“ONE DAY” – a day of Experiential Learning for Middle School Students at ISB
The ongoing challenge for educators is to create progressive learning environments that best prepare students for the unknown social, technological and professional challenges of the future. International School Bangkok uses applied learning to compliment standard coursework, which allows students to
interact meaningfully with every subject.
This experiential approach to learning creates a more engaging relationship between students and their academic studies. The benefits from this alternative learning structure go far beyond the classroom, as students with applied learning experience are better prepared for the more open-ended environment they will encounter after graduation.
A different kind of lesson
Effective experiential learning requires a strong foundation of trust and confidence between teacher and students. A positive environment allows students to feel comfortable when experimenting with new ideas, taking risks and developing original solutions to the tasks in front of them. It is the teacher’s role to help their students learn to be independent and adaptable and trust their own instincts when making decisions. The success of this learning practice depends upon providing a nurturing learning environment where students can feel confident in their own abilities.
It also depends on vision. Tico Oms, ISB Middle School Dean of Students, embraced this challenge and developed an exciting way to apply key ISB attributes to classroom learning by by asking one simple open-ended question: If you had one day to learn anything you wanted to, what would you choose to pursue?
Mr. Oms put this question to our middle school classes, giving each student the power to choose an academic focus for themselves to explore. The school would then set aside one day for the project, letting every student take a proactive role in educating themselves in the area of their choice.
Later, Mr. Oms reflected on his motivations for developing the idea: “One Day gives students voice and choice in creating and owning their day of learning,” he said. “Students learn self-management, adaptability, grit, responsibility, creativity and problem-solving.”
Mr. Oms continued: “There are a lot of reasons why this is a good idea. First of all, just like with adults, if you feel like you’re empowered, and you own it, you’re going to be more motivated. You’re going to want it to be successful because you know it’s you. You took responsibility for it. You initiated it. And it’s something that you sincerely want to know more about.”
Letting students take the lead
This theme of active participation is a point of pride around ISB, with students given the space to develop their identities by following their own passions and making their own choices. Their reaction to this experimental day of education confirmed that Mr. Oms’ own instincts were on point.
From designing websites and video games, to mastering new sports skills, creating public service announcements, and writing songs, the children’s enthusiasm for their chosen pursuits was palpable.
One Day demonstrates that learning can be energetic, and a little bit messy, but it’s the creative response to learning that actively develops a diversity of skills and interests in our middle school students.
Education for a changing world
With a master’s degree in education from Harvard, along with experience living and working in six countries, Mr. Oms feels that traditional schooling structures are often limiting – particularly given the dynamic world that students will enter upon graduation.
He believes that students can benefit from lateral thinking that is designed to inspire academic exploration, risk-taking, social intelligence, adaptability, creativity and self-management. By taking risks and learning to fail, Mr. Oms says students will develop problem-solving and analytical skills while learning to explore their passions and interests.
A mid-career switcher with a background in business, including several years at Dell Computers, Mr Oms incorporates his own ‘real-world’ experiences into his teaching practices.
“I noticed that successful people in industry don’t necessarily exhibit book smarts,” he says. “What makes a person successful in the academic world doesn’t easily transfer to the real one. It was skills like adaptability, perseverance, relationship-building, communication skills, problem-solving and creativity that were more important. I try to create learning experiences in which students can practice the skills they’ll need for their future.”
“Schools are changing,” Mr. Oms observes, “and we have to change with the times. We have to innovate and experiment. Just like we want our kids to be risk-takers and try new things, the school has to model that by trying new things and taking some risks. In this particular case, it went really well. The kids really embraced the opportunity and helped to create a deeper connection between teachers and students.”
One Day is a great example of experiential learning and ISB’s commitment to break out of the confines of traditional classroom-based learning by exploring different teaching methods. Projects like One Day help students to make decisions of consequence. Such learning opportunities help guide students toward greater maturity and independence, and allow them to grow into responsible global citizens.