Reflections on our First Semester
It’s hard to take a breather when we’ve been running our Indiegogo Campaign, searching for spaces to lease for our Depot (workshop!), and setting up our admissions process for next year after what was an incredible, though hobbled together start at the end of last summer. On top of this, of course, the job of teaching is a full time one in and of itself. We scrambled to complete our projects, practiced our presentations in stolen minutes and unlikely places (re: picnic tables outside of the Happy Donuts), and made MANY a last minute run to the hardware store. Still, looking back, this was the most successful arc topic yet. We have so much to celebrate and reflect on.
Interestingly, we were able to accomplish more with only two days per week rather than the typical five. This was my first semester working with different groups each week, too, save my public school days, which feel so long ago now. In the past I’ve mostly had the same class all day everyday. But there was something magical about having a fresh start with a group after a day or since our last meeting. The space between gave room for a provocation to percolate, or for us to contemplate our next best move after discovering that the joints of our Fort weren’t quite 90-degree angles.
When it comes to experiential learning, I’ve tried all of the curriculum planning methods from spontaneous day-by-day planning driven largely by student interest to belabored daily lesson plans outlining the Essential Question, standards, step-by-step procedure, and differentiation plans. This semester wasn’t perfect, but it felt easier and richer in content. I chose one primary text as a guide (Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States) and allowed it to inspire our trips, games, and experiences. It was a huge relief to have the complete flexibility to go anywhere within the confines of one day if we were so inclined. One day, we took off to the San Mateo History Museum, which was 45 minutes away by train, out of the blue. After our morning meeting, I realized that the museum was exactly what we needed that day, and whoosh, off we went. There is a balance to strike between planned and not planned, but I can recognize how my formal training in curriculum planning has helped me to loosely plan a map and navigate through it on a daily basis with the scaffolding required for kids to process it all.
Once again, parents and students alike commented on their skepticism of the topic followed by their amazement at how engaged their child was across the months of study. “I had my doubts about flags - I thought, well, let’s see where this goes…but I’ll tell you, my child can’t stop talking about flags and has learned more than I could have imagined.” We really did love studying flags. I want to give a shout out to Roman Mars, who really captivated their attention in his TED Talk “Why City Flags May Be the Worst Designed Thing You’ve Never Noticed.” I’ve never heard one resource in a class referred to as much as this one by the kids. Everywhere we went they applied the North American Vexillological Association’s rules of design to flags and more. Another shout out goes to good ol’ fashioned rope. The kids would swing on the tree swings they made and that were already at The Spot for the rest of time, it seems. Grounders, our favorite tag game, kept us interested and sweaty literally every single day for the Tues/Thurs group. And the Santa Clara Mission was the favorite trip of the semester, according the our end of year reflection exercise. Finally, I feel grateful for wood and screws and drills. The number of lessons that can be taught with those three things will likely last me the rest of my career.
As we move into a new semester, I look back on this past one and feel a bit choked up when I think about the kids. Some of them had a very healing few months. Others extended a steady hand and exploding rainbows of friendship. We learned from one another, laughed together, compromised, and embodied what it means to be a team.
Because of them, we have a gorgeous (almost finished) classroom fort in the woods, a meeting date to present the next iteration of our Burlingame Flag to City Council, a very intriguing and well-designed NOMAD government and economic system to be implemented by the kids, and a distinctive NOMAD flag. I'd say it was a success.