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Student-driven curriculum encourages peers to be present in the moment

Thursday, Jul 06, 2017

Curriculum, Student-teacher, Outdoor education, Development

Each spring following the end of AP and final exams, Breck students embark on internships and major projects as part of a curricular extension called May Program. 

May Program allows students to experience and explore career fields or goals they may not normally have time to pursue during the school year.

This year, Hannah Shin ’17, who is an avid camper and lover of the outdoors, wanted to help other students step away from technology and gain a deeper appreciation for the world around us.

"I love camping. I go with my family every year—sometimes twice a year to various national parks or up to the Boundary Waters—and it's always an amazing experience," says Shin. "Because the parks don't always have Wifi, we also don't use our phones. It's a great break from screens, and we always have a fun time, especially if we camp with friends."

To help other students enjoy the outdoors and "unplug" from technology, she developed a curriculum and led a class of 13 sophomores for the two-week program.

"I decided that I wanted to teach a class about camping and 'unplugging,'" adds Shin. "I wanted to show kids what they can do without technology. Many people use cell phones as a way to pass the time when sitting alone. There's a lot of technology usage, and not a lot of time spent outside."

Hannah, who had never taught a class or developed a curriculum before, partnered with Upper School Spanish instructor - and fellow lover of the outdoors - Leah Malec to create the class.

“Hannah did such a great job,” remarks Malec. “She had never taught before so together, we worked on things like managing the pace of the class, the flow, and how there can be so many unknowns and changes each day.”

Malec and Shin worked together to develop a curriculum that included both time away from technology and learning about National Parks. Each day, students were required to place their phones in a basket and leave them there until the end of class.

“We studied some of the negative effects of technology,” says Malec. Since students today seem to know about the effects of technology, however, this wasn’t a main focus of the class. “We did have them look at how much they are other their phones, so we had them be more aware of that.”

Another portion of the class was studying National Parks, the old-fashioned way.

“The students had to research using books and only books,” says Malec. “They created posters for their National Parks presentations, and either drew pictures or showed pictures from a book.”

These presentations turned out to be one of the most challenging pieces of the class for the students - and teachers - because the habit is to research content using technology.

"Although some students had a hard time, others were able to create cool posters," says Shin. "It also inspired conversations about past trips to national parks they had gone to before."

Shin and Malec turned out to be a great team, were able to collaborate on a new class, and develop a new relationship at the same time.

"Ms. Malec did an awesome job in helping me keep the class on task and make sure the class was going smoothly," adds Shin. "It made me appreciate all the teachers who have to do this every single day for a whole school year. I'm really thankful to Ms. Malec because I would not have been able to do this class without her, and even though I've never had her as a teacher before, I'm really glad that I was able to have one class with her."

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