills. The net effect is that each teacher’s assessment enriches our collective understanding of each student’s learning style, current challenges, and accomplishments. We do a better job of teaching than we would if we worked in isolation from one another.
How are students involved with their evaluations?
Paul: Our assessment practices actively involve students in their own learning. We help students develop their ability to self-assess and articulate their learning styles. Part of this involves asking students to reflect on how well they understand the material. More importantly, the students develop a better sense of how they think about learning. When students know themselves as learners, they are able to create their own learning opportunities. Research tells us that the closer the assessment is to the student, including the criteria and standards for assessing “quality,” the more value it has for him or her.
Vicki: Students in the Lower School and in 7th grade are involved in student-led conferences. I guess that makes them student-parent-teacher conferences. Children get to report their own progress, which makes them active participants in their assessment. Let’s face it, the adults can talk until they are blue in the face, and set the most meaningful and relevant goals in the world for the child, but the goals will never be realized until the kid is actually involved. Our goal is for the children to be intrinsic learners; we’ll never get there unless they are empowered to be part of the process.
How do the close student teacher relationships and small class sizes affect assessment?
Michael: Our low student-teacher ratio allows for in-depth guidance. Our kids are trained to address the substance of the work. Conversations between student and teacher are educational ones, not bottom-line ones. For example, after Upper School teachers send mid-term reports, each student has a one-on-one meeting with his or her advisor to reflect together on the academic progress students have made. Some of the questions advisors ask are: What surprised you about some of these comments? What are you particularly proud of here? If you were to pick just one thing you wanted to focus on for the rest of the year, what would that be? One of the school characteristics that comes up again and again when I meet with prospective students and their parents is the way we know the students in our classes and C&Cs (advisory groups).
A hero, a dragon, girls acting dippy, and boys in tutus. This decidedly eighth grade show is a perennial favorite that has been performed to the delight (and horror) of Catlin Gabel audiences since the 1940s. Borrowing from the same basic plot (we use the term loosely), each class reflects its own personality in St. George and the Dragon. As always, cancellation was threatened, but miraculously the show went on.
By Richard Kassissieh
Over the span of decades, the practices of good progressive education have changed little: focus on the individual, teach from each student’s experience, and encourage students to construct knowledge. Over those same decades, though, the tools of learning have changed enormously. New technologies help create learning experiences never before possible. How do Catlin Gabel teachers incorporate these tools to teach students to construct knowledge together? How do these efforts support entrepreneurship, creativity, and risk-taking, especially in classes in subjects other than the arts?
Peek through a classroom door on a typical day, and classes do not look so different from the progressive classrooms of John Dewey’s time. A teacher sits with his students in a seminar-style arrangement, discussing Martin Luther King. The conversation moves from one topic to another, following the students’ interests. One student asks, “What did King think of the Vietnam War?” The teacher bends over his laptop and visits YouTube. A six-foot image fills the wall at the front of the classroom. The voice of King fills the room. “The time has come for America to hear the truth about this tragic war. . . . ”
It is 7:30 a.m. on a dark February morning. Ten students in a Winterim class gaze expectantly at a dark screen. A friendly face appears, but it is silent. The screen goes blank again. The students and teachers look worried. Finally, a voice with an Arabic accent inquires, “Can you hear us? We can see you.” Thus begins a live video conversation with a dozen teenage students in Gaza City. Students in both locations dare to ask authentic questions and reply from the heart. For two and a half hours, they challenge assumptions and change their minds.
Two 8th grade students huddle around a laptop, giggling. “Look, they replied!” “What should we say?” The students are exchanging messages of greeting with their peers in Martinique, weeks before they will board a plane and fly there. One asks, “Can we record our voices?” With laptop computers at hand, the answer is “yes.” The lesson changes direction, and within minutes students are leaving voice messages for each other. When the students arrive in Martinique, they will be long past simple introductions and ready to make the most of their visit.
A 5th grade student sits in class in front of a computer with a builtin camera, staring at an image of himself. On paper, he has written his own original story in Spanish. He begins to read the story, tentatively, awkwardly, to practice his speaking skills. He stops and plays it back to see how he did. Fifth grade students love to see themselves speak and then perfect their presentations. Put these two ideas together with a computer, and you create a powerful learning environment. Twelve minutes later, we return to the student, who by now has memorized his story and recites with confidence. “How many times did you record it?” “Five!” the boy replies. He thrives on this stuff.
A student contemplates a set of triangles on a computer screen. Lines, angles, and measurements abound. She takes the mouse and grabs one of the vertices on one of the shapes and drags it. Suddenly, the entire diagram leaps into motion—the numeric measurements change fluidly as the student moves the vertex. A smile lights the student’s face. She now understands the relationship between the hypotenuse and sides of an isosceles right triangle.
|Working on robot control systems|
A junior in computer science class stands over a board filled with wires and lights. The pride in a complex task accomplished shines throughout her presentation of what the tool does and how it works. Catlin Gabel offers four levels of computer science, with only one an Advanced Placement course. The content-centric curriculum serves as the foundation for individual ingenuity later on.
