Monday, July 26, 2010

Camp-Like Learning

CC image by kcolwell via Flickr
Working at a school without having summers off is a mixed bag. Watching my skin go from beige to ivory while my friends twitpic their beach-tastic adventures sends the Debbie Downer "wah-wah" on a loop in my head.  Nevertheless, I do get some precious downtime to work on curriculum, tech upgrades, PLN-building, and my own professional development, all in flip flops.  Additionally, the whines of "Ms. Edsonnnnnnnnn, the printer's out of tonerrrrrrrrrrrrrr" are reduced by nearly 92%.  But most relevant to this post, I have the opportunity to witness several camps in action throughout my school's campus.  And I have made some observations that got me thinking: Camp learning is different, and why can't its equivalent take place year round?

Learning Sprawl
First, I notice that kids are learning all over the place.  One quick glance reveals that learning is taking place in more places than on any average day from September to June.  Kids gather on the lawns, in hallways, the lobby, the auditorium, the computer labs, the gym, the dining hall, the athletic fields, down the road, and occasionally even in classrooms.  Sometimes the spaces are assigned, and sometimes the gatherings are spontaneous and organic.  And it is evident that in each of these places, the kids are engaged, productive, and enjoying their time.  It is a clear illustration of the simple fact that we tweet about daily: learning need not be confined by the bell schedule and classroom walls.

Is it just me, or do kids naturally work more in teams at camp?  Whether during an assigned activity or a pick-up game of kick-ball, I've seen kids self-organize, appoint leaders, and support one another in setting and reaching goals in a way that at times seems almost stifled during the school year.  The summer view from my window seems like it ought to have the following subtitles: "Need I make it clearer, you dolt?  Learning is inherently social, kids are inclined to work together, and schools ought to nurture this more.  Way more."

Peace of Mind
The look on a typical kid's face in February is vastly different from her expression in July.  The arrival of summer lifts tremendous amounts of weight off of kids' shoulders, and they experience a delicious taste of freedom.  And yet, as I observe at these camps, that freedom ushers in entirely new learning experiences.  And not just cushy stuff.  The kids are discovering how to build robots, create sculptures, perform symphonies, solve complex math problems, write poetry, compose Chinese characters, and design rockets.  Their learning is, in fact, rocket science.  But the learners are laughing, giggling, sometimes downright squealing with delight.  And when their project falls apart or fizzles, there's more laughter, an occasional "Doh!" and forehead smack, and, due to natural kid-resiliency, they simply try again.  That, folks, is comfort with failure, enthusiasm for progress, and general peace of mind.  Shouldn't we want that in learners year round?

With one more month of camp before the school's students return, I'm hoping to gain even more insight from the beauty of this summer learning, and with the help of my PLN, determine ways to nurture this during the academic year.  I also hope to sneak in a long weekend or two to get my skin back to beige, to replenish my own energy, and renew my sense of hope that it is possible to see more camp-like expressions around here mid-February.

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