GOSHEN — Chamberlain Elementary teachers will talk less and listen to students more this school year, as the school launches a program called Expeditionary Learning.
Expeditionary Learning is one of the many hands-on, project-based learning platforms schools across the nation are embracing.
Each program is different, but generally students at schools adopting these programs are doing more hands-on projects, working together in small groups and learning by experiencing — and the teacher is a facilitator of learning, rather than the person who knows it all.
"I don’t think any of us (teachers) have the answers — there’s still so much information for us to find,” said Joel Holsopple, third-grade teacher at Chamberlain, as he and other teachers went through Expeditionary Learning training activities Wednesday, July 30. “This makes us partners in learning.”
Chamberlain teachers spent the morning Wednesday acting as students and going through a lesson about the American bullfrog.
But they didn’t know what they’d be learning right away — one of their first activities was to look at pictures and words posted on the wall and try to guess what the topic of the day was.
Many of the teachers commented that their students would love starting off the day with a “mystery” and also noticed that using both word and picture clues would include every student, regardless of their reading level.
Chamberlain chose to use a $1.75 million school improvement grant from the state department of education on the Expeditionary Learning program, in part because the program’s methods are accessible for students at all learning levels.
Chamberlain has a high population of students from lower-income families and students who don’t speak English as their first language, Principal Kimberly Branham said.
The ultimate goal of Expeditionary Learning is to get kids interested in what they are learning and motivated to find out more on their own, Chamberlain teachers said.
One way the program does this is by encouraging teachers to stop a class discussion without answering all the questions that were brought up by students.
That way, students can do research on their own or ask their questions when ”experts“ from the community visit their class to speak on a particular topic.
Holsopple, the third-grade teacher, said the program’s set-up even increases his curiosity as the teacher.
"We came up with way more questions about bullfrogs than what we answered ... so why wouldn't I want to go out and learn more about them?” he commented after a discussion time.
Fifth-grade teacher Erin Haseley, sitting nearby, agreed.
"We are trying to connect more with the kids and engage them in a way that makes them want to come back for more and more,” she said. “I've had kids before who went home and learned more on their own, but this will open up more for kids to learn on their own.”
Chamberlain was one of just seven schools in Indiana to receive a school improvement grant this year. The money will be used over a three-year period, Branham said.
Other schools starting similar programs this school year include Roosevelt Elementary in Elkhart, which will be the first of Elkhart Community Schools’ elementary schools to transition to a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) school.
Chandler Elementary in Goshen received a $5,920 grant from Project Lead the Way, another STEM program.
Fairfield Community Schools is also adding STEAM to its three elementary schools this year.