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Steiny: Expeditionary Learning: Journeying Through Compelling Content

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

 

Expeditionary Learning goes a step beyond text book and into the real world.

Open since 2010, Greene Charter School in West Greenwich, RI, is one of a network of a large and growing network of "Expeditionary Learning" (EL) schools.

"Expeditionary learning" sounds deliciously exotic, like maybe what Marco Polo was doing or Dr. Livingston on a scientific exploration of the African jungle—fact-gathering treks through terrain that require shots and exotic transportation.

Heaven knows some students have a daily expedition riding Greene's bio-diesel buses from as far away as Westerly to the south, or super-urban Central Falls north of Providence. They arrive at the Greene campus out in Rhode Island's boonies after as much as an hour-and-a-half each way, but boast an attendance rate above state average. A donor gave the school the buses to support the Board's insistence on creating a diverse school available to urban students. (The current 9th grade class has 41 percent students eligible for subsidized lunch, up from the 12th grade's 9 percent. Word has gotten out.)

But Greene's expeditions are actually classroom voyages through topic areas, although working out in the field, outside, or off-campus is integral to the EL experience. These academic explorations are semester-long, in-depth examinations of an issue that integrate at least two core academic subjects. Greene has an environmental science focus, so one of those two is usually science. (Most EL schools are either science or arts-focused.)

For example, the 9th graders begin their high-school careers studying food in all its complexity. Greene's Vice Principal, Melissa Hall, says that the students start by reading the Omnivores Dilemma. "They write food journals (recording precisely what they eat); they study mass-produced food products versus local. What does organic really mean? They look at food over the course of time and food seasonality." Together, kids and teachers draw a 100-mile radius from the school site itself to figure out what's within that reach. What does it cost to bring local produce to table versus the price of transporting strawberries from Mexico? And what are the trade-offs of energy-intensive indoor farming in wintery New England, where nothing grows outdoors in the winter?

Fun questions.

The EL philosophy

Greene's EL consultants work with the faculty to backwards-design such projects, so while kids pursue their hot topic, they're also learning the straight-up academic requirements, specifically of the Common Core. With students lured into questioning the food they generally take for granted, teachers make sure they test well, at least comfortably above state average.

A central idea of this approach is students "owning" their own learning. Every classroom has a copy of the 10 EL Design Principles. Number one, "The Primacy of Self-discovery," explains, "People discover their abilities, values, passions and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected." If kids aren't invested in their own learning, it's an uphill battle for the teachers. Head of School, Deanna Duncan, puts it this way: "Good teaching happens when the teachers themselves are engaged in learning." Turning the pages of a textbook is a tedious way to teach and learn.

Demona, an 11th grader from Providence, describes "expeditionary" this way: "They take a large topic and put it in English, science, history and get it to all come together. (The food project) makes you really aware of what you're putting into your body. I've changed my diet." She adds, "It's a really rigorous course. I did not feel prepared for the level of rigor here."

Putting their education to use

So these expeditions are the ultimate in hands-on learning. The originators of the approach wanted to infuse public education with the best practices of Outward Bound. While expensive, OB has had great success with getting disengaged kids out into the wilderness, where skills and courage they didn't even know they had rise to the surface. Prospective Greene students too must be willing to go camping, which has been a deal-breaker for some.

The academic expeditions always result in some sort of product that demonstrates—or not—that students actually understand the topic at hand. The food project culminates in an 8-course dinner that the 9th-graders prepare, only with local food (to the extent possible). Kids work with local suppliers, farmers, and chefs, bringing the real world to their learning. Preparing the dinner has become one of the weeklong courses called "intensives," learning experiences that happen in both the spring and fall. Intensives give the school a change to support the strong achievers' pursuit of a big project or personal passion, or to give struggling students the academic help they need to keep up in academically-rigorous classes. The dinner intensive is a plum project that motivates students to get their academic act together.

A growing trend

EL is growing quickly, with 32 schools in New England and many more elsewhere. Two-thirds of the EL schools are regular district schools; the rest are charters.

