Expeditionary learning combines fieldwork, community service, and deeper learning that hits every subject

Expeditionary-learningWhen juniors at Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine, recently visited Queens, New York to study the effects of Hurricane Sandy, they weren’t on your ordinary field trip. Instead of touring museums or taking in the sights, they performed service work, helping those affected by the 2012 storm as they continue to recover, and created multimedia documentaries about the lasting impacts.

“Field trips have a passive connotation, like observing something like a tourist,” said Derek Pierce, the school’s principal. These students, however, were actually engaging in active fieldwork, he said, as part of a weeks-long project on climate change.

For Casco Bay, the trip wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary, and certainly was not a one-off project before students return to a typical classroom environment. Rather, it aligns directly with the school’s mission, which is grounded in expeditionary learning. Similar to project-based learning, expeditionary learning brings in elements of rigor and relevance as students work through real problems over an extended period of time across multiple subjects. But expeditionary learning forks off in its focus on real-world issues, off-campus fieldwork, and community engagement.

“There are set structures to expeditions,” Pierce said. “It starts with getting kids immersed in something that is unfamiliar to them. We go around the field, bring some experts in. It’s designed to provoke curiosity and it’s designed to make kids go, ‘Huh, I want to know more about that.’”

Next page: What expeditions look like