Students Jumping

Feature Story: St Michael's Collegiate Experiential Learning Program

Future focused education

We were for­tu­nate enough to talk to Todd Black­hall about their expe­ri­ences run­ning the Expe­ri­en­tial Learn­ing pro­gram at St Michael’s Col­le­giate. Todd shares with us their unique approach to the pro­gram and pro­vides valu­able insight for schools look­ing to devel­op their own program.
Students in Ocean
Students with Tomatoes
Students with Snails
Anglesea Kitchen Garden
Students Jumping
Students Sea Kayaking

Hel­lo Todd,

Can you please pro­vide us with some back­ground to your Expe­ri­en­tial Learn­ing Program?

Col­le­giate has a rich his­to­ry of out­door edu­ca­tion, excur­sions, tours, and exchanges. Our Year 9 ASPIRE pro­gram was estab­lished and evolved over a num­ber of years and along with the Mid­dle School camp pro­gram, set the basis for fur­ther K‑12 devel­op­ment. From 2018 we looked to broad­en our pro­grams fur­ther with a review of out­door edu­ca­tion aim­ing to sup­port changes in cur­ricu­lum and bet­ter syn­the­sise learn­ing out­doors with pas­toral themes and per­son­al growth. 

Why did you intro­duce it into your school and what steps did you take to estab­lish it?

In 2020, after the review of out­door edu­ca­tion, the School set about imple­ment­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions. Expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing was aligned with teach­ing and learn­ing, and pas­toral care frame­works to pro­vide a holis­tic stu­dent expe­ri­ence. Through areas of out­door learn­ing, project-based learn­ing, ser­vice learn­ing and glob­al learn­ing, we want stu­dents at Col­le­giate to be exposed to immer­sive prac­ti­cal oppor­tu­ni­ties that aim to facil­i­tate per­son­al growth and con­tribute to the devel­op­ment of young peo­ple ready to embrace post school life ful­ly equipped. Plac­ing expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing as a key strate­gic intent saw the rede­vel­op­ment of our 9 ASPIRE pro­gram, the estab­lish­ment of a Year 10 pro­gram and new elec­tives in project-based learn­ing across Mid­dle and Senior School. Expand­ing offer­ings in our Junior School is also a pri­or­i­ty. We have been able to ampli­fy expe­ri­ences based on an amaz­ing nature play pro­gram in the ear­ly years. The pro­gram con­tin­ues to evolve through excur­sions, out­door learn­ing and acts of ser­vice which occur in des­ig­nat­ed times con­sis­tent­ly dur­ing an alter­nate Fri­day program.

What have been the key high­lights of the pro­gram to date?

The team have worked hard to build a cohe­sive K‑12 pro­gram with the ele­ments of out­door learn­ing and ser­vice learn­ing real­ly broad­en­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents. Since 2020 we have made sig­nif­i­cant changes to our year lev­el pro­grams to include envi­ron­men­tal edu­ca­tion and ser­vice to the com­mu­ni­ty as part of what peo­ple would know as a tra­di­tion­al out­door edu­ca­tion experience.

The Year 10 Con­nect pro­gram builds on 9 ASPIRE and pro­vides oppor­tu­ni­ties to focus on the future, stu­dents will under­take three spe­cial­ly designed pro­grams at key points across the year with ele­ments includ­ing adven­ture, work expe­ri­ence, ser­vice, and wellbeing.

Our sequence of project-based learn­ing (PBL) cours­es has also been a high­light. Staff across the School have cham­pi­oned stu­dent led inquiry on prob­lems and pas­sion projects that are trans­dis­ci­pli­nary in nature.

Anoth­er key devel­op­ment is the rein­vig­o­ra­tion of the Col­le­giate Com­mu­ni­ty Gar­den. Estab­lished years ago, based on our Junior School cam­pus, staff have sup­port­ed a vision to devel­op a rich out­door learn­ing space where both vis­i­tors and plants can thrive. It is where we pro­mote a con­nec­tion with nature, learn­ing out­doors and pro­duce food for stu­dents to use in cook­ing, and stud­ies of nutri­tion and life cycles. In addi­tion, to pro­vide an out­door learn­ing space for stu­dents to be curi­ous, to sit, observe, write and draw and to enhance a sense of com­mu­ni­ty as many stake­hold­ers work togeth­er to get the most out of this initiative.

Can you share with us some feed­back from the stu­dents about the pro­gram and what they enjoy most about it?

Year lev­els are often sur­veyed post expe­ri­ence and pro­vide valu­able feed­back. Stu­dents have report­ed that the choice and breadth of year lev­el pro­grams have been great and dif­fer­ent each time”. They enjoy the bal­ance of alter­na­tive day pro­grams (e.g. ser­vice-learn­ing days) with year lev­el camps and adven­tures. Senior stu­dents have report­ed that the Year 10 Con­nect pro­gram is fan­tas­tic as it is a choice on what ele­ment we can choose and focus on”, where some choose an adven­ture, oth­ers opt to take on work expe­ri­ence. The most heart­felt piece of feed­back how­ev­er was dur­ing the Year 2 seed to plate pro­gram where a par­tic­u­lar stu­dent said can we do this again, I real­ly real­ly loved that so much, I made a gar­den with my fam­i­ly on the week­end and I asked my par­ents to cook the dish we made together”.

What advice would you give to oth­er schools con­sid­er­ing estab­lish­ing a sim­i­lar program?

Our advice would be to make it a key pri­or­i­ty, con­sult oth­er schools and set the expe­ri­ences around place-based learn­ing. The local com­mu­ni­ty will have rich con­nec­tions to out­door learn­ing, projects to engage with and ser­vice for spe­cif­ic needs. Our oth­er advice is to seek input from stu­dents as they will be invalu­able in pro­gram planning. 

The evo­lu­tion and suc­cess of our expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing pro­gram is based on the team lead­ing it, so much input from staff and their com­mit­ment to adapt­ing and evolv­ing the expe­ri­ences across the year groups and to suit var­i­ous groups with­in a cohort. The pro­gram is also under­pinned by the intent of the cur­rent strate­gic plan and stretch­es across the learn­ing pro­grams K‑12.

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