Hands-on learning

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - 20:00
Chugiak High students take part in fall field day
Jimmy Lanier jumps from one star to the next during an exercise at Chugiak’s annual Fall Field Day. Students were tasked with first throwing the stars, then jumping from one to the next until they crossed the finish line.

“One. Two. Three. Right. One Two. Three. Left.”

When 10 high-schoolers are attempting to move as one unit on wooden “skis” — which consist of two chained-together two-by-fours’s with only straps to hang on to — the simple task of walking increases in difficulty tenfold. Even shouting out which foot to move and when provided little help to the nearly 175 Chugiak High students who attempted the exercise.

Twelve groups of students in Chugiak’s World Discovery Seminar Program were faced with a dozen challenges at the annual fall field day held Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Eagle River Lions Park. This year’s theme was relationships and teamwork, said department chair George Campnell.

“They are building new relationships,” he said. “But more importantly, it’s about solving problems together.”

A group of seniors were located at each station to aid the freshmen, sophomores and juniors in their attempts to complete each task.

“The seniors are all in charge,” Campnell said. “They don’t problem solve for the kids. They create opportunities for the kids to problem solve for themselves.”


A ‘really difficult’ task

No one mastered the ski challenge, senior Sarah Hanson said.

“It’s really difficult,” she said. “Simple functions are really hard. It looks easier than it is.”

Sophomore Ted Walters enjoyed the “A-frame” challenge most. While one student held onto a wooden A-shaped structure, several other students — each with a rope that was attached to the top of the A — moved the A-frame around a course.

“It let us work as a team,” Walters said.

Freshman Shannon McCrea said it was the most difficult of the 12 stations.

Communication is key for success in the A-frame exercise, said senior Chelsea Mickeal, who was in charge of the station.

“You really have to rely on everyone,” she said. “If anyone lets go, someone will get hurt.”


Fun day filled with valuable lessons

While fall field day is an enjoyable day off from a regular day of school, students learn valuable lessons, Mickeal said.

“These aren’t just games. They’re learning skills,” she said. “They’re learning how to communicate.

“The event is bonding between everyone,” Mickeal added. “Everybody is working together. It makes the whole program a lot closer.”

Described as “a school within a school,” Campnell said the program covers social studies and English credits. It’s social-emotional learning, he said.

“That’s what this is all about,” said Campnell, who’s chaired the program for six years.

The program, which emphasizes Socratic learning methods, focuses on primary-source documents, Campnell said.

“We look at big picture, big world ideas,” he said. “If we’re teaching Plato, than he’s our teacher.”


Going beyond textbooks

The program goes beyond memorizing facts from a textbook, said senior Dienne Cooper.

“It’s a completely different way of learning,” she said. “It’s not, ‘Who did this?’ It’s, ‘Why did they do this?’”

Campnell said the program steers students away from a right-versus-wrong debate and attempts to create an open dialogue where all opinions are heard.

“It’s even more than, ‘Lets agree to disagree,’” Campnell said. “Collectively, they take ideas to a higher level.”

That way of learning is better suited for junior Becca Schranz.

“I like getting deeper into the subject rather than just skimming the text,” she said. “I’d way rather be in seminar.”

Students learn to voice an opinion without putting someone else down, senior Kevin Greco said.

“It really rounds you out as a person,” he said.


Overcoming shyness

Mickeal said her three-plus years in the program have helped her overcome her shyness.

“I didn’t know how to talk to people before the class,” she said. “I don’t have a problem talking to a group of people now.

“It’s a really great environment to get used to talking,” Mickeal said.

The communication skills learned in the program will benefit Hanson in the future, she said.

“It just got me involved in talking to groups,” she said. “It will really help me in college.”

Hanson said the program taught her to develop her own ideas.

“It’s just a well-developed program,” she said. “I’m really happy I did this program.”

“I love it,” Cooper added.

The program isn’t all fun and games, Greco said.

“It’s much harder than normal English and normal history,” he said. “It’s not counted as an AP class, but I wish it was.”


New addition to field day

New to fall field day this year was Brian Griggs, education military liaison with Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

As a person with a rich background in experiential education, Griggs said he has worked with several student groups in a similar atmosphere to Chugiak’s fall field day. Chugiak ranked up there with the best students he’s worked with, Griggs said.

When working on tough mental challenges, students’ frustration usually takes over and they begin criticizing one another at some point, Griggs said. But there was no sign of that at Lions Park, he said.

“They weren’t afraid to try new things,” Griggs said.

Griggs, who, along with Anchorage School District, donated all the apparatus for each challenge, credited the seniors for running a successful event.

“The real compliment goes to the student senior leaders,” he said. “They’re already seasoned. I’d love to have them for more time.”

While traditional education is important, social-emotional skills are essential in the workforce, Griggs said.

“We need balance,” he said.

Griggs said employers are looking for the following attributes in prospective employees: problem solving skills, ability to communicate, ability to follow directions, ability to work with others as a team and intrapersonal skills.

“It’s what our organizations and employers want,” he said.

And courses like Chugiak’s World Discovery Seminar Program are teaching those valuable skills to the next generation, Griggs said.

“There are some true benefits that you can observe,” he said.


Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com

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