Many companies, like Google, encourage employees to spend up to 20 percent of their time on innovative projects of personal interest. Remarkably, close to 50 percent of Google’s blockbuster products, including Gmail, have originated during this time. The concept has spread to companies like Flickr, the Huffington Post and even some schools, including Fletcher.
During Explore Time, fifth and sixth graders identify an area of interest and work in groups with a mentor-instructor to immerse themselves in the experience. Current and past groups include outdoor survival, baking, pottery, jewelry-making, maple sugaring, obstacle courses, intramural sports, health and beauty and more.
According to 5/6 teacher Jasmine Tremblay, the focus of Explore Time is on cultivating curiosity through flexible learning environments and personalized learning.
“We’re giving them a ‘no strings’ learning experience,” she said. “They choose the topic and the teachers volunteer to support the experience. They find out a lot about themselves and the topic.”
“It gives me a chance to pick something that I am into and not something that I don’t like at all,” sixth grader Gracie Clark said.
At Fletcher, Explore Time – which meets weekly for an hour – has undergone a metamorphosis since last year. Tremblay explained that last year teachers used the classes to inspire students about topics that teachers were passionate about. This year, students selected the topics and the adults fell in line. Explore classes meet in rotations of several weeks, giving students the opportunity to experience several different topics throughout their fifth and sixth grade years.
In addition, at times, all of the students collaborate to be part of one theme, such as a holiday celebration for the town’s senior citizens. Students explored music, food, gifts and other elements to create a celebration that honored Fletcher’s elders during the holidays last year.
“It is really fun to help our community and make them feel good because they help us back. They support us and come to our events,” Bri Start said.
“It is really important for us to try new things,” sixth grader Christina Ashley said. “We get to meet new people in the community.”
“Explore Time is important because we get to go outside our comfort zone and try things that we never thought of doing before and share time with our teachers,” sixth grader Sirena Sawyer.
“Explore Time keeps school fun. It’s about doing something that you wouldn’t normally do in school. Something other than reading and writing and math,” sixth grader Brody Chipman said.
“You get to do what you really want to do, what you might do after school,” sixth grader Adam Packard said of Explore time.
Of being an Explore Time instructor, School Counselor Sandi Simmons said, “Explore time is more about being with students than instructing them. In addition to learning new skills we are able to enjoy an experience together.”
Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.
Action Steps – (1) Provide students w/ access to content, resources, and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls. (2) Make relevant and authentic problems become the focus of connected learning.
Indicators of Success – (1) The school calendar and definition of school day changes to become flexible and responsive to the needs of students. (2) Students are engaged in answering authentic questions and solving problems in collaborative settings.