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students and teachers posing with mountains in the backgroupd

At Mackintosh Academy in Littleton, Colorado, embracing an inquiry-based education model for gifted students is central to our teaching philosophy, and we recognize the immense value of experiential learning. Recently, our fifth and sixth-grade students and teachers embarked on a transformative trip to the Cal-Wood Education Center. This expedition seamlessly aligned with our International Baccalaureate (IB) program, immersing these students in an enriching experience that nurtured curiosity, critical thinking, and a deeper understanding of the natural world.

Fifth and sixth grade lead teacher Roger Chow explained the benefits of this excursion: “Calwood offers a truly remarkable experience for students, enabling them to disconnect from the technological distractions of the world and fully immerse themselves in outdoor exploration. It’s been a privilege to witness students who initially approached this experience with trepidation and timidity undergo a transformation, emerging as joyful, engaged individuals. Even those who were typically reserved have opened up, interacting and connecting with peers they might not have otherwise engaged with.” He added that “Cal-Wood serves as a platform for students to forge bonds without the typical distractions of school or technology, allowing them to move closer to discovering and embracing their authentic selves.”

Cal-Wood Education Center: The Perfect Backdrop for Inquiry-Based Experiential Learning

Cal-Wood Education Center, nestled amidst the breathtaking Rocky Mountains, offered a perfect setting for students to immerse themselves in nature and derive knowledge through hands-on exploration. The pristine natural surroundings and diverse ecosystem serve as an open laboratory for students to delve into the intricacies of the environment. By engaging in interactive activities and outdoor adventures, the students satisfied their curiosity and enhanced their understanding of the natural world.

students standing in a circle for an experiential learning lesson with woods in the backgroundAs they stepped out of the traditional classroom and into nature, our students were exposed to real-world applications of what they had learned, translating theoretical knowledge into practical wisdom. The immersive learning experience at Cal-Wood complemented the objectives of gifted education, facilitating the development of critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity in a dynamic and challenging environment.

“Calwood does an incredible job of engaging students in their outdoor learning spaces,” commented Nancy Muchich, fifth and sixth grade lead teacher. In addition to the education benefit, she noted that, “We all enjoy the activities, the downtime, and of course, the great food! Our students go to Calwood and see each other in a new light. They come home a cohesive group, a real community.” 

Experiential Learning: A Gateway to Growth

The trip to Cal-Wood was not merely a recreational outing; it was an educational expedition designed to enrich young minds. Experiential learning, which emphasizes learning through direct experiences, was fundamental to this journey. The students actively participated in nature hikes, ecology lessons, and team-building activities, internalizing concepts and gaining insights that traditional classroom teaching cannot replicate.

At Cal-Wood, students not only deepened their understanding of ecological systems but also honed their interpersonal skills, resilience, and adaptability. These experiences will stay with them throughout their academic journey, nurturing them to become well-rounded individuals with a profound appreciation for the world around them. 

Samantha Walker, fifth and sixth grade associate teacher, shared her insights on the personal development opportunities at Calwood. “”Calwood is an opportunity for our students to be risk takers and get out of their comfort zones and experience the outdoors in fun and engaging activities. Students and chaperones alike build friendships and create a sense of belonging that resonates throughout the school year and beyond,” she said.a young student wearing a green hat kneeling by a tree trunk with mountains in the background

Student Voices from the Experience

Upon returning, students were asked to write reflections on their experiences, an exercise integral to inquiry-based learning. They commented on the content of the lessons at Cal-Wood, the opportunity to connect with classmates, and on the value of immersing themselves in nature.

One student remarked, “I really liked the campfire circle because of all the laughing and happiness. I also liked the night hike. The stars were so bright.”

Another added, “My favorite part was being in touch with nature. It’s so relaxing to be out in the world.” Echoing this, another student said, “I loved hiking and talking with my friends. I just love being in nature because it has nice clean air to breathe.”

Finally, one student offered this wise advice to future attendees, “These are going to be core memories you’re making and will stick with you for the rest of your life. This is a chance to get away from your devices for a couple days. It’s a chance to be in nature, so even if it seems bad, it will be a blast.”

Conclusion: Fostering Bright Minds through Immersive Experience

By providing an immersive and experiential learning opportunity, the trip to Cal-Wood Education Center not only enriched the academic growth of  Mackintosh students but also their personal growth. As they returned from this enriching journey, their minds were buzzing with newfound knowledge and a profound sense of appreciation for the natural world.

At Mackintosh Academy, we remain committed to nurturing the potential of gifted students through inquiry-based education, preparing them to become thoughtful, innovative leaders of tomorrow. Cal-Wood was just a stepping stone in this journey, and we look forward to many more such transformative experiences.

Interested in how your child might benefit from our inquiry-based International Baccalaureate education? We’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to our Director of Enrollment Management via email or give us a call at (303) 794-6222.

Mackintosh Academy Littleton