Digging into Immersive Academics



Wilkinson Elementary school kids have extra bigger smiles on their faces this week, as the students have fun getting their hands dirty in an immersive experience of "H2 Oh No!", programmed through the Education Foundation of Sarasota County (EFSC). This is the foundation’s fourth one this academic school year—planning and guiding week-long, hands-on activities outdoors for students at Sarasota County Schools. Classroom academics have come a long way from blasé PowerPoint note taking and unenthusiastic rambling from a textbook. Enough research has come to show that immersive tactics prove much more impactful and effective for kids to learn the subject at hand.

Funded by Consortium of Florida Education Foundations, FPL Connect and DART Foundation, the Wilkinson campus turned into a scientific “investigation and observation” zone. With a massive dirt hole shoveled deep into the ground, teachers and EFSC Director of Programs, Kati Burns strategically hid educational items throughout for the kids to dig up and find, learn about their origins, brainstorm how it may have gotten there and how old it is. Objects such as types of lava rock, minerals and geodes, a time capsule said to be from year’s past, faux artifacts and fossils, sharks teeth, indigenous plants, shells and acorns, stoked an inquisitive second grader to ask a valid question, “How does this stuff get into the ground in the first place?” Two science professors from USF - Tampa came out to the courtyard for “H2 Oh No!" as well—rotating around to individually interact with the students, encourage them to write down their observations, gather evidence and discuss their exciting findings. As the kids unearthed buried discoveries with their magnifying glasses and archeology brushes, they learned lessons of evolution, species’ life cycles, parts of a flower and the rain cycle, all the while scratching the surface with their little excavation tools to learn first-hand about geology. And on a less vibrant, but notably important matter, kids stumbled across the “nasty, yucky stuff”, as a first-grader so eloquently put it, referring to the broken plastics, scrap parts from an old crop duster aircraft and man-made trash—hitting home the harsh realities dumped into the ground by humans. Localized lessons of watershed, land-based sources of pollution, causes of red tide and the impact of oil spills, further opened kids’ eyes to the noticeable effects these present day occurrences have on their environment.

“We really want to encourage this type of experiential activity,” states Jennifer Vigne, president of EFSC. The foundation seeks Sarasota County schools to participate in this fun and deeply engaging program. Largely, they are the schools that embrace lessons outside the classroom and have teachers who believe in collaborating with different subjects and across different grade levels. “It’s about the integration of all these things and experiencing cross curricular activities. It helps to develop a real understanding at an early age, one that is memorable and sticks,” Vigne says. Because no one looks back on their schooling and remembers the days they sat in class and took notes. “This is 21st century learning.”

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Education Foundation of Sarasota County

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