Settlers of AMS: A True Example of Experiential Education

middle schoolers lighting a forge

Its no secret that most middle schoolers crave experiential education. Instead of sitting in a classroom, many of them would rather get their hands dirty experimenting first hand and learning new skills.  At Arthur Morgan School, we embrace these active desires and put them to good use. We offer a number of different art and craft spaces, as well as guided time in our garden and kitchen. By spending time in these areas, students gain skills for self-sufficiency and self-expression. At the same time, they form questions about their world. They want to understand how things work and the history behind them. These are the natural teaching moments that AMS staff want to foster in our community. It’s why we start each year with the perfect example of experiential education: Settlers of AMS.

Setting up the Board

middle schoolers conducting a tension experimentInspired by the board game, Settlers of Catan, our campus spaces are divided into the game’s five resources: sheep, wheat, ore, wood and clay. Students separate into groups and rotate through the different resource locations:

  • wood is in the wood shop
  • Sheep is in our fiber arts studio,
  • ore is the metalworking forge,
  • wheat is the garden and kitchen, and
  • clay is the ceramics studio.

As they spend time in each resource, students work on pre-planned projects designed to help familiarize them with the school’s tools and spaces.

Gathering Resources

The different resource projects serve both the student and the larger school community. Students will prepare their personal spaces by forging hooks for their cubbies or sewing curtains for their bedrooms.  They might build themselves a box to keep their belongings or make a mug to drink tea in their boarding house. Alternatively, the students may harvest food to preserve for the community’s use throughout the winter or build tables for use down at school. Once students are acclimated to the campus and its many opportunities, they feel empowered to continue to use these spaces for personal projects in their free time.

 Expanding your World

What students experience in their resource areas then become stimuli for educational moments in the classroom. Each resource area explores a relevant scientific principle as the students learn to use the space. Additionally, in their math and language arts classes, students complete projects designed to draw from experiences in the resource areas. Their math class may measure the growth of a plant in the garden to start learning about linear equations. In language arts, students might read about the philosophy of craft or journal about their projects. Through these accompanying lessons, students are encouraged to satisfy their curiosity through research, experimentation and observation

Feeling Victorious

As an added layer, students can earn Victory Points (another feature of Settlers of Catan). Points are awarded for specific goals created by the staff resource guides. For instance, if the group successfully cleans their space after using it, they may be given a Victory Point. Victory Points will also be awarded to students when they complete their project or finish the corresponding science experiment. This is not a real competition; there won’t be a winner, but the points serve as a way of letting students know they are meeting expectations and adding a level of game play to the unit.

Settlers of AMS lasts for three weeks and by its end, students can confidently navigate their way through our craft spaces. They know how to safely use the equipment and feel ready to practice their developing skills independently. They have the ability to transfer these experiences to academic inquiry and continue to see the larger world as a realm of possibility.

A video of one of students getting instruction in our pottery studio:

-by Nicholas Maldonado