"This has created a whole new world for us. It is very fun. The
kids thrive. They are motivated. They go home and tell their parents about
everything they've learned and they start using that knowledge in every day
-- Tori Hirner, third grade teacher
Expeditionary Learning (EL) is a comprehensive K-12 educational design
that combines rigorous academic content and real world projects --
learning expeditions -- with active teaching and community service. It
focuses on teaching in an engaging way.
Tori Hirner, a third grade teacher at Lee A. Tolbert Community
Academy, said her students are on a learning expedition focused on
health and fitness. Every subject she teaches, from reading to math to
science to social studies, is focused toward this topic, and it has
motivated her students to learn.
Hirner said she is amazed at how she has been able to work her
curriculum around this topic. For example, one of their standard
science units focuses on the plant and animal life cycle. So to center
it around health, the students also learned about what food animals
give us and the health aspects of animals, their life cycles, and their
habitats. They visited a dairy farm and talked about the nutritional
value of dairy products.
"This has created a whole new world for us," Hirner said. "It is
very fun. The kids thrive. They are motivated. They go home and tell
their parents about everything they've learned and they start using
that knowledge in every day life."
For example, Hirner said parents told her that their children are
checking nutrition labels and looking at ingredients on food they buy
at the grocery store.
Another aspect of the EL model involves students creating a product.
For their health section of the expedition, the students created a
sandwich that will become a part of a local restaurant's menu.
"All of the research we have been doing has been fueled by this idea of making a healthy sandwich," Hirner said.
The project also promotes building relationships within the
community, which is something Hirner said her school has always worked
The fitness part of the students' expedition will include, among
other things, learning about the simple machines that make exercise
equipment work. They will study pulleys and wheels, and their end
product will be an exercise video.
A week of intensive training before the start of school prepared the
school's staff to jump into the EL process, and supplemental inservices
have been provided throughout the year as well. A majority of EL
professional development takes place at the school site, although there
are some national summits, seminars, and courses offered to staff as
A teacher for seven years, Hirner said the EL design has completely changed the classroom for her, in a good way.
"For me it does involve more prep work and research, but it also
makes me more excited," she said. "As a teacher when you stay in the
same grade level each year, you have the same basic curriculum. So this
changes things for me. And it has made an amazing difference for the