A Year At Mission Hill Chapter 8, and the power of real life experiences

In Life, Math does not live in a separate house from Language or Science or Art. They interact with each other, depend on each other, are richer because of each other. That’s what makes the kind of learning you see in this latest video so powerful. Shortly after The World of Work chapter came out, I got a phone call from my friend John Lamb, also a retired teacher. He had been looking over lesson plans for projects he had done over the years– projects, like those we saw at Mission Hill, that brought children in contact with adults in their community, or allowed them to accomplish something tangible. We didn’t call these experiences Project Based Learning when we started teaching, but they fit that moniker. The idea is and was that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Off the top of my head here are some of the projects Open Classroom students participated in over the years:

  • Wrote detailed guides to our local birds, and to our county’s history
  • Built bridges that they could stand on out of a variety of materials and rafts that could hold them for at least a short period of time before sinking
  • Created a geodesic dome large enough for the whole class to get inside of (it was tight)
  • Created a video and a book from interviews with people in our community who had lived here more than 40 years
  • Planted erosion control materials on local farms
  • Raised trout and released them
  • Gleaned strawberries after the farmer had harvested the main crop, and made jam
  • Made bread from wheat we had grown and ground
  • Dug clay from a riverbed, refined it and used it to make ceramics and to build a bread oven
  • Re-enacted the gold rush, the arrival of Aleuts and Russians to Northern CA, life in the Missions, the Great Depression, Ancient Egypt
  • Prepared for and spent a day and a night on a Tall Ship, living as the crew would have lived
  • Wrote and performed and created costumes and sets for many elaborate original musical plays
  • Cultivated worms
  • Ran a farm stand at the local farmers market
  • Designed a playground
  • Designed and built a chicken coop, incubated chicks, and kept track of egg sales
  • Published newspapers and books
  • Ran classroom stores
  • Dug a fish pond
  • Created an elaborate model train world
  • Took wool from sheepskin to finished yarn that they dyed themselves with local plants
  • Helped in the building of a replica of a Miwok Indian village in our local national park, using traditional methods
  • Documented rare and endangered plants in an area scheduled for housing construction, and wrote to county supervisors about their environmental concerns
  • Brought ideas for ways we could help people in need both around us and in other parts of the word, and researched the issues that cause the need.
  • Became experts on endangered coho salmon
  • Built a sweat lodge with the help of a Native American elder

I know I’m leaving out many others…Would anyone be able to condense the learning that came from these into a few multiple choice questions?  Yet there is no doubt in my mind that the learning that came from these experiences took my students in depth into every subject that those tests are supposed to measure.


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