Involve Me and I Learn

by Lauren Railey, Head of the Middle School

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” -John Dewey

Dewey, a philosopher, educator and social reformer, was an early pioneer of progressive education and believed that students learn through experience.  The idea of “learning through doing” is a visible part of the Athenian experience, from our mission statement to AWE to Focus Days in the Middle School.  Students are highly engaged through experiential learning because they are active participants in the learning process rather than passive observers, which makes learning not only challenging, but fun.

Focus Fridays, often considered to be the hallmark of the Athenian Middle School experience, provide a chance for students to participate in their learning and connect together various strands of the curriculum while keeping students active in the learning process. Focus Days provide space in the schedule for enrichment or extension activities, interdisciplinary learning, or culminating events that conclude units of study. The flexible scheduling on these days allows for teachers from various disciplines to collaborate outside of the classroom as well as off campus, where they can take advantage of the educationally enriching resources of the Bay Area. These thematic, hands-on, daylong programs bring to life concepts and skills from the curriculum, where students learn by doing.

So what have our students been doing so far this year?

6th graders started off the year participating in a brand new Focus Day, Brain Olympics, which challenged them to explore how the human brain works by participating in a series of brain challenges related to memory, planning, and dexterity, all controlled by different parts of the brain. They also launched into our 1:1 iPad program on Digital Candy Day, traveled to San Francisco to see the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and participated in an Equity and Inclusion Day that included a community service component at the Food Bank.

7th graders traveled to San Francisco for their first three Focus Days; they toured the Asian Art Museum and the Conservatory of Flowers and then built sand sculptures at Crissy Field inspired by the work of Andy Goldsworthy during Environmental Sculpture Day. One seventh grader commented that this was her favorite Focus Day because it was really fun and interesting to see how different people used Goldsworthy’s art to inspire their use of the seven artistic elements.

8th graders, our Focus Day experts, dove right into some of our signature Focus Days. During Robinson Crusoe Day, students went through a series of survival skill challenges including communicating via telegraphs (that the students made) and rescuing a giant teddy bear from under a tractor tire. Students collaborated during Pool Volume Day and Archaeology Day when they participated in all-day science labs and simulations, and finally, they traveled to Chinatown for a field trip in conjunction with literature about immigration that they are reading in English.

The title of this article is part of a quote by Benjamin Franklin.