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Out of Your Comfort Zone and into a New Kind of Classroom

Posted: 21st May 2019 12:37

For three weeks this spring, Hun freshmen, sophomores, and juniors will participate in a ground-breaking immersion learning experience designed to offer a deep exploration of real-world topics. Beginning May 15th, 400 students will take a three-week mini-course designed to take them out of the classroom and into the origin of an event, problem, or theory (in places like Arizona, Montana, Washington, D.C., 

"Real-world, immersion learning is the secret to igniting passion. Kids, like adults, want their work to be relevant. And, we know they learn best when they are encouraged and inspired to explore. NextTerm (https://nextterm.hunschool.org/) is designed to do just that," explains Hun School Headmaster Jonathan Brougham. 

Education experts like Daniel Pink tell us that students are intrinsically motivated by three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. How many times has a student asked, "When will I use this?" Great teachers can deftly answer that question, but hypothetical applications can be limited. What if instead of studying food insecurity from a book, students met with urban farmers, government agencies, and families struggling to make ends meet? What if they were then encouraged to help and had the opportunity to voice their ideas to a relevant audience?

Teachers and administrators at Hun think it will be a game-changer. So much so, that they have made it a mandatory for all students in grades 9 – 11.

"NextTerm is immersive like a semester abroad program, but it is also practical and focused, like an internship," explains Bill Esher, program co-director. "Consider a hands-on internship where the intern is promoted to project leader immediately after orientation! We gave ourselves permission to imagine the best possible way to learn and then we created it."

Different than traditional travel programs that focus primarily on culture, NextTerm courses (and NextMetro, the parallel freshman civics experience) explore a specific topic or issue, in the environment from which that topic spawned. Each of the 19 courses are led by teacher-teams and incorporate interdisciplinary skill and content investigation, i.e., economics and history, as well as collaborative problem solving and communication. Students will travel, work with experts in the field, and collaborate on projects. They will immerse themselves in their chosen topic all day, every day, for three weeks.

For example, students will study sustainability in the National Parks; women and politics in Washington, D.C.; Native American life in Montana; immigration in Arizona; civil rights ideas and action in Memphis; the psychology and physics of thrill rides at various theme parks; and food insecurity in Trenton, New Jersey.

Otis Douce, director of cultural competence and diversity at Hun is teaching a NextTerm course called Castles Made of Sand: Exploring Ghana, which focuses on the historical significance of the transatlantic slave trade as it relates to both West Africa and America … in Ghana.

Before leaving for Ghana, students will explore their own social identities and conduct background research on the region. They will attend a class at Princeton University; work with a Ghanaian national; and visit a Ghanaian restaurant in New Jersey.

"Through our course, students will come to understand how the desire for resources has impacted the development of Ghana across generations, but they will also develop a deeper understanding of their own personal identity," said Mr. Douce.

Hun students will receive academic credit for NextTerm courses and they will appear on their transcripts. Like traditional courses, each has a culminating assessment. Rather than a test, however; student teams will produce projects, intended to have real-world application. Each team will then present their project to a panel of topical experts during an Expo in June. 

For example, Hun students travelling to Arizona and Mexico to study immigration will work with people on both sides of the debate – border patrol agents, ranchers, local officials, and immigrants – to learn about the complexity of the issue. They will then work in teams to create education materials and present their ideas to experts in the field for real-time evaluation.

"We think the experience will be transformative, both for our students and for our school," said Mr. Esher.

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