Challenging Education to Meet the Evolving Unknown: Bosque School’s Immersives Program

In the chance that I am giving away my age, I have been a part of independent schools, either as a student or educator/administrator, for over 36 years. While this is true of other sectors of the education world, many independent schools make innovative education a hallmark of their culture. Talking about innovation in education has been a good part of my academic career, and innovative education is often tied into 21st-century learning. Early in my training as a teacher, and eventually, as an educator, conversations about 21st-century education would result in “the more it changes, the more it is the same thing.” It wasn’t that progress wasn’t made, as it surely was, but the old adage is not as true for education as it once seemed. Yes, grammar and arithmetic rules will probably stay the same, but the reasons for how and why students learn and how they demonstrate learning aren’t staying the same, and the goals of an education are also changing and evolving. It is often said that students are being prepared for jobs and careers that may not exist yet, given advancements in technology and a more globalized world. 

What are the hallmarks of 21st-century learning? It starts with a move away from an educational model that reflects the needs of a society shaped by the intersection of agrarian and industrial economies. As the world continues to adapt to new technologies and realities, educational models now need to adapt and respond to the new opportunities that our globalized world offers. In 2016, The World Economic Forum defined Ten 21st-Century Skills Every Student Needs. Among those are complex problem solving, collaboration, cognitive flexibility, and creativity. I would also add inquiry/curiosity, cultural competency and compassion. These are hallmarks of a Bosque School experience for our students to be sure; yet, we want to extend and deepen our practices to prepare our students for the work of the future, some of which has yet to be defined. We decided then to develop our immersives program to give our students and teachers an opportunity to focus on one course at a time. Through this program fieldwork, guest experts, and a commitment to service are prioritized and students and teachers are provided the time and space to commit to extended and deeper learning.

Historically, our commitment to experiential learning manifested in the yearly schedule as the week-long Winterim program. However, in this new iteration of immersives, rather than a week, students engage in a three-week course that meets every day during the last weeks of the school year. This commitment to time is intentional; the 85-minute block, while ideal for the regular rotation of classes, doesn’t always leave room for students and teachers to dive deeply into specific topics of interest. One of our guidelines for thinking about what will make a dynamic immersive is that it should be a topic of interest that can’t be taught within the traditional block schedule. Immersive course ideas have been guided by teacher and student input. To encourage and deepen curiosity and learning, immersives are an innovation lab of sorts where teachers can develop new courses that focus on a single topic (depth of knowledge, rather than just breadth); use the community as a classroom through community partnerships, fieldwork, and guest experts; and center on critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, cultural competency.

Moving to the implementation of immersives has been part of a three-year process. We gathered advice from schools that had similar programs: Hawken School (OH), University Prep (WA), and Westminster School (GA), including a week of professional development for teachers with representatives from these schools. Teachers brainstormed exciting courses and students were asked to offer their ideas as well. Currently, teachers are collaborating to develop courses and the final list of offerings will be ready for students to choose in December/January. Just a few of the immersive ideas in the works are: public art, astrobiology/chemistry and the space industry, marine biology, and creative writing. The cost of courses has always been something with which we grappled and want to approach more thoughtfully and equitably. Immersives will generally not incur any additional costs for students as they will be built into the academic budget of the school. Immersives that include travel will have affiliated costs clearly noted in the immersive catalog, and families will have the ability to apply for financial support to offset these costs.  

Immersives are a new, innovative program for all of our students and staffulty. To get a good sense of the history of our planning and to answer some of your possible questions please see these Bosque Buzz posts from 2020 (links here and here). As the year progresses, please stay tuned for more information about immersives. I will be talking more about immersives and other aspects of the academic program at an upcoming parent and guardian forum later this semester and invite you to attend to learn more specifics. Stay tuned for more details about this meeting in the coming months. Please feel free to email me as well: geetha.holdsworth@bosqueschool.org.
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