"I'm so excited to be teaching you guys -- I've been hearing about you all week!" These words (or words like these) were our welcome from many of the naturalists we learned from at Wolf Ridge this year. The word on the street (or in the naturalists' dorm) was that the Prairie Creek group was a lot of fun to teach.
Wolf Ridge gives me the chance to step back and observe. I support students throughout the week but I am not the lead teacher so I get the chance to see our students with fresh eyes. What I saw was pretty impressive. Our students asked questions; they got amazed; they thought and tried hard. Class after class, the Herons were still exploring with the naturalist and asking more questions long past the official end time. At one point, they became so determined to get a bow drill to start a fire that they almost were late to a meal! (Which is saying something -- everyone was pretty hungry.)
Gabe, Cathy and I were talking this afternoon and Gabe shared that he felt the contrast between our students and other students there was striking, "Our kids believe that learning is fun. The other students seemed to feel like they could be learning or having fun."
That helped to crystallize my thoughts about the week. Our kids were having a blast. Part of it was being outdoors skiing, playing and climbing. But a bigger part was the thrill of discovery -- the print of an owl's wing in the snow, eggshells drifting to the bottom of a frozen lake, fruticose lichen hanging from a branch, moistened lungwort coming alive, SCAT!, the twisted tunnels of a vole, the croaking of a raven, the sparks of flint and steel, Orion's belt, the jaw bone of an owl's meal, three woodpeckers chasing each other, an unexpected glimpse of Superior, the crunch of wild rice...
Our students were utterly alive to the learning available to them at Wolf Ridge.
Wolf Ridge's new education coordinator stopped by one day to chat about our school and why we come to Wolf Ridge. We talked a bit about grad standards and whether or not it was important for the naturalists to cover specific content. I assured her that we wanted the naturalists to have the freedom to follow the passions of the students -- to delve deep into the discoveries they were making. As we talked more, I suggested that, perhaps, Wolf Ridge was Prairie Creek's "standardized" assessment. Were our kids able to explore, question, and take risks effectively in this new environment? It was an intriguing idea -- we often struggle with how to measure the "soft" skills of learning that are so central to what we teach. But those skills are so strongly in evidence when we go to Wolf Ridge. Our kids are able to learn deep and suck the marrow out of the experience (apologies to Henry Thoreau). They pass the test.
Frozen Lake Study