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Experiential Learning is Deep Learning and Other Lessons from the Class of 1962

This memo is dedicated to the Class of 1962. I had the pleasure of getting to know several members of this class (and their spouses) on the occasion of John Lehman's induction into the Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame earlier this month. John is a humble man whose classmates hold him in high esteem. A number of them gathered on campus to celebrate his many accomplishments...
Dear St. Martin's Family and Friends,

Merry Sorrells with John Lehman at the 2016 Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame Ceremony
This memo is dedicated to the Class of 1962. I had the pleasure of getting to know several members of this class (and their spouses) on the occasion of John Lehman's induction into the Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame earlier this month. John is a humble man whose classmates hold him in high esteem. A number of them gathered on campus to celebrate his many accomplishments.

I was invited to have lunch with this group after the ceremony. What a privilege! The closeness of these classmates, after so many years, was incredibly impressive. One thing I have noticed throughout my five years as Head of School is that the members of our graduating classes love each other, and they love their memories of St. Martin's.

Many of them asked why they haven't been receiving my memos lately. The answer is that I haven't been sending them; no one has fallen off our registry. I am in the final year of pursuing my doctorate and have begun my dissertation. Between my work at St. Martin's and the dissertation, I don't have much time for pleasure writing. However, I couldn't pass up writing about my visit with these wonderful St. Martin's classmates.

At lunch, I was fascinated with the in-depth conversation about the athletic contests that these alumni were involved in more than 50 years ago. They recounted countless stories of winning scores and shots, who their opponents were in each contest, and who was responsible for the win in each game. The vivid details of these conversations amazed me. I was so impressed with the classmates' recall, and the sharpness of their memories. I was also captivated by their enthusiasm and excitement as they shared their stories.

While I listened, I wondered how many of us would be able to recount, with such clarity, something we learned in a classroom 50 years ago? Could any of us describe in great detail, half a century after studying them, the Battle of Hastings or the Pythagorean Theorem? Following this line of thinking led me to realize that John and his classmates remembered so many details because the sporting events held so much personal meaning.

This theory inspires our teaching at St. Martin's. We recognize that when learning has meaning - when it is experienced and not just recounted - it becomes deep learning. The new Gibbs Family Center for Innovation + Design, located in the heart of our campus, was created to accommodate this type of teaching and learning. Our teachers are taking on the role of coaches, working alongside our students as they explore and discover the meaning behind the curriculum presented to them. Experiential learning is deep learning. And our students gain lasting memories of the content they are presented with as they learn through practically applying what they are learning.

I hope that you will all have a chance to visit the Gibbs Family Center for Innovation + Design. This unique new building, funded solely by donations from inspired patrons, helps position our school at the forefront of contemporary teaching and learning, leading the way in our region.

Our architect recently told me of his pride in this one-of-a-kind project. I have to agree. Housed in the new space are a build shop, a woodshop, a digital lab, a production studio, and three spaces for collaboration, problem solving, and creating.

Students from the George Cottage through 12th grade are applying the curriculum they are learning to solve real life problems. Perhaps one day in the far future they will recall the curriculum as vividly as the Class of 1962 recounted its athletic conquests, because they will have been equally excited by and involved in the content they learned. Perhaps they will remember the Battle of Hastings by reenacting on film the applied strategies and tactical advantages exhibited by the Norman army, and perhaps they will experience the benefits and advantages of understanding the geometric concepts behind the Pythagorean Theorem through the application of technology, manipulatives, and proofs. Wouldn't the woodshop be a great place to apply this theorem while designing an ergonomic desk for future classrooms?  

It is truly an exciting time at St. Martin's. And the Class of 1962 helped me realize anew that when learning has meaning and is presented through a personal experience, it becomes a part of our thinking and not just a moment in time. Congratulations, John Lehman, and thank you, Class of 1962!
Merry Sorrells
Head of School
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