The Happiest Learning Place on Earth

The application of learning can be evident in many different ways. This weekend I chaperoned a middle school group to Disneyland. Before I realized what I had gotten myself into, I was on a bus in my pajamas at midnight with a bunch of anxious teenagers. I was worried that this trip might end in a disaster or at least a raging headache and very sore feet.

As a teacher I am always searching for a learning opportunity. I didn’t expect to find the learning as clearly on this fieldtrip as it revealed itself. I started to notice something very strange happening with the students. I had previously observed these students in their own classrooms with some limited insight into their skills and learning; I quickly discovered that they were quite talented at problem solving and skilled negotiators.

Evidence of the application of their knowledge started the moment they boarded the bus. The students immediately began discussing the number of hours they would be on the bus versus the number of hours they planned to sleep, as well as the time difference between Arizona and California. The number of rest stops and time spent at each rest stop were also calculated into the problem.

Should I mention that they were solving several math problems with varying variables? There were so many entry points for me. I was far too excited to witness the learning in its natural habitat. I chose not to interrupt and continued listening to the application of the learning. The conversations drifted in and out of logical reasoning with many layered discussions about distances between park attractions, wait times and the every interesting variable of the FAST PASS. The bus ride was one non-stop math trip and I sat quietly analyzing the math strategies used by students. These students were very sophisticated at solving these math scenarios; I heard constant estimation, rounding, measurement and ratios being used. Rest stops also became learning stops; the students had limited funds and had to ration their spending throughout the trip. I watched students make decisions, calculate prices and discuss how to allocate their funds for the trip. Once at the park, the students had to measure and keep scheduling that included check-in times, show times and wait time for rides. Every conversation that I observed between students included a math problem with the discussion of a series of solutions. Students had few inhibitions discussing their problem solving strategies and possible alternatives. I was bombarded with the evidence of thoughtful and thorough evidence of learning throughout the trip.

The quiet reflections I enjoyed during the eight-hour ride back to Tucson were focused on the possibilities for education. What if all student learning was this rich? What if the application of the learning process was evident everyday in a meaningful way? What made this the Happiest Learning Place on Earth and how do we as teachers recreate this type of engaged learning everyday?

None of the disaster scenarios I had anticipated occurred, just the sore feet.  Let’s not even talk about the two eight-hour bus rides.



Julie Torres

Julie Torres

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Julie Torres. I wasn’t always sure that I wanted to be a teacher; somewhere along the way I realized that teaching had been knocking at my door for a long time. I became a teacher because it felt natural; I remain a teacher because my students inspire me.

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