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Expeditionary learning model lets students learn by doing

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In a March 3, 2011 photo, students attend a Global History class at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, in New York.

In a March 3, 2011 photo, students attend a Global History class at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, in New York.

Richard Drew, Associated Press

Learning by doing is the mantra of schools using a model developed by Expeditionary Learning, a chartered nonprofit affiliated with Outward Bound.

At schools that follow the model, students create in-depth projects suggested by their own curiosity. A set of values originated by German educator Kurt Hahn, founder of the Outward Bound outdoor leadership programs, forms the core philosophy for expeditionary learning. More than 45,000 students attend expeditionary learning schools in 30 states and the District of Columbia. They include traditional public schools, charter schools and private schools.

Hahn believed education should bolster personal responsibility for learning through self-discovery, curiosity, self-reflection, collaboration and competition. He touted experiences in the natural world as a means for increasing a student's empathy, caring and compassion.

The model is a departure from the rote instruction many schools depend on to prepare students for standardized tests. Multiple studies show that students in expeditionary learning schools achieve higher scores than their peers in traditional schools on standardized English, reading and math tests, however. The model can be effective for closing achievement gaps for ethnic minority and impoverished student populations, according to a study limited to schools in New York City and Rochester, N.Y.

One expeditionary learning school is Michigan's Escuela Avancemos, a charter school in southwest Detroit that opened this fall. The Expeditionary Learning organization partnered with the school's staff, training teachers to let students become active participants in their own educations and to adopt a teamwork mentality that teachers share, said the Detroit News. Students have taken ownership and pride in the school, cleaning the building and organizing classrooms.

"That's not something you see every day in Detroit," said the Detroit News.

At Utah's Promontory School of Expeditionary Learning, a new public charter school in Perry, students are given hands-on learning experiences outside the classroom, supported by community experts, according to UtahPublicEducation.org. A typical expedition might be visiting a farm to learn the hows and ways of food production. Students would gather information and form questions during the outing for later classroom analysis.

“Local community experts help us gather data and analyze it, helping the kids to become the experts themselves,” Promontory board member Kassi Capener told Utah public education blogger Roxana Orellana.

Durango High School, a public high school in Durango, Co., is another school trying out the expeditionary learning model. It's BASECAMP School of Expeditionary Learning is one of several learning communities within the school. BASECAMP is described as a school where:

— ­Learning is active: students are scientists, urban planners, historians, authors and activists.

— Learning is public: students, teachers, and local experts share visions of high achievement.

— Learning is meaningful: students apply skills and knowledge to real-world issues.

— Learning is challenging: students are guided to do more than they think they can.

— Learning is collaborative: rigorous expectations for quality work and achievement, are balanced with the joy of learning.

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com