Last week, Hiawatha Academies launched the first ever network-wide J-Term. J-Term is a series of two-week experiential learning courses at Hiawatha Academies. Each and every scholar participates in a hands-on learning course of their choice. During this time, we push our own boundaries to bring more joy, inquiry and hands-on learning into our schools.
J-Term is a special time of year because we intentionally take risks to do learning differently. The best of J-Term is when scholars are deeply engaged in experiential learning rooted in their strengths, passions, and interests. We work hard to make learning engaging and relevant all year long, but J-Term is different in the sense we try to swing the pendulum a lot farther in these directions that normal.
When learning is relevant and exciting to scholars, they will experience increased engagement, and when relevance and engagement are sparked, the potential for weaving in academic rigor increases tremendously. So, we take risks in this direction like having scholars do community gardening, making and analyzing flower arrangements, biking the city, putting on a play for their entire school, creating and then selling a school yearbook, trading stocks in a fake stock market, and learning computer coding.
It has been incredibly inspiring to see these inquiry-based learning experiences come to life this week.
As I walk around our schools, a few things are jumping out to me as patterns that appear to be making for the most engaging and purposeful J-Term experiences:
- When learning is truly experiential
- When today’s work connects to tomorrow’s work
- When there is hands-on learning, but there is also reading, writing, and other modes of learning that allow scholars to critically engage with the content
- When students are asked at some point to present their work publicly, often through oral or written presentation or a performance