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.
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.