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School Stories

Learning Agility: Finding Passion and Purpose

This summer I reread Climb Every Mountain: The Story of Graland Country Day School by Rosemary Fetter, and was once again struck by photos of children engaged in active learning.
In the 1930s, Graland’s campus “had a wading pool with goldfish, and other animals wandering around such as ducks, goats and a donkey or two.” Students arrived at school by walking, carpools (even back then!) and a few came by horse. The wildlife on campus was often integrated into academic life such as decorating a horse during a study of the Middle Ages and then students “drew straws to see which of us had to lose (the battle) and fall off the horse.” As time progressed, students continued to experience active learning and could be found picking and examining dandelions at Cramner Park, studying snow science while cross-country skiing, and riding ponies as they learned about pioneer life.

Graland’s founding Headmistress, Georgia Nelson, wanted a school where learning and life were often intertwined. Her vision for education was having students develop a passion and a purpose through hands-on learning. This philosophy is still prevalent on Graland’s campus; although you might not see ponies on campus, you’ll see students engaged in learning and growing with a spirit of joy.

In Lower School, our younger students arrive on campus with a passion for learning. They are naturally curious, eager to ask questions and ready to explore. We use this passion to provide a purpose and structure to their learning. By teaching innovation skills beginning in kindergarten, students are given a structure to experiment and learn. Empathy, creative thinking, grit and collaboration are skills which will allow students to be successful and find purpose in their careers and interests.

Stacy Panayiotou, Chief Talent Officer of Coca-Cola, was interviewed recently by CBS News and noted that corporations such as Coke are looking for “good thinkers, people who are good collaborators and who have good learning agility.” Panayioutou believes good learning agility happens when people learn new things, implement them quickly and then repeat the process.

We see this same formula for success daily in our classrooms at Graland. During a recent math lesson, students were presented with tasks that combine connection making, challenge, creativity and collaboration. The game “How close to 100?” is one example of how students are asked to use these skills to complete a task. During the game, a pair of students share a blank 100 grid. The first partner rolls two numbered dice and the resulting numbers are used to make an array on the 100 grid. The students put the array anywhere on the grid, but the goal is to fill up the grid as much as possible.

Not only does the game promote the spatial understanding of multiplication, but there is an added layer of strategy and talk of probability. It also involves quick implementation and collaboration about how to fill the grid. Comments from students engaged in the game prove they were developing good learning agility:

“How do we decide where to put the shapes?”
“What makes a roll good or bad?”
“How could we have done it better?”

We recognize children may not always feel passionate about mathematics or find purpose in every assignment. But by experiencing hands-on learning, collaborating with peers and being immersed in a rich learning environment, they will more likely maintain a passion for learning and ultimately find their purpose as engaged citizens and thoughtful leaders.
Nan uses her master’s degree in educational psychology to support young students and their families in finding the best path for a positive elementary education. Outside of school, she hikes, reads and spends time with her five grandchildren.

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.