Sixth grade English has just begun. The teacher says, “Tell us what topic you have chosen for your final presentation.” Three excited boys ask, “May we make a movie instead?” These boys will work together to explore the subject from a new perspective and overcome challenges unique to their chosen format.
Two 7th grade students prepare for their “teach-a-class” moment. One says, “I heard of this site where you can create a flipbook. Let’s use it!” Not only do they teach a great class, but they earn “top flipbook” honors on Flip.com.
CONSTRUCTING KNOWLEDGE TOGETHER
The school is justifiably proud of its award-winning robotics program. Part business, part engineering laboratory, the robotics team meets a challenge put forward by the national organization FIRST. Build a robot that can win in a competition involving dexterity, speed, and strength. Produce a communications and marketing plan based on a team web site. Misses Catlin and Gabel would be proud if they could see the ultimate project-based activity and witness the successes this group has repeatedly achieved.
The last day of the 4th grade immigration unit has arrived. A student stands up to make her final presentation. She describes a person who arrives at Ellis Island, attempting to enter the United States. However, the story is not real. Rather, the student has constructed the details of her character’s life using primary and secondary sources provided by the teacher. A wealth of historical information stored on the web served to enliven each student’s experience creating these characters.
Two 7th grade students share their newfound knowledge of the planet Mercury with their classmates. A colorful, dynamic presentation serves as backdrop. Cross-sections, mythology, and statistics crisscross the screen. Several faces in the room brighten as the visual learners in the room immediately grasp the material.
The tyranny of the blank page no longer haunts English students in the Upper School. Teachers use a web-based writing environment to provide students with a series of questions to guide their writing. Ideas rise and words flow. When the draft is due in class, the student submits the work online to an audience of his peers. Within the web-based tool, students write, revise, and critique. They always write within a community of authors.
What technologies will arrive next to amaze and entice us? We don’t exactly know. But we can count on the fact that Catlin Gabel teachers will think deeply about the potential of these tools. They will create opportunities for students to experience, learn their own way, and construct knowledge together. These students will continue to confidently take risks and chart bold, new directions.
Richard Kassissieh is director of information services at Catlin Gabel.
The Catlin Gabel Eagles faced the OES Ardvaarks on a beautiful fall night. The varsity boys made a valiant effort, but lost 2-0. The JV boys were victorious at 1-0. The fans, including plenty of alumni and guests from OES, enjoyed a festive night of soccer, barbecue, and entertainment by the jazz band and the dance club. Senior soccer players and their parents were honored.
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 Peter Green
Whether we go on a rafting trip, climbing trip, or bicycling trip, students learn from being given responsibility to take care of themselves and their friends. They need to make choices about setting up their own shelters, cooking meals for the group, maneuvering the raft through rapids, and selecting a good climbing route. Although adults are always present and have set expectations and defined boundaries, we aren’t directing the students.
The outdoor program gives all students an opportunity to learn by experiencing and experimenting. Sometimes kids who are exceptional classroom students seek out a trip so they can grow in new ways—so they can enhance their emotional, social, and leadership qualities. Then there are those who are not as successful in the classroom but who find that they excel, that they are the best among their peers, in certain outdoor pursuits. When they bring these successes back to campus, we sometimes see these students make strides in their classroom expectations and socially among their peers. Kids need to have areas where they feel competent. When they do, they are better overall learners and certainly happier in their lives.
|Lower Schoolers on "An Excellent Adventure"|
Peter Green is the director of Catlin Gabel's outdoor program.
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.|
By Paul Andrichuk
|Middle Schoolers pull ropes on the Adventuress|
Involving the teenage child
In activities rambunctious or mild
The brain, hand, and heart
Meld event into art
With results both long-lasting and wild
Experiential learning’s dependent
On variety rich and resplendent
Connecting the dots
Both the real and ersatz
Leads to knowledge that can be transcendent
—Tom Tucker ’66, Middle School arts teacher
Tom shared these words on the subject of experiential education as we—the Middle School faculty—struggled to make recommendations on this topic. It was a great way to capture the ambiguity of the phrase so central to Catlin Gabel’s mission. Does experiential education refer to out-of-class experiences such as Lower School Experiential Days, Middle School Breakaway, and Upper School Winterim? Class trips? Service learning? Or all of these?