The Greene Board is thrilled with how EL is working out for their students. The reasons include EL's approach to school culture and climate, which I'll discuss next week.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at EducationNews.org . She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building demonstration projects in Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

 

Related Slideshow: Central MA School Districts with the Highest Teacher Evaluations

During the 2012-2013 school year, Race to the Top (RTTT) districts in Massachusetts were required to implement the new Educator Evaluation framework with at least 50 percent of their educators district-wide. Of Central Massachusetts’s 52 school districts, 26 implemented the Educator Evaluation structure. These 26 school districts are listed below ranked from the lowest teacher evaluation score to the highest. Keep reading to see where your district’s teachers rank, as well as to view the state and regional averages.

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State Average

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 7.4%

Percentage with proficient scores: 85.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 6.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.7%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 37,940

Total number of educators evaluated: 61,441

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Central MA Average

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 5.1%

Percentage with proficient scores: 88.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 6.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.04%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 8,843

Total number of educators evaluated: 5,987

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#26 Quaboag

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 6.3%

Percentage with proficient scores: 75.0%

Percentage that need improvement: 18.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 131

Total number of educators evaluated: 80

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#25 Oxford

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 8.7%

Percentage with proficient scores: 73.9%

Percentage that need improvement: 17.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 168

Total number of educators evaluated: 46

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#24 Uxbridge

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 84.2

Percentage that need improvement: 15.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 162

Total number of educators evaluated: 19

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#23 Fitchburg

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 8.6%

Percentage with proficient scores: 77.3%

Percentage that need improvement: 13.3%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.9%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 456

Total number of educators evaluated: 233

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#22 Westborough

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 1.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 86.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 10.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 1.5%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 335

Total number of educators evaluated: 67

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#21 Lunenburg

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 1.4%

Percentage with proficient scores: 87.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 10.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 1,209

Total number of educators evaluated: 495

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#20 North Brookfield

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 2.7%

Percentage with proficient scores: 86.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 10.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 59

Total number of educators evaluated: 37

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#19 Millbury

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 3.3%

Percentage with proficient scores: 87.9%

Percentage that need improvement: 6.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 2.2%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 158

Total number of educators evaluated: 91

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#18 Blacktone-Millville

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 10.6%

Percentage with proficient scores: 81.9%

Percentage that need improvement: 7.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 162

Total number of educators evaluated: 94

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#17 Southbridge

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 9.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 83.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.7%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 212

Total number of educators evaluated: 152

Prev Next

#16 Worcester

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 6.2%

Percentage with proficient scores: 87.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.4%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 1,859

Total number of educators evaluated: 1,825

Prev Next

#15 Webster

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 10.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 83.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 159

Total number of educators evaluated: 101

Prev Next

#14 Hudson

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 3.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 90.8%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.2%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 288

Total number of educators evaluated: 153

Prev Next

#13 Gardner

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 3.3%

Percentage with proficient scores: 91.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.0%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 227

Total number of educators evaluated: 120

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#12 Dudley-Charlton

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 6.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 88.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 4.2%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.6%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 320

Total number of educators evaluated: 168

Prev Next

#11 Northbridge

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 95.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 4.0%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 229

Total number of educators evaluated: 200

Prev Next

#10 Winchendon

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.7%

Percentage with proficient scores: 95.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 3.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 139

Total number of educators evaluated: 137

Photo: Flickr/AdmissionsQuest

Prev Next

#9 Bellingham

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 1.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 95.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 3.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 215

Total number of educators evaluated: 206

Prev Next

#8 Quabbin

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 4.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 92.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.5%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.5%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 207

Total number of educators evaluated: 199

Prev Next

#7 Grafton

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 97.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 253

Total number of educators evaluated: 178

Prev Next

#6 Ralph C. Maher

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 2.6%

Percentage with proficient scores: 94.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 79

Total number of educators evaluated: 76

Prev Next

#5 Marlborough

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 96.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 434

Total number of educators evaluated: 423

Prev Next

#3 Auburn (Tied)

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 99.1%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 202

Total number of educators evaluated: 116

Prev Next

#3 Leominster (Tied)

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 99.1%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 523

Total number of educators evaluated: 332

Prev Next

#2 Wachusett

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 29.1%

Percentage with proficient scores: 70.3%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 534

Total number of educators evaluated: 334

Prev Next

#1 Douglas

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 9.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 90.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.0%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 123

Total number of educators evaluated: 105

 
 

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