Wilderness and Homeroom Aren't So Far Apart

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

So how did Outward Bound go from the mountains to the classroom?

As educators became familiar with the outdoor-challenge program, many saw potential for expanded use in schools.

"There were always teachers, principals, and superintendents who went on Outward Bound courses who would think, 'Gee, there is something in this pedagogy that is good for schools,' " says Greg Farrell, president of Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound, based in Cambridge, Mass.

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"Schools ought to be more like this" - he remembers saying after going on an Outward Bound wilderness trip in the Colorado Rockies - "more exciting, more engaging, less lecturing, and more learning by doing ... we were never bored by what we were learning."

Schools that have adopted the Expeditionary Learning program aim to teach students to overcome limitations with the idea that learning is a journey into the unknown. Teaching is based on experiencing something as a way to learn. Expeditionary Learning's 10 principles embrace the idea of a supportive, service-oriented, and challenging educational environment.

The approach grew out of Outward Bound, a program for adults and children founded by German educator Kurt Hahn in 1941 and brought to the United States in the 1960s. Outward Bound fosters team building and character development through activities including camping, rock climbing, sea kayaking, and river rafting.

Although Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound is geared for any type of student, it works "best for youngsters for whom traditional approaches have been absolutely worthless or who have not succeeded," Mr. Farrell says.

Outward Bound initially created urban centers in major cities to adapt the principles of the outdoor program - and to expand teaching beyond mountain climbing to include service work, team initiatives, and professional development.

The Expeditionary Learning program evolved from there after a group of educators at Harvard University's School of Education, who were working with Outward Bound, decided to draw up a funding proposal for an expanded educational approach. In 1991, Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound was one of 11 designs selected by New American Schools for a five-year funding period. New American Schools is a private, nonprofit corporation based in Arlington, Va., dedicated to improving schools.

"[Expeditionary Learning] brings the values that come from Outward Bound to a school - values of collaboration, of high expectations for everyone," says Tom Glennan, senior adviser for education policy at the RAND Corp., and adviser to New American Schools.

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