MORRISTOWN, NJ - What is school? What does learning look like? These are profound questions that great schools ponder as they build their curriculum and hone their pedagogical style. For example, just as classrooms burst open to encompass the outdoor environment, the community, and the world, notions of success and failure in school evolve as well.
“We are actively teaching children that when things don’t work out, it doesn’t mean you fail. It means you have to come at it from a different perspective,” explains Daisy Savage, The Peck School’s Head of Upper School. "Students are encouraged to try, and if they fail, to “fail better” en route to success".
This is a major advantage to an independent school environment, where curricular evolution and educated risks can be taken throughout the course of a school year to create deeper and thoroughly engaging experiences for students.
In the spirit of taking educated risks, The Peck School faculty and administration decided to design and launch a unique learning experiment during ERB testing week this year. In the past, after participating in these standardized tests, students returned to accelerated versions of their daily classes. Faculty brainstormed ideas for a more effective and engaging use of the after-testing time, and The Peck School Mini-mester was conceived.
“I don’t think that any of us were totally prepared for what was going to happen,” said Savage. “We hoped it would be successful, but I think it has been beyond our wildest dreams in terms of the kids exploring, being excited and being engaged.”
Director of Curriculum and Faculty Development, Chris Weaver, has been working with Ms. Savage and the entire Upper School Faculty since the beginning of the school year to design a set of week-log immersive experiences for each grade level. “What are the different types of experiences we could create for the kids, and really for ourselves,” was the challenge Weaver set. “How can we give ourselves a greater sense of possibility around what education could be.”
After a great deal of planning and preparation throughout the school year, the resulting mini-mester rolled out the week of January 25th to the 30th. Unfortunately, the launch was delayed by a day as the North East was inundated by a massive snowfall and classes cancelled on Monday the 25th.
The rest of the week was a huge success. The fifth grade built elaborate Rube Goldberg Devices. The sixth grade worked in teams to compete in designing working snow sleds out of basic materials. The seventh grade engaged in building working robots, and the eighth grade focused on solving world issues in an activity entitled “Cities of the Future.”
Students spent their afternoons rotating through additional exercises including “Tessellations” (drawing special geometric shapes), “Little Bits” (easy to use electronic building blocks that empower students to invent), “Junkyard Challenge” (competing to construct the highest tower using nothing but tape and straws), and “Lion’s Pride” (combining poetry with imagery to express feelings that are often kept hidden by students).
“You own your learning. It’s not something that’s being force fed to you. People really learn things when they are interested in learning things, when they are engaged in learning things, and when they feel a sense of ownership", said Weaver of the success of the mini-mester.
The Peck School’s talented faculty and administrators are already working on ideas for Mini-mester 2.0.
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