Take a moment to recall your favorite two or three memories from high school. Reflect on where you were, what it sounded like, who was with you, if there was a distinct smell in the air, etc.
It is likely that you were not alone in these situations, and also that they didn’t all take place in the classroom. The events of the War of 1812 as learned through lecture or essay-writing are far less likely to be recalled than the feeling you had when visiting the Treaty of Ghent monument which straddles the United States and Canada as a symbol of lasting peace between two nations. Reading about freezing point depression in a chemistry course won’t “move the needle” in your reminiscence of positive learning as much as a freezing point depression lab that revolved around making ice cream. For many of you, a sporting event or occurrence with teammates is among your two or three favorite memories. Though there is no explicit learning goal involved, you certainly gained some insight about yourself and/or others as part of that formative experience.
Experiential learning is a phrase that encompasses the reflective power of these memories and much more. John Dewey, one of the most well-respected and influential educational apologists in human history, was highly keen on the power of shared experiences in formal education. Dewey refined what it means to have a well-rounded liberal arts education, and diminished the perception that the best learning takes place when received didactically from an expert teacher. We know with clarity in 2016 that, in order for our students to be successful in a 21st century professional landscape, they must be equipped with what the Partnership for 21st Century Skills terms “The Four C’s:” Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. These vital skills are practiced when engaged in experiential learning, and Harrisburg Academy is working hard to ensure students have ample opportunities in this regard — facilitated by our expert faculty members.
Our Centers for Experiential Learning & Innovation offer a cutting-edge approach to experiential learning that well-supplements our International Baccalaureate program. In recent months, our students have worked with actors from Cambridge University, engaged with a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates about climate change, had an intimate concert with a local symphony leader, competed in robotics competitions, and much more. On Friday, Nov. 4, all Upper School students participated in the first-ever “Centers Day,” during which the traditional schedule was eschewed in favor of a three-session program with everything from songwriting to Science Olympiad on offer for our students. Coupled with lunch-and-learn visits from area professionals and targeted internship opportunities, these events and special days should do well to give our students many memorable experiences on which to draw for inspiration in the life that is lived beyond their time with us at the Academy.
I don’t know about you, but my favorite two or three memories were nowhere near as interesting or formative as what is on offer for our students here at Harrisburg Academy.
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