Explaining Experiential Learning

It can take some effort to explain to parents and prospective families what the Catlin Gabel mission of learning through experience looks like in practice. This week’s Middle School newsletter focuses on special activities that replace three days of regular classes this week. While Discovery Days represent only a part of experiential learning at Catlin Gabel, departures from the regular class schedule draw special attention. Here are some excerpts from the most recent Middle School parent newsletter.


Next week brings our first experiential days to Middle School life this year. Here are snapshots of what each grade will be doing. Please make sure that your child has any necessarily medications/clothing/gear for these days.

6th Grade Discovery Days

Sixth grade students will be staying on campus both days of Discovery Days, 9/21 and 9/22, but their experiences will be rich, varied, and memorable. Please note that we will be doing an exciting activity involving the honeybees in our apple orchard on Thursday. We realize some are allergic to bees, and every precaution will be taken for safety.

On Wednesday, 9/21, our theme is group trust, friendship, and team building

During the day on morning sessions, students will break into smaller groups and get to know one and rely upon one another while completing several events on our own Catlin Gabel challenge course. During the afternoon sessions, students will again break into smaller groups to complete three rotations outside: painting and drawing with Dale, Tom, and Pongi; survey nature walk with Larry and Len; and event mapping in journals with Ann and Carter. The day will conclude with preparation for our square dance on the afternoon of the next day.

On Thursday, 9/22, our theme is harvest fest

During the day two morning session rotations, students will go to the apple orchard with Len and Larry to harvest and press apples using a cider press.  They will also be in the garden, kitchen, and classroom with Ann, Pongi, and Hen busy winnowing, threshing, and grinding the wheat grown in our garden so that they can then make apple galette using apples from our orchard.  Last, students will be in the garden with Carter, Spencer, and parent volunteers both harvesting salad mixings as well as planting seeds in greenhouse flats that they will raise up throughout the year for the Spring Festival plant sale fundraiser.

During the afternoon sessions, Brian Lacy, a beekeeper who will be working with our team and students throughout the year, will lead the students into a bee tent in our orchard to observe honey harvested from two hives. The students will, of course, be sampling as they go. The day will conclude with Pongi calling a square dance in Tennis Court #1.

7th Grade Discovery Days

Each year Discovery Days afford us an opportunity to get to know each other as a class very quickly and effectively. The 7th grade begins Discovery Days with the Discovery Café; an annual event hosted by the 7th grade teachers. After a light breakfast students and teachers will gather at the Murphy Athletic Complex for a day of cooperative games and group challenges.   Students will work in advisory groups so that these supportive and small groups can build a rapport within the group and with faculty that can carry throughout the year.

On our second day we will head directly out to Sauvie Island to participate in a beach cleanup and then a sand castle building contest. This is a very serious competition with construction taking several hours. The construction is made even more challenging (and fun) by the incoming wake of passing barges and cargo vessels. Judging occurs during a late lunch as students enjoy watching for the bald eagles on the islands across the channel or as they enjoy running off energy during Frisbee or soccer on the beach. By day’s end we know much better how to work together and can see more clearly what we can accomplish by doing so. And we all come home ready for a good night’s rest!

8th Grade Discovery Days

Discovery Days is a time for students to reacquaint and engage in learning experiences beyond the classroom setting. This year, part of our time will be at Helsing Junction Farm near Rochester, Washington. This farm is involved in community supported agriculture and operates with sustainable principles. Students will be working together, gleaning and doing other farm chores. The evening will be spent at nearby Swede Hall and the focus is leadership, food and fun.

We return to campus on the Thursday of Discovery Days. Team building exercises on the Challenge Course and a program designed to deepen student understanding of sustainable living are the focus. Dismissal time is at the end of the normal school day.

Campus Day 2012 – Friday, September 23

Once a year, Middle School students roll up their sleeves and pitch in giving back to our beautiful 54-acre campus by working on various parts of the campus, often on parts they do not usually use or see with any regularity. This work is done in student C & C groups. It’s always a productive fun day. It happens this Friday, September 23, beginning right after our Friday morning assembly and concluding at 11:30.

Mike Wilson, who heads the school’s grounds crew, will come to our Friday morning assembly to help kick things off.  Mike has come to rely on these days, both for the connections he makes with the Middle School kids and the work the kids are able to get done. As Mike has remarked, “The bummer when MS campus day is over is that we have to wait 365 days for it to happen again.”

On Campus Day students need to dress for the weather, and wear close-toed sturdy shoes. Depending on the job, we often ask that they bring work gloves as well.

You should hear more about assignments from your child early next week.  After lunch we will board buses for our afternoon of fun – it’s a surprise!

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