Posted by: Stefan Anderson | January 5, 2014

The Value of Experiential Learning – Siri Block



~This blog entry is brought to you from the electronic portfolio of CS7 student Siri Block. Conserve School electronic portfolios connect student experiences to the school’s learning goals. Siri is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin where she attends Regis High School.~

The Value of Experiential Learning

Conserve School Learning Goal: Demonstrates the observational and reflective skills necessary to the development of a meaningful and lasting sense of place.

On Thursday afternoon, we were instructed to wear our warmest ensembles for history because we would be outside for the full class period. I arrived sporting the entirety of my closet, as the thermometer was sinking into the negatives. Michael [history teacher Michael Salat] was full of anticipation, as he led us through the sharp winds down the student pathway. When we reached the LRC, (already shivering I might add!) he dragged out four orange sleds and announced that we would be learning about what happens to the body under extreme temperatures.

Pulling the sledTo provide a bit of background information, the second half of the semester has been spent covering various tales of exploration, all mended together with the common theme of wintery weather. These subjects include mountain climbing, polar exploration, and most recently, Shackleton’s trans-Antarctic expedition. Michael kicked off the lesson with a dramatic reenactment of Shackleton sacrificing his personal treasures of gold and the Bible in the name of survival. It was the perfect way to slip everyone into the right frame of mind for such an experiential lesson.

With that, we took off! Using the blaze orange sleds connected to a waist belt, the class took turns pulling one another through the wooded trails. This was an effective learning process because it helped me envision the physical hardships the men on Shackleton’s expedition endured when sledging across icy floes. Michael stopped us periodically to share a reading and let the cold truly set into our bones. I found the article to be particularly captivating because the author, Peter Stark, explains the human body’s reaction as it freezes to death. Stark tells the haunting account in second person, making it easy to put yourself in the character’s dire situation—especially when reading about it in parallel weather conditions.

On the shore of Big Donahue LakeWhen we arrived at the shore of Big Donahue Lake, the wind was howling, nipping, and blowing clouds of unforgiving ice all about. The dryness was harsh on my lungs, but set the perfect scene to read the climax point in our story—when the character’s body gives into hypothermia and the heart stops. It was an eerie, wondrous moment in the lesson, and in that instant I realized how extraordinary this classroom experience was. How many students have the opportunity to physically experience what’s happening in their textbook? It is truly a rare and exquisite experience—one that I refuse to take for granted upon returning to “real school.”  Lessons like these are sporadic in the world of education, and I want to take time to consciously recognize and appreciate them when they do come along.

~Siri Block, Conserve School Semester 7

More photos from Siri’s semester at Conserve School.

Conserve School provides a semester-long immersion for high school students in environmental studies and outdoor activities that deepens their love of nature, reinforces their commitment to conservation, and equips them to take meaningful action as environmental stewards. Thanks to the generosity of Conserve School’s friends and its founder James Lowenstine all accepted students receive significant scholarship support.


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