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What is Expeditionary Learning?
What is Expeditionary Learning?
Expeditionary Learning is a data-driven, research based design for comprehensive school im-
provement in place in over 160 schools across the United States. Curriculum, instruction, as-
sessment, school culture, and school structures are modified to produce more engaging learning
experiences and higher quality student work. Expeditionary Learning schools “break the mold”
in three fundamental ways:
1. High expectations for students’ academic achievement, rooted in and tied to standards, are
evident in rigorous demonstrations of student work to audiences that go beyond the classroom
and beyond the school. There is a culture of revision in which many drafts are the norm and
nothing less than best work is expected. Students keep portfolios of their work showing not only
final products but also the stages along the way. Portfolios are a major assessment strategy.
2. Teaching and learning are much more active and adventurous; school is more exciting and
more demanding. Schools are safer physically and emotionally. Students and faculty arc organ-
ized into small crews or advisories. There are well-observed protocols for fieldwork and class-
3. Expeditionary Learning is based on the idea that we learn best when we are actively involved
and have hands-on experiences that help us create our understanding of various academic sub-
jects. Therefore, the courses at our school are designed as real-world “learning expeditions”
that give students opportunities to explore a single topic or issue in great depth. Each learning
expedition lasts about 12 weeks and may involve several different subject areas (language arts,
mathematics, science, social studies, technology, etc). In every learning expedition students do
projects that let them apply, refine, and demonstrate what they know and are able to do. In addi-
tion to more typical tests and quizzes, students are formally assessed through projects and
through exhibitions of their work to parents and community members.
At Marathon Venture Academy classes and instruction are focused around learning expeditions,
which are “journeys of learning” where students spend a trimester studying a topic in depth.
Learning expeditions are modeled on the work that professionals do in their adult jobs and get
students involved in real-world projects, fieldwork, and service learning.
Most of the work is project-based: students might conduct research, develop three-dimensional
models, create a web page about their discoveries, or present an interactive demonstration be-
fore an audience. These expeditions and projects give students a sense of what they are
learning relates to the real world and are the main way students learn the content and skills they
All learning expeditions require students to do extensive reading, writing and thinking about
important topics and issues. The purpose of this focus on authentic literacy is to help students
develop the essential skills of critical reading and effective communication.
We cannot learn everything we need to know by staying within the school’s walls. An important
part of any academic study takes learners out into the world, and Marathon Venture Academy is committed to taking advantage of the community’s rich learning resources. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find classes of students working at sites away from the school. Fieldwork is a re-
quirement for all students, but if students misbehave or fail to exhibit safe behavior, fieldwork
may be temporarily suspended until improvement is shown. Because we value fieldwork so
highly, we typically schedule 2-3 days each month for this type of study. All fieldwork is graded
and counts toward a student’s grade in every subject.
TEN DESIGN PRINCIPLES OF EXPEDITIONARY LEARNING
The ten Design Principles best describe the core values of the Expeditionary Learning philosophy. Refer to http://www.elschools.org/ for more detailed information.
• The Primacy of Self Discovery - People discover their abilities, values, passions, and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected.
• The Having of Wonderful Ideas - Learning situations provide something important to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed.
• The Responsibility for Learning - Students become increasingly responsible for directing their own personal and collective learning.
• Empathy and Caring - Ideas are respected and mutual trust is fostered in small learning groups. Students feel physically and emotionally safe.
• Success and Failure - All students need to experience success to build confidence, but it is also important for students to learn from their failures and to persevere when things are difficult.
• Collaboration and Competition - Students work together to achieve more than they could alone. They are encouraged to compete, not against each other, but with their own personal best and with rigorous standards of excellence.
• Diversity and Inclusion - Both diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative power, problem-solving ability, and respect for others.
• The Natural World - A direct and respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the human spirit and teaches students to become stewards of the earth.
• Solitude and Reflection - Students and teachers need time alone to explore their own thoughts and create their own ideas.
• Service and Compassion - Students and teachers are strengthened by acts of consequential service to others.
Our “learning by doing” education programs emphasize the applied learning of math, science, language arts, history, economics, and ecology. Key objectives of all Living Classrooms programs are career development, community service, elevatingself-esteem, and fostering multicultural exchange.