An Intersession Tale: Learning Outside the Box
In the course of one week, Orange Schools' students from kindergarten through high school journeyed through their own time and space; they travelled to Egypt and beyond; they explored everything from probability to physics, from finances to leadership. What they thought of as “fun”, in reality, was the very definition of Next Generation Learning.
“These qualities of engaging in something ‘outside’ of the normal routine and having the opportunity to choose your own learning experiences are the two hallmarks of the intersession experience for our Orange students,” noted kindergarten teacher Anne Ferlito.
The intersession programs are designed to promote innovative learning outside the traditional classroom setting in order to provide opportunities that will enhance student engagement and 21st Century learning skills while, at the same time, promoting the mastery of rigorous content knowledge.
Even the kindergarteners’ journey into the world of 21st Century Learning could hardly be considered baby steps. These young students participated in their second intersession in this school year’s seasonal themes, this time creating the concept of “winter”. (view slideshow here)
“We searched our schedules for a time of week when all seven kindergarten classes would be available for a whole-kindergarten ‘swap’,” Ferlito said. “This provided the students with the opportunity to choose from a selection of seasonally related topics and experience a learning situation in a unique setting with a unique teacher among peers with whom they do not normally spend time.”
Students could be seen actively engaged in dice snowmen games, snowflake art and snowman creations, makeshift snowball fights and igloo building using recyclables, and activities involving the story “The Mitten”. Choosing their top three favorites, students learned about weather and seasonal changes while indirectly connecting to standards in math, social studies, and language arts….perhaps while not realizing they were learning.
“The intersessions are so much fun!” effused kindergartener Sana Adi. “Each classroom has different things and you can do all of the stuff you like!”
“We did so many great things,” said fellow student Raphael Costa, smiling as he jumped from game to game. “You get to choose the things you want. I can’t wait to do another one again!”
Gifted interventionist Maggie Gobetz collaborated with the teams at Moreland Hills Elementary and participated in each of the intersessions as a “documenter” of the event.
“It’s just a really good way for the concepts that the students are learning to come to life,” she said.
Learning To Take A Chance
At the other end of the school, the fifth grade students were equally engaged but in their own intersession. The hallway was decorated as a “Probability Carnival”, with the fifth graders creating games of chance for their classmates. The mandate was that the games had to be fair for all, so that chance, rather than skill, came into play. Students would assess theoretical versus experimental probability, keeping track of the data, to see if their theories were accurate.
“You get to go around, playing games and earning tickets, all while learning and also having fun,” said fifth grader Brooke Singer.
The games were as original as the students’ imaginations and included “Football Fishing”, “Wheel of Tickets”, “Race to the Finish”, “Car Chase”, “Ribbon Pull”, “Pick a Pop”, and the ever-popular cup games. Each game came with a set of rules created by the students to ensure the equity of each trial.
“You get to learn what probability is and see different kinds of probability in action,” said fifth grader Blessing Nwaozuzu. “..and it’s fun!”
“I learned that some games are easier than others and some are trickier than others,” noted Jesseca Hudson-Turpin. “It’s like in real life.”
And that, says teacher Sarah Lauer is the point.
“They are obviously engaged and having fun but it’s just a different way to learn about probability; they learning about it but applying it, too,” she said. “They love it. I love it. We all love it. They’re engaged, and they’re learning a lot as a result.”
At Brady, Students Learn to Lead
That engagement was also seen at Brady Middle School.
Sixth graders were divided in half; one team explored Egypt and Egyptian mythology , while the other team focused on Animal Heroes.
“We just did a whole unit of study on Egypt, and this was a good culminating activity,” said social studies teacher Ann Tatman. “They could take the knowledge they learned and put it into artistic things as well as some creative writing and technology games. It gets them more engaged with what they’re learning; they’re working together, and it takes them away from the routine while making it a little more exciting to come to school that day.”
Excitement abounded as the students created canopic jars, like the ones used by Ancient Egyptians during the mummification process to preserve body organs for the afterlife. In this case, the traditional limestone jars were made from foam cups and clay (and no body parts were preserved!), though students loved the “hands-on” experience.
“It was a cool experience. You don’t just sit around writing things down,” said sixth grader Adam Tirpak. “I think if it’s enjoyable and hands-on, students pay more attention and like it and enjoy it more.”
“It’s hard to say what my favorite part of the intersession was because it was all pretty interesting, but I liked the future archaeology project because it was interesting to think that we might have everything wrong!” said fellow student Sam Prendergast.
“You could paint, create and make stuff of your own design,” said Noah Pollina. “We got to focus on one topic all day instead of just skipping around.”
The creation of the mummy masks was particularly exciting for students. They took turns “mummifying” each other, creating molds of each other’s faces and then painting them in unique ways.
“I’m a big fan of Egypt mythology so this was a really great project,” said sixth grader Ryan Vincent. “I gained more knowledge about the actual history of Egypt. The intersessions give people a way to have fun and learn at the same time without being stuck at a desk in a classroom. It opens up the world to us.”
While half the students were ‘in Egypt’, the other half were learning how animals were saving lives all around the world.
“The intersession on animal heroes was outstanding,” reflected math teacher Michael Potiker. “The kids participated in an interdisciplinary way, with each teacher focusing on a lesson in their own discipline…in math, for example, we made dog bandanas that will be traded or bartered in exchange for food and supplies needed by animal shelters. We used different math concepts like rate to find out the cost per square foot of the bandanas. We also use perimeter and area.”
