Last Friday Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation, the research and design arm of Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, hosted Collider, an innovative professional learning event.

To continue to further the mission and vision for our School, Blair Peterson (@eijunkie) and I led a three-hour off-campus expeditionary learning experience to Clarkston, GA for 26 faculty and staff. Inspired by our June visit to the Traverse conference at the Watershed School in Boulder, Colorado (#tvrse16) where Blair and I participated in an expeditionary learning experience ourselves, we planned an experience for our own faculty to share a section of our community that many of us have never visited.

8:45a – 12:00p: Expeditionary Learning [3 hour session]
Facilitators: Blair Peterson and Nicole Martin

Join us for a unique expedition as we venture out into the field to explore real-world connections to our students’ learning. We will create a bug list, practice the art of noticing with observation journaling and sketchnoting, and identify ways to move learning outside the four walls of our classrooms and into our local community. We’ll brainstorm ways to connect STEAM and Humanities disciplines and the Mindsets as well as to allow for learners to wonder and wander with their own curiosities. Our session will culminate with how we might apply this expedition experience to future student learning opportunities. Grab your hat, sunscreen, water bottle, cell phone and field journal, and hop on the MV minibus with a spirit of adventure and fun!



We began the morning gathering outside near our two buses, passing out name tags, field journals and pencils. Groups were strategically assigned with a wander captain and 2-3 members from different divisions or departments. Giving teachers as little information as possible, we loaded buses and got on the road.




With the help of two amazing bus drivers, Jim and Jamey, we headed out of the School parking lot and into the city of Atlanta. In order to save time, we waited until we had departed campus to share the purpose and mindsets of our expedition. We shared that the morning was to be used for wondering, wandering and the art of noticing, highlighting one of our School’s design drivers: How might we empower all learners to be seekers and explorers? We asked teachers to capture their experiences using words, sketches and photographs to be shared out during the debrief. We highlighted an important lesson we learned at #trvrse16: Every PBL has an out-of-classroom and into-the-world component. It’s reality-centered.




We arrived in Clarkston, Georgia, an international refugee community about 20 minutes away from our school. Few in our group had ever been there before, but many of us were familiar with the area due to our work with Refuge Coffee Co. this past summer as part of MVIFI’s #fuse16 design thinking conference, a yearly professional learning experience that partners educators with nonprofits to solve real problems using design thinking (sign up for next year’s #fuse17 event here!). At this point, our wander captains collected their groups, and faculty set out to wander, wonder, and notice the community around them. They were tasked to take off their teacher hats in order to wonder with a youthful, curious mind (but to return back to us on time!). Many of the pictures focused on the apartment fruit and vegetable gardens and the goods and food items within the markets.




Wander groups began making their way back to Refuge Coffee’s garage, where we catered coffee and had an amazing indoor/outdoor space to collaborate and reflect. Groups were asked to highlight what and who they saw in their travels, finally narrowing to one topic, vision, or idea that made them curious that they wanted to explore further. Groups were asked to include a photo on our wireless, portable printers to use as the center of their web brainstorms. Groups investigated and explored with prompting:

What did you notice?

What do you wonder?

What else can we wonder about?

What do we need to know?

What Challenging Problem might you tackle with this curiosity?

Who are the stakeholders?

How might you find an expert to research this more with students?

What would be a great driving question?

How does this relate to student learning outcomes/disciplines?

What are the possibilities?

What materials might you collect to read, watch, listen, and tinker to learn more about this problem?



We asked groups to pause their collaborative work to gather to share their thoughts. The groups’ collaborations took many directions. Some gathered around the idea of an us versus them- why do we focus on the differences? Why not look to similarities? Other groups discussed communication and collaboration methods when language is a barrier. How might we share information? Still others looked at the theme of community and community pride. How is a love for a community developed? We then discussed possible application to our own classrooms and students, possibly extending expeditions beyond our faculty and into our students’ experiences. How much needs to be front loaded with students? Could we replicate this in the future? How might we create long-term relationships with this community?



We departed Refuge Coffee to head back to School, saving the reflection on the entire experience for the bus ride back. Bus groups explored the following questions:

What was it like to wander around?

Was it frustrating? Rewarding? Exciting?

How could this tie to PBL learning experiences?

What are the opportunities for students?

Where else could we have gone?

What might the students want?

While some faculty members shared that they wished they had known more ahead of time to prepare themselves, others felt the experience was just what they needed to spark their curiosity and passion to venture outside the four walls of their classrooms. We intentionally made the exploration an unknown for everyone – just as school experiences can be for children- with the hope of opening our eyes to the community around us.

According to the MVIFI team, the goal for the day was to intentionally “increase cohesion and interconnectedness among all faculty so that we continue our journey to seek to be the best in developing and delivering a 21st century learning experience. We’ve privileged sessions focused on various aspects of 1) the project approach and project-based learning, and 2) the MV Mindsets.”

“It was awesome to get to explore our community and see how we can create empathy opportunities for our students.”

-An Expedition Participant

I’d say we met that goal.

I love my School.