Experiential learning is an approach based on the understanding that students are naturally inclined to learn by experience; learn more deeply when that experience has real-world relevance; and become more engaged when they have agency and ownership.
With encouragement and guidance from teachers, students identify their areas of interest, follow their inquiry, and learn by doing, as when they explore the wooded areas of campus to answers questions about the natural world. During Wonder Week, students pursue a big question together, such as What is an adventure?
Kindergarten students learn about the environment, agriculture, and water systems on inquiry-based field trips to the Jackson Bottom Wetland Preserve, a working farm, and the Sauvie Island bird-watching area, and when they launch boats they constructed with their 3rd Grade Buddies. They celebrate at year’s end with the pageantry of the Kindergarten Olympics.
Students deepen their understanding of conservation with a series of curriculum-focused nature walks, personal writing projects, and creation of a conservation park on campus. Studies in math and problem-solving are reinforced with hands-on constructivist projects related to real-world scenarios.
As part of their water study, third grade students engage in inquiry projects throughout the year, and visit a reservoir, wastewater treatment plant, dam, and salmon habitat. In the spring they spend three days at the Oregon Coast studying the habitat, human impact, and adaptations of tidepool plants and animals.
As part of their immigration study, students create characters in the Oregon Trail Storypath Project, and a detailed walk-through evoking the Ellis Island experience. They visit Portland’s neighborhoods and downtown, and travel to Seattle to explore its history and relationship to immigration. Students produce a classroom newspaper, and develop business models in the Classroom Economy Project.
Core components of the 4th grade year also include Music, Art, Woodshop, and PE/Wellness, in which includes physical, mental, intellectual, and social wellness. Now in their fourth year of Mandarin or Spanish language study, they build on their listening and speaking skills, develop an understanding of the structures of language, and learn to think from a multi-cultural perspective. The theme for the year in Science is circuits, with a focus on force and energy, and the curriculum also includes the study of natural sciences, including landforms, animals, and Earth’s processes.
As part of their year-long study of peace, conflict, and change, students visit museums, conduct first-person interviews, engage in simulations, and create podcasts. A three-day Oregon Coast trip serves as both a social and educational foundation for the year, and their Celebration of Learning night at year’s end is an opportunity to share what they’ve learned.