CHANGEd: What if schools were more like summer camps? 60-60-60 #19

This “CHANGEd: What if…60-60-60″ post is inspired and sparked directly from Ross Peters’ March 24, 2012 post: How Summer Camp Should Inform School.

In my past, I attended Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain, NC, and I served as a counselor and administrator at Camp Sea Gull in Arapahoe, NC. As Ross writes in his post, I remember fondly the enormous space and time to explore and discover. There were generally three “periods” – morning, afternoon, and evening. Campers pursued new opportunities and old loves of deep interest, and we enjoyed “I-can-really-accomplish-something” chunks of time.

Choice and time are powerful cabin mates.

Most importantly, the best of summer camp includes the space—literally and figuratively—for young people to become both more independent and more empathetic. ~ Ross Peters, March 24, 2012 blog post.

CHANGEd: What if…60-60-60 Project Explained

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10 thoughts on “CHANGEd: What if schools were more like summer camps? 60-60-60 #19

  1. I have such fond memories of camp, for many of the reasons listed above. At Sea Gull (Bo might remember) I even took “classes” where I learned skills that I directly applied to real problems–such as doing a solo pilot on a motor boat to navigate the Neuse River. I still remember having to plot my course–it was something that really mattered to me, even after to all these years.

    • Thad, thanks for stopping by and commenting. It is amazing, isn’t it, how our “seat work” learning can be so much more powerful when we see and practice the application of the skills we are learning. I wonder if navigation would have been as compelling if you had to learn it out of context.

  2. Pingback: CHANGEd 60-60-60 « Toward Wide-Awakeness

  3. Yes! And in reading this most recent post of yours, I realize that I have unknowingly re-broadcasted Ross’s post my 60-60-60 reflections when I could have done so tonight. The ripples continue to reach outward, Ross…thank you for such beautiful musings!

    I LOVE the exchange between Howell and you, Bo. Student as teacher. Teacher as student. May be just the inspiration I need for tonight.

  4. Mr. Adams,

    What a compelling and wonderful thought. As a former camper and counselor at Camp Laney and Mentor (professional naturalist) at the Green River Preserve, I can personally attest to the learning potential that camp offers. Some of my most important learning experiences during my tenure at Westminster occurred in a camp-like setting: exploring geology with George Schafer on Summer Field Geology; exploring the natural world through science, literature, writing, and drawing with Clark Meyer on Naturalist Field Study; exploring European history with Joe Tribble on Running through History; and learning about leadership, organization & planning, backcountry cooking, self-sufficiency, and natural history as a student leader for Discovery.

    The great learning potential of camp, I believe, lies in its following aspects:

    1) ITS PHYSICALITY. You don’t have to worry about the kids who can’t sit still during science class when you’re out on a 3-mile romp through the woods totally immersed in science. Learning here is tangible: why read about salamanders when you can hold one? why take notes about deciduous vs. coniferous trees when you can see them in the forest? why draw diagrams of the rock cycle when you can see metamorphic rocks and igneous rocks and tectonic uplift and weather at Lower Bald? I am pretty sure my grade 7 students have forgotten the difference between xylem and phloem. But I would be willing to bet my campers can still identify white pine, sassafras, rhododendron, trillium, and all kinds of other wild plants native to the Blue Ridge. As teachers in classrooms, we have to constantly construct methods – often artificially – to address different learning styles. Those methods are pre-built into the forest.

    2) ITS RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN KIDS AND ADULTS. As a classroom teacher, I never got the chance to sit around the dinner table and ask my students about their day. Shoot, sometimes I felt almost as awkward as them when we ran into each other at the grocery store – only I didn’t have my mother’s skirt to hide behind. When I have worked at camps, I shared every meal with my kids, and we talked about all sorts of things – most of it silly, and that’s okay! Never had to worry about kids texting under the table; there was no cell phone reception, and the kids were having too much fun with each other anyway. Working at the Green River Preserve a couple of summers ago, I read to or played violin for my kids every night as they fell asleep. Of course, maintaining boundaries is always important. But all too often formal education builds walls between students and their teachers, who should by all means be valuable and trusted counselors (I use the word here in a broad sense). As classroom teachers, when do we have the chance to take on these kinds of nurturing roles?

