Transformational Learning in Living (Fall) Color

Dear Hill-Murray Community,

Without a cell phone in their hands and a great deal of nervous apprehension in their heads, our 7th graders this week made the annual trip to Deep Portage Conservation and Learning Center in Hackensack, MN.

Before the bus even departed on the four hour ride north, I heard the grumblings from the students about how this trip would quickly go south. The complaints sounded like this: How in the world will I survive even one minute being disconnected from technology, eating camp food three times a day and sleeping soundly in beds with bumpy mattresses?

The lack of pre-trip excitement, however, would soon be replaced with smiles, laughs, happiness and contentment.

Once the students actually arrived at Deep Portage and experienced the trip for themselves, their minds opened much wider than the mouth of the Little Boy River.

I’ve written and talked about Transformational Learning before, it’s a priority in Hill-Murray’s Strategic Plan. The trek to Deep Portage is Transformational Learning in living color – and, in this case, wonderful fall colors!

“Transformational Learning is about connecting to the world outside of the classroom,” says Hill-Murray’s Director of Innovation Aran Glancy, Ph.D, who was one of the leaders on the trip. “For example, the 7th graders learned about ecosystems and food webs in immersive ways that we could never achieve while sitting at a desk in school.” 

The photos Dr. Glancy and other teachers snapped this week show students wading into the shallows of Bass Pond, looking for different insects that help them better understand the health of a pond.

The photos also show students being let loose in the woods with no trails to find their way with only a compass, a map, and a walkie talkie. You can even see students in the role of animals trying to communicate with one another, find food, water, and shelter, AND avoid predators, like wolves, who they learned are an integral part of the ecosystem.

What I love about the Deep Portage experience is that our students are immersed in the learning.  The trip connects academic goals in a way that ignites students’ interests and passion.

My goal as president is to increase the number of transformational learning opportunities we offer our students. For instance, there’s a trip to Belize early next year where students will visit the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, snorkel off South Water Caye and hike the Bocawina Rainforest Trail.  

Whether close to home or halfway around the globe, few can argue these trips are super fun and incredibly cool. At Deep Portage students also bonded with their teachers and classmates, hiked through the beautiful fall foliage, played board games, and sat around a bonfire in the evening.  

But educators know this type of teaching can only be truly transformational if there is a long-term commitment to the process.

“The experiences are great, but the real value is going to come when teachers and students bring the learning back and build on it on a day-to-day basis,”  Dr. Glancy says. “That’s how these trips will really make a difference in our students’ lives.”

I couldn’t agree more and can’t imagine anyone grumbling and complaining about that.