November 18-22, 2019
In the Field: Update from the Wilderness & Place in Maine (TERRAIN testbed) Team
I am going to focus this week’s update on summarizing the experience of the second TERRAIN cohort’s trip up to Sky Lodge and use this as an opportunity to remind us of the broader goals of TERRAIN why they matter.
Aly McKnight, Tom Whittaker, Ellen Batchelder, and Emily Goldthwaite headed up to Sky Lodge with cohort 2 at 11:30 AM on Monday morning. Having learned from the experience of cohort 1, this group was fully packed the night before their planned departure and were able to respond quickly and pretty smoothly to a request to move up the departure time in order to arrive at Sky Lodge ahead of the predicted freezing rain. Life lesson: careful preparation enables one to make adjustments with minimal stress!
While up at Sky Lodge, the group deployed game cameras and completed several transects to gather data. They also participated in a role-play scenario in which student “game wardens” interviewed a “witness” and a “poacher” and gathered samples that they will prepare and analyze (for characteristic DNA fragments) when they return to campus. They engaged in various group challenge tasks. They also had some down time in which to learn a new skill (more knitting! painting!) or share an old one (guitar playing by the fire!).
Just before the TERRAIN group left Sky Lodge yesterday, team leader Aly McKnight sent me this e-mail:
Forgot to check in yesterday, sorry! Everything is still going well — we wrapped up the outdoor work this morning and everyone is currently chilling out in the lodge and uploading data. We’re all packed up, so … we’ll just do a massive debriefaganza after lunch and hit the road.
Yesterday was awesome — … Emily wrapped up the day’s activities by designing and running an “encouragement book” activity where we passed around empty books for people to write good things about each other in (everyone got their own) — it was a really heartwarming experience for all. There may have been some tears of gratitude as folks were reading their books later … 🙂
Thanks again for this experience! I’ve enjoyed virtually every second.
During the debrief, students (on their own) discussed how they experienced a variety of challenges throughout the term and have developed persistence and skills that allow them to push through these challenges and accomplish goals. Many students shared that they are proud of their personal achievements as well as their growth as a group. They also saw clear connections between learning how to work well in a group and their learning of specific concepts and academic skills.
We designed TERRAIN purposefully – to immerse students in authentic problem-solving contexts where they would need to draw on a variety of communication and interpersonal skills in order to experience success. We are seeing evidence that the design has had the intended effect.
This is a great opportunity to remind us all of the value of integrating social emotional learning opportunities (generally thought of as the purview of co-curricular experiences) throughout the academic curriculum. CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) is a leader in SEL research. They have shown that Social-Emotional skills (open-mindedness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion and agreeableness) are teachable and correlate with increased academic achievement. They have also shown that a lack of these skills correlates with “unfavorable” outcomes such as poor health, unemployment, and criminal behavior. While much of CASEL’s research has been in K-12 contexts, they and others have linked SE skills with success in college (see this piece in the The Atlantic for a summary and links to primary research). This is not surprising – we know that students who are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety are less able to engage in learning opportunities and less likely to persist in the face of challenge. So if we are serious about helping our students achieve the learning outcome we’ve identified for our academic programs, we must also be serious about helping them develop broader SE skills on which learning relies.
A final thought – as I work with my own students in Environmental Scenarios and Solutions, a junior- and senior- level course in which students learn and apply sustainability science frameworks to address complex problems – I am more convinced than ever that the investment we are making in helping our first- and second-year students build their capacity to persist and to collaborate will have enormous payoffs. The problems of sustainability we are asking our students to take on – that we are depending on them to take on – will require them to draw on far more than their knowledge of facts and ideas. They will need persistence, empathy, open-mindedness, and emotional stability to be effective change agents in a complex world.
As I write this, I watch the Maine woods blur by from the windows of a train … on my way to a Learning and the Brain conference in Boston. I am feeling grateful for the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of strategies to support learners over the weekend. And I am feeling grateful for the ways in which our colleagues and students have responded to the challenges TERRAIN has presented and for the promise that this program holds for preparing our students for success.
Jennifer L. Cartier, Ph.D. (she, her, hers)
Dean of the School of Environmental Citizenship
Professor of Education
Unity, Maine 04998
(412) 215-6511 (cell, preferred)
(207) 509-7282 (office)
Office: Constable Hall 201