Posted by: Stefan Anderson | March 3, 2014

The Boat Drag of Learning



~This blog entry is brought to you from the electronic portfolio of CS8 student Anna Swenson. Conserve School electronic portfolios connect student experiences to the school’s learning goals. Anna is from Middleton, Wisconsin where she attends Middleton High School.~

The Boat Drag of Learning

Conserve School Learning Goal: After successfully completing a Conserve School semester, a student will have taken a strong step forward on their educational path equal to or greater than the expected progression in their sending school.

This week in history class, we continued to read Endurance, the story of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica. We had gotten to the point in the story when the ship had been taken by the pressure of the ice and Shackleton had realized that his mission was no longer to cross Antarctica, but rather to keep his men alive. They eventually packed up and left their camp on the ice, taking their three boats with them in case they found open water.

In class, our teacher Michael Salat had us walk down to the lake, dig out some rowboats from under the snow and drag them across the lake. When we reached the spot where the boats were resting under the snow, they weren’t visible at all. We dug into the snow and found the metal edge of one of the rowboats. Then, enthusiastically, we dug away until we had three mostly uncovered rowboats sitting in front of us, frozen to the ground. We worked away at the icy edges until people could get fingers underneath and could lift the boat from the ground. Working steadily, we eventually had the three rowboats sitting right-side-up on the snow, with ropes attached. We were finally ready to get started with our activity.

We were split into three teams and each one took off, trudging across the snow-covered ice. At places, there was standing water and deep slush, and every time we paused, the slush held the boat in place and made it that much harder to start moving again. By the time we had reached the other side of the lake, boots were soaked through, fingers were cold, and I was out of breath. It was definitely the most physically demanding class I’d ever attended.

It was only while walking back to the Lowenstine Academic Building (LAB) that I realized that I actually understood what I had read.  Our struggles over the course of maybe half an hour were nothing compared to what Shackleton and his men faced, but now I had a reference point. I’ve always been a good student because I’m good at remembering what I read. But for the first time, I questioned how much I had really understood of what I had read in the past. When I read the passage about sledging the boats for the first time, before actually pulling the boats, I was numb to the real hardship that they faced; how physically exhausted and cold they were, not just for thirty minutes like we were, but for months.

I think that this is the beauty of experiential learning. I never would have made this realization or these connections in a lecture style class. I would have absorbed the information and retained it until I took the test on it. I know that what I learned in that one day in history class will help me connect to other situations in the future that may seem too extraordinary to connect with, like the Antarctic winter. This really connects to learning goal 3, because I believe I now see the true value of experiential learning, and I can take this with me both academically and personally, to use for the rest of my life.

~Anna Swenson, Conserve School Semester 8

You can read a related article on History Teacher Michael Salat’s website here.

More photos from the Shackleton boat drag exercise in history class 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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