For many decades, people thought that learning is supposed to take place in the confines of a classroom. On the contrary, 21st century living requires a new kind of learning. Classrooms are not the only place where learning takes place. In fact, one cannot plan and pre-determine where, when, and how learning takes place. The key to successful learning is to understand essential principles that govern knowledge acquisition.
Having understood this, Wells International School has embarked on exploring ways and implementing strategies that open up a whole new world of learning opportunities to its students. One of the many initiatives to provide for enriching learning experiences is the Off-campus Learning Experience Trips (OLET). This is similar to what happens in Big Picture Schools in the US.
Through OLET, Wells International School, intends to lead vital transformation in education in this region, particularly Thailand. OLET allows students to learn curricular materials in real world settings. Authentic and relevant learning takes place in appropriate context(s). This kind of learning is highly personalized as students are exposed to, process, construct, and reflect on knowledge all by themselves (facilitated by an adult). In other words, students create new knowledge and they own the learning process. Assessment forms utilized for this kind of learning are mainly performance-based. These non-traditional assessment types measure students’ actual learning experiences across a wide range of complex, interrelated cognitive/social-emotional dimensions.
An important component of OLET is involving community members as resource personnel to teach curricular contents. Doctors, engineers, nurses, social workers, pilots, politicians, educators, university professors, farmers, tailors, factory owners, scientists, religious gurus, etc. are some of the types of people who could be brought into school to teach students. This partnership increases efficiency in offering meaningful, real world education at school, without having to go outside.
The first Off-campus Learning Experience Trip took place on August 19, 2009. Teachers of Grade 4 classes planned and taught a cross-curricular unit that covered lessons about Thailand and its culture. Students learned aspects of the Thai culture that were taught and appreciated at Wells International School. Thereafter, students were asked to observe, collect data, and comment on aspects of the Thai culture that are taught and appreciated in a Thai school.
Prior to arriving at the “research site,” students were instructed in the use of camera, interviewing techniques and observation as means of collecting data. Students were also taught effective ways of questioning to obtain rich information to compare and contrast the process and product of integrating Thai culture in each school. This required students to utilize higher order thinking (analysis, evaluation and synthesis).
The outcome of the trip was encouraging and educationally inspiring. Apart from acquiring skills pertaining to becoming young researchers, students had the opportunity to interact with strangers (students from the Thai school), forge relationship through effective communication, and show optimism through their sense of appreciation for the hospitality of the host school.
Students look forward to more such trips because they find learning meaningful, fun, challenging, and real! Parents have expressed their support for OLET because they understand the need to connect classroom/school learning to real world experiences. Teachers feel fulfilled because they see that students love learning, when they are provided with the right type of education!