Intersession and Experiential Learning

By Sarah Swain, Dean of Innovation & Experiential Learning

Field teachers are honing experiential learning practices as they prepare for intersession offerings.

Upper School Director, Page Stites’s article in the last Falcon Press outlined our approach and philosophy of project-based, experiential learning. He detailed opportunities for students to grapple with the real-world problems of systemic racism, packaging optimization, or managing a project to design functional pottery sets to share with guests, allowing them to problem solve in real-time and maximize their learning. 

Field teachers are honing these practices as they immerse themselves in preparing for Intersession offerings which are a new addition to the traditional Winter Internship program. 

This year, the two-week time period in February has adopted a new name, Intersession, to encompass all the opportunities for students to immerse themselves in deep learning and discovery. Even before this year, ‘Internship’ has included travel trips, service opportunities, a performing arts option, and specially designed programs for the 6th grade. 

Intersession 2022 will include the opportunity for upper school students to find an internship with a new Intern Initiative Project as a key component of bringing value to the host organization. For middle and upper school students, Intersession will also include a choice of immersion courses that will partner students with community organizations to research, ideate, and find solutions to real-world problems. 

In my experience implementing immersion courses, these opportunities provide students and faculty the chance to delve deeply into one area of focus and follow through on research that leads to a real impact in the community. One example that comes to mind is my last project before the pandemic. Students were working with the Wake County Habitat for Humanity organization and a partner engineering firm, Advanced Energy Corp, to propose more energy-efficient designs for the Habitat homes. Students learned about efficiency technology and worked on a Habitat site to become familiar with the strategies already implemented before researching and designing other solutions which were presented to the partnering organizations. Students worked together in teams to ensure they had all the relevant information to make a case determining why their designs would be most cost and energy effective. This project was transformative for many students because they weren’t simulating or role playing but actually participating in community based solutions.

As the global pandemic continues and without a clear sense of what the Intersession timeframe will bring regarding public health, Field could not commit to doing Winter Internship in the traditional way. Intersession seeks to embody the spirit of internships by focusing on the goals of empowering students to explore their passions and interests, connecting students to the community, honing valuable career and workforce skills, and fostering a growth mindset. 

In the Middle School, students can choose from a variety of immersion courses including the following:
  • Animal Welfare: Partnering with a local dog adoption organization to understand their challenges and to help develop solutions to problems this  organization faces. Due to the popularity of pandemic pet adoption, coupled with an increase in pet surrenders, area pet rescues are more in need of supplies than ever before. In this deep dive, teams of students will research the reason behind the need and propose plans for supply drives in the first week followed by executing those plans, working together to help pets get the food and supplies they need on their path to finding a forever home. 

  • Hospitality Industry: Here, middle school students will research and develop a menu item for a local bakery. They will learn cooking techniques, customer development, budgeting, and marketing skills to present their final product proposal in the Great Field Bakeoff! 
In the Upper School students can choose from a variety of immersion courses including these few examples:
  • Empty Bowls: Hunger in DC: Students will not only learn the skills of ceramics artists to produce bowls, they will also partner with a local food bank to research the crisis of food insecurity and plan an Empty Bowls fundraiser.

  • Field School: CSI:: Students will gain expert knowledge about forensic science while working with the DC Department of Forensic Science. They will research the cause and problems related to  wrongful incarceration in partnership with the Innocence Project.

  • In other courses like Streets to Beats and Film Production, students will learn the technical skills of film makers and recording engineers to capture and bring awareness to overlooked or undiscovered aspects of our community.
As showcased in the recent research of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab at MIT, technological skills are constantly changing. Still, the Matrix of human skills will provide a durable foundation that will “remain valuable across waves of technology-driven change.” Field’s  Intersession immersion courses are designed to intentionally build these skills through the pedagogy of project-based learning. Students identify meaningful problems with an authentic audience  and work in teams designing solutions and developing final products to share with stakeholders. This process will hone skills like project management, collaboration, communication, negotiation, creativity, critical thinking, persistence, and initiative. 

Every Field student will gain insight into something they may have not been exposed to in the past or dive deeper into something they are passionate about learning. Each student will emerge from the two weeks in February with enhanced problem-solving skills, including critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration.  While an internship may provide an opportunity to gain some industry-based hard skills,  immersion courses will ensure students develop the most challenging of all the skills—human skills.