Examples of Experiential and Collaborative Learning

(Part 6 of 7)

I think that some people imagine that experiential education is what happens if you don’t wash the dirt off your hands before eating. To Jo and me it meant leasing our home for a year, packing our belongings in backpacks, buying airline tickets and Eurail passes and stepping into the future. Alex was just 11 and Nate would turn 8 in a month on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. A teacher asked us if we were taking curriculum guides and workbooks. We knew where she was coming from. We didn’t intend to teach canned lessons. We intended to learn new things together as a family. We didn’t plan to be their teachers. The boys kept journals and were involved in budgeting and all the decisions we had to make as we ventured out. The communities we became a part of, even for a short time, were our schools.

When we returned to Sedona, we learned that the legislature had turned the charter school system into a way for individuals to tap into state funds and become wealthy.

A few months later we took off for another year of what we called “travel learning” and discovered America East of the 100th Meridian. When we returned, we knew that the boys needed to have experiences in secondary school and teenage communities. I visited nearby Prescott and spent some time evaluating the Mile High Middle School where Nate would go. I discovered one the best middle schools I had ever evaluated. Jay Collier, the principal, had remarkable insights into education centered on each child.

For Alex, who was entering high school, we were able to identify and select exceptional teachers. The biggest problem was that our sons were far ahead of other students in some areas and needed time to catch up in other disciplines. They were highly motivated to learn and self-direct their education. They soon filled in the gaps.

We had been warned that by taking our kids out of school they would never be graduated from high school or able to enter college. The school’s testing programs showed that they both had average intelligence, but according to the tests they were not “gifted”. This advice made sense if you bought into the idea that our educational testing systems measured real aptitudes and not just the ability to regurgitate data. Or if we believed that the education programs prepared kids for their future. We were not intimidated. After graduating from high school, three years apart, both were admitted to the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University.

Alex went on to receive his MA from Copenhagen University with a perfect score on his Master’s Thesis. As part of a 5-person team, he won the Communication Case Competition, sponsored that year by Maersk—one of Denmark’s largest and most prestigious corporations. As a Youth Goodwill Ambassador for Denmark, he had the opportunity to join multiple sessions with HRH Prince Joachim of Denmark. He has written and podcasted extensively about Danish society. He published his first book, Practical Curiosity, in 2017. It is a delightful examination of human growth and development. He still volunteers to help new students at the University. For the past nine years he has worked at one of Europe’s largest Adtech companies and currently holds an important position as Senior Product Marketing Director. He is an award-winning photographer who recently secured a top 10 placement in NatGeo’s global Photo of the Year competition, has traveled widely, continues to maintain his website, VirtualWayfarer, and recently designed and launched MistDefender, a unique photography accessory.

David (aka Nate) loves theatre and the arts. In high school, he was an active member of the Prescott show choir, the theatre program, and president of the Prescott High School Key Club. Following his passion for understanding the wider world, David attended Arizona State University and Barrett the Honors College studying the international system (Global Studies). He was graduated from the Honors College Magna Cum Laude. He interned for 20 weeks at the United States Consulate in Milan, Italy and while there improved and used his Italian in his day-to-day work. He served in the Peace Corps in Zambia, Africa for 3 Years, the first two years in a remote community, and the third year as Peace Corps Volunteer Leader, supporting Peace Corps across Southern Province. He speaks Bemba, certified in 2011 as advanced-mid level. He was identified by the European Union as an Erasmus Mundus Scholar, awarded a scholarship and support to relocate to Europe and complete a master degree. He studied in Poland for a year and Denmark for a year successfully completing his studies with a 12/12, the highest score, on his masters thesis. For the last five and a half years he has been an advisor in the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA). At IWGIA he was general editor for the Indigenous World 2019, organizing an exhibition on Indigenous Peoples during the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 2019, and from December 2018 has acted as program coordinator on the Indigenous Navigator project, which now supports Indigenous Peoples in 30 countries to monitor and report on their rights. In that capacity, he has traveled and conducted workshops and training sessions in Africa, the Arctic, Asia, and Central America. He has provided support, worked together with UN mechanisms, and participated directly in official proceedings of the UN, and particularly those bodies working with Human Rights and Biodiversity in New York and Geneva.

These are two examples of the many students that my co-host Dan Kenley and I interviewed on our podcast, Insights into Education. They are positive evidence that experiential learning works. We know that it takes many communities to grow our kids. Our educational systems can do much more to prepare students for their future.

(Continued in Part 7: )