Because I spend my time with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, I’ll give you one example from Middle School to chew on:
Eighteen Middle School students boarded the Adventuress in Port Townsend, Washington, the week before spring break for a Breakaway trip. In addition to learning the basics of sailing, these kids were responsible for day-to-day chores ranging from trimming sails to nighttime anchor watch. Pictures show lines of Middle Schoolers tugging at sails in a coordinated manner. A 7th grader had to wake an 8th grader at 2 a.m. to go up on deck as she goes to bed herself. Cooking crews prepared the simplest of meals. Consider one part of that image: 3:12 in the morning, and you are alone on watch aboard a historic ship with nothing but the sounds of water and creaking wood. You see the shimmering Sound, low clouds, or stars if you are lucky. I bet you’re tired and there’s a little doubt, but you know that the crew and your teachers are close by— and you know exactly what to do.
Learning to sail—cool. Proving yourself in the middle of the night—sweet. Learning how to work and play with people in a cooperative way and better understanding how to balance individual need with what is right for the group—awesome!
At its core, experiential education is about learning by doing. In addition to the trips off campus, carefully crafted lessons are distinct experiences, and they happen in every class at Catlin Gabel School. Students continually make connections between what they learn in their classes every day, from algebra, to English, to art and history.
I will give you three examples from Middle School, but it’s important to address the connection in all grades between authentic experiences and student motivation. When experiences are combined with student choice, students of all ages are more likely to:
* Be cognitively engaged—“I’m interested in this, and I’d like to understand what it means for me.”
* Take on more challenging tasks—“I wonder what would happen if I used a negative number here?”
* Work through frustration and failure— “I don’t get this right now. I wonder if I can find a different strategy.”
* Show creativity in what they do—“Is there a different way to solve this math problem other than the algorithm?”
* Find links to other disciplines—“There seems to be a way to connect art and math. Can I illustrate this geometric proof in art class?”
So back to the examples:
Carol Ponganis creates a crime scene during a forensics unit in 7th grade science. Students arrive to a taped-off crime scene, one that includes evidence. In addition, they review source materials about the science of fingerprinting. Like science, a crime scene presents several different versions of the truth.
Students circle the taped-off scene with the evidence inside. This is the observation stage. Based on what they see, students begin to ask and answer questions. Dead ends and answers help these investigators get to a working theory or hypothesis. The 7th graders must now experiment and test the evidence of this new truth—at least their version of it.
The trial is something you do not want to miss—gripping!
I also recently sat in on a 7th grade English class during their poetry unit. Christa Kaainoa’s students read independently from different genres throughout the year. To celebrate National Poetry Month, she asked 7th graders to choose a poem to read to classmates. Christa also invited faculty and staff readers to class, and 27 adults shared poetry, either their original work or old favorites by other authors. Christa also gave students a menu of local poetry events for them to attend if they chose.
In this case, the concept of who a teacher is (or should be) radically changes. Better still, 7th graders get a sense of the range of poems out there. Some are originals; some are by famous poets they have never heard of. The poems are long and short, uplifting and depressing, humorous and poignant. The students get a new sense of the possibilities.
A final example:
Hannah Whitehead begins the 6th grade year with a unit centered on “The Mind That’s Mine.” Students consider and formalize the way they learn. Questions they ask themselves include: Can I link new knowledge and learning with what I already know? Can I pay attention when things are not interesting to me?
Do I know what is important and what is not when I hear it, read it, or experience it? Can I organize rules, patterns, and groups of similar knowledge? This metacognitive understanding—which cognitive psychologists identify as critical to learning—requires time for experimentation and reflection.
So experience is at the core of what we do here, from Beginning through Upper School, whether we are skateboarding during Breakaway, climbing mountains during Winterim, spinning yarn during Experiential Days, or determining solubility in an 8th grade science lab. There are guiding principles that help determine what happens before, during, and after these experiences.
* Failure and success are valued in equal measure, as long as reflection and processing are included. Uncertainty—and the sense of risk that accompanies it—is seen as a healthy part of discovery and subsequent learning. Consider the 6th grader on deck watch.
* Students are asked to take control, make choices, and be accountable. They are responsible to their own learning as well as the group process. Progressive educator John Dewey emphasized the expression and cultivation of individuality rather than imposition from above.
* The emphasis is on personal learning as students construct their own knowledge based on a designed experience. This personal construction of knowledge becomes the foundation of the next day’s or the next year’s lesson.
* Teachers and other adults at Catlin Gabel design learning experiences, set expectations, and prompt deeper learning. Texts and teachers are learning partners and elements of the experience, not the experience.
* Kids are always learning, whether they are sailing or reading history. This being the case, teachers and students recognize the value of spontaneous learning.
* John Dewey also focused on topics and skills that made “direct and vital appeal.” Teachers here are continually asking themselves: What is relevant? And what is important for our students to know in a changing world?
* Time for reflection is critical.
In addition to founder Ruth Catlin’s principle that the student is the unit of consideration, she emphasized that there be conditions—experiences—in which students might develop to their fullest powers both as individuals and group members. From the time of our founding, experience has been at the core of Catlin Gabel’s mission.
Paul Andrichuk is the head of Catlin Gabel's Middle School.
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.