Last week the our entire middle school spent three nights and four days away from campus in quiet Ivoryton, Connecticut. We took our students away from campus, their homes, their families, and their technology for a week of education outdoors.
Being able to spend time with students away from routines and familiar places is an experience I would wish for every teacher and student. We did not need to provide the instructional program--Nature's Classroom, the program we chose in Connecticut, had a fine staff that did that. In addition to the instruction though, the trip was valuable because we had time with students that morphed into moments that were more casual, more intense, and thoroughly steeped in the experiential.
For some students, being away from home was a new challenge. Their busy schedule at Nature's Classroom helped enormously to alleviate this discomfort, as did the constant physical activity. After the first night, students were tired and it was much easier to sleep.
Being away from technology was also a challenge. The program forbade cell phones and laptops. This was hard on some students. It was perhaps equally challenging for some parents, and unfortunately, we had to confiscate a few devices during the week.
Teachers were permitted to have laptops, although connecting to the internet was a big frustration. To both document and reassure parents, we had committed to posting updates and photos on a newly created Google website. I know the parents appreciated it, and that students have been able to look back at the photos since our return. But oh--the frustration of having a slow connection! And the tension of wondering if the connection would be broken before the photos could be uploaded! I imagined returning in subsequent years with a MiFi or an iPad, or....
Then I went for walks. It was just spring in New England. The woods still looked like winter, until the eye tuned to the buds looking a bit more flush each day. We had a few days of blue, blue sky. Had I been standing around school on recess duty, I would have been chilled. But it was warm once I started to walk. My favorite walk was around the lake, and included a view of the camp from a higher elevation, across the water.
And by slowing down to the only speed my legs could provide, I realized that I had just enough technology for what I wanted during the week. We were in touch with the wider community as we needed to be. We were able to document and share the experiences of the trip. Perhaps not as quickly as at home, but speed wasn't the point of the experience for anyone--not the students, and not their teachers. With just enough technology I came to appreciate the best of the fast and the slow worlds.