One of my focuses this year is to encourage my students to see that learning is a lifestyle, not an institution. Even in the early years of their learning careers, students can groan at the mention of the world ‘learning’. They associate the word with lecture, notes and tests – even when it had been a small part of their learning process. They do not perceive the thrill of making new connections in the brain or the rush of experiencing new things – though they do appreciate these things in the moment.
I want to change that. I want to give ‘learning’ a new reputation inside and outside of my classroom.
So first, I started asking myself why I love learning, and why I love being a student. When I started to think about it, learning was categorized in two parts; what I learned in school, and what I learned outside of school. When I think back to learning in school, I remember a haze a tests, assignments, teachers and isolated subjects on a paper schedule. When I think back to learning outside of school, there is and bank of countless memories to which I have many emotional connections.
Learning means living better, living means learning better
It is this bank of memories that make me love learning. Outside of school, I was learning while being a part of the real world – not separate to it like in the classroom. Many of my real word experience came from my year-long exchange in Mons, Belgium. I remember my first day on my exchange and having my head pounding at the inundation of new French words I did not understand. Around my third month in Belgium, I remember sitting down at the dinner table with my host family and understanding the conversation my host family was having. It astonished me that what I had missed all along was not academic banter on astrophysics - but complaints about the quality of McDonald’s. I remember having a conversation with a priest while I was touring with a Swahili choir through France. These memories are all benchmarks of my language learning that year, benchmarks of which I had complete ownership. No parents watching that I did homework, no teachers giving me tests – regardless, I was still learning. And I loved it.
I realize now that I would never have made it through that part of my life successfully (though it was accompanied by many failures) without my base education. This brought me to the question, why is real-life, experiential learning often so separate from the learning that happens within the classroom walls?
When I returned to formal education as a university student, I stumbled upon a realization. My experiences from my travels helped me connect to the materials I was learning at university, and what I was learning at university was helping me understand the lessons I have missed during my travels. This included many abstract life lessons, but I will give a concrete example. My newly formed connections to the French language helped me engage in the classroom. While the professor modelled common place conversations, I remember having similar real conversations with Belgian store clerks and friends during my exchange. I was able to branch out my learning by connecting to the new vocabulary and verb tenses presented in class. In addition to this, I had many new ‘eureka’ moments when I realized ‘That’s what that person was trying to tell me’.
This synthesis of life-experience and formal education was amazing. It made my learning personally relevant and gave me motivation to continue. That’s why I say “Learning means living better, living means learning better”. This is why I started the ‘Edventure Passport’ program. I have hopes that while my students explore their community they may gain experiences to bring to the classroom. When students add personal experiences to their background knowledge, the probability of learning can increase exponentially.