    3) ITS RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN KIDS AND KIDS. At summer camp, you’re assigned to a cabin. You don’t get to choose. The people in your cabin are the people you will be spending most of your time with for the next week, two weeks, three weeks. Are there conflicts? Oh yes. Do you have to figure them out? Definitely – sometimes with the help of a nearby adult, but often on your own. And that’s a critical experience.

    4) ITS CULTURE OF RESPONSIBILITY. Each person is responsible for keeping their own bed and trunk tidy. Each cabin member is responsible for keeping the cabin tidy. Each camper, administrator, counselor, and mentor is responsible for helping spot the four Grand Slaminals: the turkey, the bear, the deer, and a copperhead/rattlesnake. What 21st century teacher have you met that doesn’t gripe about “helicopter parenting”? At camp, the parents are no where to be seen: kids have the space – a safe space, but space nonetheless – and the responsibility to make decisions (and mistakes) – and then to deal with the consequences, both good and bad.

    Teaching math in rural South Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer now, I wish school was more like camp. Learning fractions in a class of 40 with no textbooks is a struggle – for my learners and myself. Sometimes I want to chuck South Africa’s national curriculum standards out the window and teach baking, or music; they’ll measure ingredients and set timers and oven temperatures and figure out fractions along the way, not to mention their fractions. Or let me teach them to read music, and they’ll learn their fractions – 4 quarter notes make a bar, and 4 sixteenth notes makes a quarter note. Along the way they’ll also come to understand the notion of symbolic representation – so critical to mathematical understanding. I have to ask myself, however: with limited time and resources, are these approaches the best way to maximize understanding among the most learners? I don’t know. I would love to figure out how to pull these approaches off with my huge classes of learners who aren’t used to having very much success at school.

    The closest approach I have gotten to instituting learning in a camp-like setting here is through Scouting. Apparently, Scouting is an international movement and is alive and well in South Africa. Currently I am working with community volunteers and national Scouting leaders to establish a troop in my village. I am hoping it leads to the kind learning you suggest in this blog entry :)

    Keep the thoughts and provocations on this blog coming. They’re an inspiration to a young teacher!

    kind regards,
    T. Howell Burke
    Westminster Class of 2005

    • Howell!
      What a tremendous and amazing gift to see your comment notification in my email in-box! Thank you for stopping by the blog and taking so much time and effort to reflect so eloquently on your experiences as a teacher and counselor. I cherished every word, and I learned a great deal just reading what you wrote. You have stretched my thinking and expanded the understanding of this literal and metaphorical idea for me.

      I remember clearly when you returned from the Field Geology trip – you had a glow about you that was truly contagious and exciting. Also, I can hear your voice and see your examples as you stood on Kellett stage with Mr. Meyer and mesmerized us all with the bird species on campus and with those who migrate through on their way elsewhere. In fact, you started a fascination with birds for me, and my sons and I spend quite a bit of time at Lake Oconee studying the Osprey there.

      I am thrilled to reconnect with you via this post. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments and sharing. I imagine that you are a superb educator – many of the attributes which make you so shine forth from the pixels in your note. You are kind to say that my thoughts and provocations are inspiring, but it is I who is inspired by you and what you are doing – and can do – for schooling! Keep up the great work!

      I hope to see you soon.

  5. Camp is what school should be like: fluid, experiential, a little “out there” every day. Why do we reserve those for a week a year instead of the 36 weeks we are in school?

    • Ross, the thanks for this belongs to you. Thanks for writing a thought-provoking piece that spurred me to move my 60-60-60 schedule. As you know, I read a ton, but your piece was the most thought-provoking of the week. I do hate that I had a “why didn’t I think of that!” moment, but this is one of the most powerful aspects of connected learning and networked literacy – we think better together. It was my pleasure to rebroadcast your tremendous thinking and beautiful writing.

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