Expeditionary Learning


Expeditionary Learning offers a framework to the work at Conservatory Lab.

It is based on the belief that the purpose of education is to unleash and cultivate the passion and genius of everyone and that schools ought to be organized expressly for this purpose.  This is most effectively accomplished by providing authentic and tangible opportunities to experience the joy of learning and service.

At Conservatory Lab we use Expeditionary Learning as our learning framework. Our Learning Through Music expeditions are discovery operations. They start from scratch and travel light, relying on courage and compassion as much as on intellectual acumen. We cherish active, hands-on situations where what we are doing matters to us and has consequences. When you have a need to know, when you have to do something, a different level of energy kicks in. To encourage deeper learning our expeditions demand fieldwork, whether it is studying in depth each one of the stops in the Freedom Trail or going to the Charles River to test its waters and make conclusions about our findings.

What is the difference between a field trip and fieldwork?

A field trip is when teachers and children leave the school and go to a place where they are not expected to be active participants in the production of knowledge or have hands-on learning experiences.  Examples of a field trip are going to the Opera or spending the night at the Museum of Science.

Fieldwork, on the other hand, is an integral part of the educational program at Conservatory Lab.  It is carefully structured to address the learning goals of the Learning Through Music expeditions, and affords students rich opportunities to “learn on location.” Students interview experts, examine artifacts, conduct research, make observations, and gather data through note taking, sketching, and photography. Fieldwork deepens and extends students’ understanding of the content and nurtures their skills as life-long learners. During fieldwork students are challenged to work to the limits of their stamina and academic ability while collaborating with one another. Quality work is the expectation during field study activities, just as it is during in-school activities.

Most fieldwork takes place at local museums, parks, nature centers, businesses, and historic sites, and lasts from one to five hours. Fieldwork can also take place over an extended period of time with multiple visits to the same site. At times, overnight field studies to locations outside Boston are planned when distant resources are central to our students’ understanding of the content of an expedition.

Who is an expert? What is an expert’s role in an expedition?

An expert is a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on education, research, practice, and experience in a particular area of study. Experts from the community, including parents and other family members, help to train students in professional skills and techniques. For example, a parent journalist trains students in interviewing techniques; a snake scientist demonstrates how to handle and take care of a domestic snake; and a hydrogeologist trains students in conducting water quality testing at a local river.  Experts give students feedback and help students critique their work based on professional standards. Ideally, students’ relationship with the expert is not limited to a one-time classroom or site visit but is maintained throughout the expedition. For example, a poet or writer who visits the classroom continues to offer students feedback on their revisions and final product through emails or follow-up visits. Experts often attend Exhibition Night to celebrate students’ learning process and achievements.