In different rooms, students were taught about service and sight dogs and their significance in our society. They learned about “Two Bobbies”, a true story about the friendship of a dog and cat that only had each other to survive after Hurricane Katrina. And they learned about the assistance dolphins give to the military, specifically the Navy SEALs, to rescue lost naval swimmers or locate underwater mines.
“Overall the intersession was a good experience but parts of it were really sad because we learned that some of the animals died in the line of duty,” said sixth grader Cydney Granger. “I learned that animals can do a lot more for the community and for the world just by helping with disasters like earthquakes.
Classmate Samantha Richards, already an avid cat lover, agreed.
“This gave me a new appreciation for dogs by seeing all these videos and learning how they can help people like finding those that were still alive in the rubble in 911,” she said. “I rally appreciate them more now that I know how much they do for the community and the people who live in it.”
Appreciation Takes On A Whole New Meaning
While the sixth graders were learning to appreciate animals, seventh graders were learning to appreciate their parents and guardians. For the second year, seventh graders got to experience “Real Money. Real World.”…and gained a new understanding of what it takes to survive in the world.
“I learned that reality will come up to you and slap you in the face,” said seventh grader Max Dallinga.
Max had $56 left in his bank account which was more than many of the students who got a few “Real World” lessons as part of a simulation brought to BMS through The Ohio State University Extension program. Through the simulation, students drew occupations, the number of children they were responsible for and their ages, along with their income, education and marital status. They were then sent off with a checkbook register page to experience “life” and set up a financial accounting for their needs and wants.
At the very least, it was a financial wake-up call.
“I learned not to ask my parents to buy me so much stuff!” said seventh grader Revelation Sanders who ended up more than $500 in debt in the simulation.
“I’m going into debt with no food or clothing,” said classmate Antonio Baez. “It takes a lot of money to keep a family going.”
Students had to visit each “station”, manned by parent volunteers, to determine how much they would need to spend on such items as childcare, clothing, entertainment, food, housing, insurance, transportation and utilities, just to name a few.
“I have got two children and only $250 left. That’s it. I’m going broke,” lamented Amir Statham. “I bought them Ramen noodles. That’s all I can afford for a while.”
“This is a great opportunity for the students because not only do they start to understand finances like what interest, net income, and gross income are, but this gives them a concept of what money is and all the things we have to pay for and take into account,” said teacher Carol Kapostasy. “This gives them a whole different perspective.”
From Hands-On Finances to Hands-On Physics
For eighth graders, their intersession was all about perspective…from a mountaintop, that is. Students were invited to participate in a day of tobogganing at the Cleveland Metroparks in Strongsville as part of the effort to engage students in learning that is not only educational but memorable.
“It was awesome,” said Brady Middle School eighth grade science teacher David Miller. “The kids got to take what they learned in the classroom about physics, momentum, energy, kinetic energy, acceleration and put it into use in the real world on the slopes.”
Students were given the opportunity to behave like scientists by using the scientific method to determine how variables (ie, number of riders, weight, aerodynamic position on the toboggan, etc.) could change their velocities at the bottom of the chute. After analyzing their data, the students were then given the opportunity to choose how they wanted to share and display their results. Students worked in teams to determine the relationship between variables and identify flaws in their hypotheses and the investigation itself.
“It was great hanging out with our friends and going down the chutes with different groups of people,” said eighth grader Sophia Bruno. “You got to learn much more about nature and art and physics by being there rather than just sitting in a classroom because you don’t think of it as learning; you think of it as fun!”
And Now, To Make A Difference...
At the high school, where students are learning to achieve the final part of our motto, “To Learn. To Lead. To Make a Difference”, they are taking things a step further. During a two-day intersession, nearly 50 OHS students learned how to create a more compassionate, interdependent, and empathetic culture within their communities through a program called “Actively Caring for People (AC4P).” The program began at Virginia Tech following the 2007 shooting tragedy there. The movement inspires individuals to perform intentional acts of kindness as part of their daily routine.
“I think the experience was awesome,” said junior Shamable Crawford, who led “teammates” in a spirited dance to inspire others. “A lot of us got to step out of our comfort zone and really express ourselves and share how we felt.”
“AC4P means to truly care for people and not to judge them,” added ninth grader Celine Cameron. “It’s like saying ‘hello’ to someone even when you don’t know them.”
Students were led by students from Virginia Tech and joined for part of the time by Brady’s WEB (Where Everybody Belongs) leaders in activities and discussions focused on leadership, respect, and building self-esteem and confidence. Green bracelets were passed on from person to person to recognize and encourage supportive behaviors. The bracelets, which have travelled around the world, can be tracked on the AC4P website.
“The bracelet allows students to recognize and share ‘actively caring’ so that they can increase ‘actively caring’ around us. Actively caring is what you do when no one is watching,” said intersession coordinator Casey Durkin. “AC4P requires courage; courage to step outside our comfort zones…this intersession allowed more than 50 students to retreat from the daily routines of school with the purpose of advancing OHS into a stronger, more resilient and more caring community.”
This is the second year that the AC4P intersession was offered here. Other intersessions throughout the campus including a third grade program entitled “Kids Caring for Communities” and the recent fifth grade “Road Trip” have been added to annual programs like “Generations Day”, “Community Day”, and the “Outdoor Environment Experience”. Future intersessions including “Challenge Day” and “Much Ado About Nothing” are already in the works.
Students and teachers alike want to see the intersessions continue for a long time to come.
“At my other schools we never did an intersession like this,” said sixth grader Ojone Jackson who moved to the Orange School District this year. “It is amazing.”
Throughout the campus, the feeling is mutual.
“My experience the past two days was much different than I thought it would be,” said sophomore Gina Endreola. “It really motivates me to want to make a difference in the world.”