Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=99485
Story Retrieval Date: 6/18/2013 6:18:38 PM CST
How do you get kids to clean up their garbage?
Teach them about it.
At Polaris Charter Academy in Humboldt Park, students collected, sorted and counted their trash last year as part of something called a learning expedition.
These second-graders studied how much waste individuals produce and its effect on the environment as part of a hands-on learning curriculum.
“Kids are moving; kids are thinking; kids are asking questions that are genuine, and it really gets them to become critical thinkers,” said Roel Vivit, dean of curriculum and instruction at Polaris.
This teaching philosophy, adopted from a design developed by Expeditionary Learning Schools Outward Bound, integrates all subject areas into learning expeditions through which students actively study a topic in-depth, said Deb Otto, Midwest regional director for Expeditionary Learning Schools.
“Our whole philosophy is that if you provide students with these genuine experiences,” Vivit said, “they’re going to retain that information and they’re going to continue to go back to it as they go on through the grades.”
Officials contend that expeditionary learning, implemented in more than 160 elementary, middle and high schools across the country, has shown positive results in many different areas.
Odyssey School, a combined elementary and middle school in Denver, outperformed the rest of the schools in the district by 25 to 38 percentage points in reading and 15 to 19 percentage points in math in both 2006 and 2007 assessment tests, according to an ELS report.
Though Polaris, as a charter school, possesses more autonomy, such as letting instructors develop different teaching methods, it still follows Illinois state standards and will begin assessment tests this school year.
According to Otto, Polaris is the only school in Chicago that uses the expeditionary learning design exclusively, but Reavis Elementary in Hyde Park is undergoing a three- to four-year transformation process to implement the program. Epic Academy, a high school on the South Side, is also in the application process to become an expeditionary learning school.
Polaris opened its doors in Humboldt Park to kindergarten, first- and second-grade students in 2007 and will add a grade level each year until it offers levels through eighth grade. It currently has a 200-student cap for the four grades and has only a handful of openings throughout the grades.
After studying waste and the environment, students wrote paragraphs that went into a grant proposal to reduce waste and helped the school acquire $10,000 for a dishwasher so the school could stop using disposable utensils and trays.