Authentic Learning Adventures: Nicole Martin

In her June 2017 MoVe Talk, Nicole Martin, challenges all learners, adults and children alike, to get outside and start adventuring as seekers and explorers as a means to encounter deep learning experiences.



At Mount Vernon, we are systemically rethinking the way we take students off campus from a run-of-the-mill educational field trip, where students are typically passive consumers. Instead, we’re more focused on our learners being actively involved in the experience through the lenses of observation and innovation. These authentic learning adventures, or expeditions, are intended to spark new questions that learners will wrestle with or collect new observations or data that will inform the next steps of a project. Expeditions tend to be inquiry-based and bridge siloed subject areas and invite inter- and transdisciplinary learning experiences for students. They highlight local and global needs that we can work to solve now, not when our students become adults.


And, if we believe that expeditionary learning is an important facet of deeper learning for our students, then it is important for our faculty to have these experiences, too. Highlighted below is one of our most recent learning expeditions with our faculty:


Photo credit: Chip Houston


During Mount Vernon’s preplanning, Upper School faculty spent an afternoon on their own expedition, practicing the skills of inquiry and innovation. We loaded buses and headed off to an unannounced destination. Once we arrived at a small park space in a town nearby, we gathered in small teams and engaged in a visible thinking routine called Creative Hunt. The intent of this routine is to get participants, in this case our teachers, to explore design and intent behind designs, ultimately appreciating the creativity that goes into the decisions of the designers/creators of any given object. After a short debrief, we dove into another VTR, called Question Starts. This routine asks participants to remain in inquiry for as long as possible. While observing elements of the park, we asked questions like “I wonder who designed this space?” and “What is the purpose of this seating area?” and “I wonder if the community will use the space the way the designers intended?” Resisting the urge to make declarative statements, we filled the air with what ifs and imagine if question stems. In our debrief, we zoomed out and focused on how these two VTRs allowed us to explore innovation and inquiry at such a deep level. The kicker, and what many of our faculty did not know, was that the space we were exploring, the designs we admired and questioned, were all created by students in Mount Vernon’s iDiploma program. We talk about what it looks like to make an impact and to engage in real-world learning….this is it! In the end, Upper School faculty were encouraged to brainstorm new possibilities for expeditions for their own students. We can’t see where they will intentionally expedition this year!


Additionally, Lower School faculty explored the surrounding campuses and local neighborhoods during the Pre-planning weeks. Teachers experienced the difference between an open-ended expedition where the only directions were to wonder and wander and one with a particular subject to investigate. They then worked on how to integrate multiple subjects under the umbrella of that one topic. They also realized that expeditions don’t need to be expensive and pre-planned to be valuable.  Sometimes the best learning opportunities are unplanned. Teachers gained valuable insight on how learners can benefit from the different types of expeditions and how to incorporate them into projects and learning outcomes. Second-grade students have also taken an expedition already this year. They explored Whole Foods as an entry event to their Healthy Me Project-Based Learning unit.

Now it’s your turn! In future weeks, we look forward to highlighting additional learners’ expeditions at our School from our youngest preschoolers to our oldest faculty members, and we hope that our readers across the globe will join us in these rich experiences for all learners. Where will you expedition this year? Tag @nicolenmartin in your Tweets to share your deep learning adventures.

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