Over the summer, I had the great pleasure of hosting Jimmy Casas at my house for a few days to try to show him a great time fishing on the Kenai. I had it all planned out with venturing out on the river with a local guide, hiking the Russian River from the falls to the trail head and heading out on the lake I live on to catch a few rainbows. It was in my eyes the perfect plan for two and a half days and a quick turnaround. What actually happened is not exactly what I had thought. We ended up with hooks in the leg, long fishing hours with little fish to show for it, a grilling inferno, falling in the river and to top it off a dead motor halfway across the lake with no paddle. We ended up making our way to an island on the lake and finding an old plastic snow shovel to paddle our 19’ Lund back to the shore in front of my house. It was a good thing we budgeted our time wisely enough for them to still make their flight.
Even though we had all of these mishaps, we were lucky enough to have Jimmy’s son, Alexio, along for the ride. Not only did he take his fair share of turns paddling with the snow shovel, being the youngest one, he also had the most insightful reflection on the entire experience. He said something to the effect of, “You know I’m glad things didn’t go perfectly during this trip. That’s what made it feel real and authentic.” He truly had a genuine appreciation of the entire adventure and it made me feel like the trip was not the disaster I was afraid it had become.
Is that not what we want for the students in our schools – to genuinely appreciate the adventure of learning through authentic experiences? We know when we have reached that point with students because just like Alexio, we hear it in their voices and see it with the expressions on their faces. It is those times where their curiosity and creativity are fostered and nurtured.
How do we ensure our students are receiving these authentic experiences? I know that we are pursuing a multitude of options with all levels at Nikiski Middle/High. We continue to modify and refine our processes for our student led Ed Camps and are bringing in some makerspaces in the form of a Lego wall and design challenges with Keva wood planks. We are piloting ways for our older students to develop an independent study curriculum to earn academic credits while participating in internships, apprenticeships, and on the job training so they do not need to juggle their time still taking a traditional class. We even had our staff participate in a wellness Ed Camp to share how they keep themselves sane through a long, dark winter. The next step is to have a staff makerspace…I am just not sure what that looks like yet, but I would love to hear some ideas.
One thing I know from all of this is that I needed another perspective to show me what was successful and that these authentic experiences happened organically while we were together exploring what Alaska has to offer. We need to draw on each other and work to collaborate on our ideas so that all of our students gain from those authentic experiences.