Not all learning takes place in the classroom. In fact, some of the best learning comes from actual experience – learning with all five senses. It is that heightened level of education which comes from the concept of experiential learning.
“Hear, see, do is how we best learn: listen, watch, try it yourself,” said Ms. Lauren Wochok, dean of VFMA. “This is a basic tenet of teaching. When possible, we take the concept out of the classroom.”
Two groups traveled for lessons in experiential learning during the spring semester: one to Quebec, Canada and the other to Costa Rica.
In Quebec, Cadets applied classroom learnings from geography, history, and language while immersed in the diverse culture of Canada. “The days were long – from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.,” said Madame Aleda deLeon, French language teacher at VFMA. “The goal of this out of classroom experience is to see real life applications from the classroom in the world around them.”
Well below freezing temperatures did not slow the Cadets at all. They visited the Huron-Wendat museum, an institution dedicated to the preservation of indigenous people, and toured the Huron-Wendat Longhouse.
They viewed beautiful mosaics and a replica of Michelangelo’s pieta at the Ste-Anne de Beaupré shrine. At the Montmorency Falls, the tallest waterfalls in Quebec, Cadets traversed a suspension bridge to view the frozen falls.
The students tried their hands at the sport of curling – a sort of shuffleboard on ice using brooms to advance a polished granite stone from one end of the ice to the other. At the Plains of Abraham Museum they reenacted the famous battle of Quebec in 1759 between the British General James Wolfe and the French Marquis de Montcalm.
No trip to Canada goes without sampling the local dish, poutine – French fries covered in gravy and topped with cheese curds. On returning to the US, one Cadet reported his pronunciation greatly increased because he was around people who spoke
French all the time.
Another group of Cadets traveled south to Costa Rica. Led by Mr. Robert “Bobby” Rosato, history teacher at VFMA, the Cadets visited four different locations on both coasts of the Central American country.
“This outdoor classroom is a unique experience for the Cadets,” said Mr. Rosato. They see and experience things there they could never experience neither in a classroom nor in the U.S.”
For three days, the Cadets participated in a sea turtle conservation project. They did night searches for nesting female turtles and conducted beach cleaning to remove obstructions which could hamper sea turtle movements.
Moving west, the Cadets traveled to the agricultural area of Costa Rica and learned about farming practices there. They also visited the active Arenal Volcano. Spending time at a tropical farm, they learned about the cultivation of native produce and how the products are used for food and medical applications. A day of zip-lining high above the forest offered a bird’s eye view of flora and fauna unique to Costa Rica.
“This is intended to be a rich adventure – to bring alive the pages of their textbooks,” said Mr. Rosato. “They return much more attuned to the fragility of nature and the world.”