Each year after Winter break, The Willows school community participates in an annual tradition known as Intersession.
Essentially, Intersession is best described by what it is not – a time where “normal” school time, usually chopped up into discrete blocks devoted to different disciplines, is disrupted in favor of long, less-structured sessions where both teachers and students work on complex and engaging projects. Depending on the age range, these sessions last 3-4 hours per day; with our middle school, Intersession lasted all day for an entire week.
(Click here to learn more about the nuts and bolts plus specific projects undertaken during Intersession)
Why take this departure from normalcy? Essentially, I see Intersession is an answer to the following questions:
What if teachers were allowed to create projects they were extremely passionate about?
What if these projects were heavily student-driven with students choosing which project best suited their interests?
What if teachers and students had long periods of time to engage deeply with the ideas and skills associated with these projects?
There are myriad aspects of Intersession worth celebrating and discussing at length, but I’d like to focus on two that I feel are the most powerful: time and engagement.
The gift of time
Releasing everyone from the constraints of their normal schedules is one of the greatest gifts a school can give itself.
With unprecedented amounts of time, our students were able to build real expertise, often with new skills or concepts. Immersed in their projects, they were more willing to take risks, to persevere through difficulties, to collaborate and problem-solve with peers, and to see the true value in what we call “hard fun.”
Personally, I was involved in a project called Robot Theater, inspired by Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room. For six days, groups of students created interactive “rooms” featuring a variety of small robots with lights, motors, and sensors powered by Hummingbird controllers. Students wrestled with unfamiliar tech tools (and the occasional frustrations that go along with connecting and programming them!), built backdrops for their robot “characters,” and presented to groups of amazed parents afterwards. This work takes time – especially if you want to do things right.
Time + Engagement
While any school can simply abandon its regular schedule for some period of time, doing so may not always result in the kind of engagement Intersession delivers. There’s a palpable sense of excitement pervading every space of each building. There’s also plenty of intensity and creative struggle, as children work to realize the shared vision for each project. One easy indicator of engagement that I saw with my robot designers: instead of going outside for snack and recess, they would regularly stay inside to test a new light or motor or finish just one more block of code!
Ultimately, in my mind, time and engagement go hand in hand. Without the time to really dive deeply into something, engagement will always remain superficial while everyone moves on to the next regularly scheduled block of learning. When children are shown that educators truly value their strengths and interests and are willing to give them time to immerse themselves in meaningful projects, they really rise to the occasion.
** Check back for a video we’re preparing highlighting many of the amazing Intersession projects – coming soon!