Lower School surveys, explores, discovers and investigates outside of the classroom.

Expeditionary Learning is one of the inquiry-based learning models used at Mount Vernon to intentionally blur the lines between real-life and school-life. In the Lower School, students curate their own experiences.

How might we take learning outside the walls of the classroom?
How might we make school more like real life?
How might we make all learners to be seekers and explorers and truly experience the world around them, not just living life passively?

The idea of a field trip is not a new one. Some of us can remember getting on a big yellow school bus to visit a local museum, theater or park. Typically, a prearranged program and guide had be chosen to lead the students and chaperones on a predetermined path of learning. These experiences are still relevant and exciting for our students. However, as project-based and inquiry-based learning has come to the forefront of education, we are now asking all learners, students and adults, to ask their own questions and actively seek out those answers both inside and outside of the classroom walls. Learners embark on journeys into the city to visit the new science museum, or explore the Chattahoochee River to study the effects of the growing populations and construction boom on the wildlife in the park, to absorb more than what teachers can share in the classroom. They get to explore on their own. Expeditionary learning encourages students to learn through observation and inquiry, and engage in the different people and places in our city. Venues such as Home Depot, Whole Foods, IKEA, the Chattahoochee River and abandoned school building in the Old Fourth Ward have been visited by our students. Expeditions have also led our students to downtown Sandy Springs to observe traffic patterns, bus stops, public parks, and homeless communities. Whether they are working on a specific problem, or exploring and stumbling across a problem that they want to dive into and solve for, expeditions put students in the driver’s seat of their learning.

Kindergartners Discover Home Depot

When Kindergartners were learning about simple machines, they realized they could move items up and down to the Frontier’s tree fort by building pulley systems. They asked if they could create larger pulley systems to the fort that would allow them to take their lego boxes up to the tree to play. They measured, drew designs, determined their supply needs and planned an excursion to Home Depot. Students navigated the store by aisle, using their early phonics skills to look for the letter “P” for pulley, or “R” for rope and reading the signs to determine which length and width of rope would work, how many pounds each pulley could support, and add the prices to remain within budget. This project was entirely student-driven, connecting to each Mount Vernon Mindset.

Grade 2 Surveys Whole Foods

Grade 2 students took a trip to explore the newly opened Whole Foods in Chamblee. They were asked to record what they saw, what they thought and what they wondered. Infusing life skills, including applications from their “Healthy Me” unit into the experience, teachers guided them through the maze of food. Honing their observation skills, students looked up and around to engage with their environment. They each completed an observation journal to include thoughts, drawings, and questions, such as: Is that a real swordfish sword? Why is the cauliflower in big chunks of ice? If this store is so new, how are there so many people here?

Grade 3 Investigates the Chattahoochee Nature Center

Third graders set out on an Expedition to the Chattahoochee Forest to ponder questions such as: What effect does weather have on our environment? How do trees help the habitat? What can you hear in the forest? What do those sounds tell us? Students used math and science skills involving observation and inquiry, as well as data collection, representation, and analysis. Student discoveries led to lessons on fractions and pattern predictions. Additionally, social studies topics of geographic factors influence on community development, lifestyles, and human adaptations as well as economic resources in an area. Third grade teacher Sophie Lintner says, “Going off-site into the community allows children to discover the world outside of the four walls of their classroom, cultivate empathy based on their observations, and foster curiosity. As we prepare students for the real world, we want them out in it. Most importantly, expeditions are fun! When kids are having fun, their engagement increases, curiosity is sparked, and learning deepens and sticks!”

Grade 4 Explores IKEA

While diving deeper into designing and planning small living spaces, fourth graders were excited to learn more. To gain knowledge on how to maximize functionality and efficiency, the entire grade traveled to IKEA. There, they explored a variety of arrangements, dual-purpose furniture, the need for thin profiles, and multiple layout options, giving the students inspiration to organize and create arrangements, to fit a small space. They expanded on their Project-Based-Learning questions: What do different spaces look like? How do you find the area and perimeter of a space? How do you find the area and perimeter of dorm furniture? What is most important in a living space?

We want students to lead their learning, not just passively ingest whatever has been decided to be shared with them.