Student teachers design course curricula at EXPLO

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For Sarah Carrigan ’16, spending three weeks working at Exploration Summer Programs (EXPLO) last summer was enough to make her want to pursue teaching after graduation. Carrigan, a Wellesley, MA native, is pursuing a major in psychology and a double minor in education and Chinese. On campus, she is involved with Colby Cares about Kids (CCAK), the Waterville/Winslow Junior High Tutoring Program, Junior Class Council, and is a member of the Indoor and Outdoor Track team.

Carrigan, who is thinking about becoming a middle or high school social studies teacher, applied to EXPLO last school year to gain teaching experience and to figure out if she wanted to pursue a career in education. “EXPLO was a great place for [me to do] this, as it allows its instructors to design their own curriculum, and teach it to a class of 16 or so students,” she said in an e-mail correspondence.

While working at EXPLO, Carrigan taught a Leadership Skills class in the mornings and a Track and Field Workshop in the afternoon. She designed the curriculum for both courses. “The process of writing a curriculum in itself was extremely educational. Each instructor is paired with a curriculum adviser who oversees the entire process, and makes suggestions to make the lessons as fun and engaging and educational as possible. This curriculum adviser then observes your class at least twice a week, and meets with you once a week during the summer to go over the pros and cons of your class and teaching style. The professional development built into teaching at EXPLO was amazing,” Carrigan explained.

Beyond academics, Carrigan also created a positive social environment for her students at EXPLO. She lived in a hall with 20 ninth grade girls and one co-counselor. “Working at EXPLO was like working at the most seamlessly run summer camp….When I was not teaching, I was often tasked with running hall bonding activities, connecting with the students, and otherwise making the summer an incredible experience for them. It was exhausting work, as instructors both taught and lived with the students, but it was incredibly rewarding,” she said.

Between teaching and planning activities, Carrigan worked long hours to help run “the best summer camp I have ever seen,” she said. “Although it was draining, I found it worthwhile because it was like we were trying to make a Utopia for the kids, and to make their experience at EXPLO as exciting and educational as possible,” she added.

Carrigan’s coworkers and students played a large role in her positive experience at EXPLO, where people were “happy, enthusiastic, and engaging, all the time,” she said. “The staff itself was excellent. I have never seen so many passionate people in one place before. Everyone taught something they were passionate about and tried to instill this passion into a new generation of students. They did this in the most creative and engaging of ways, such that the students looked forward to going to class, or even hanging out with their counselors in their free time,” she added.

Carrigan spoke about her Leadership Skills class and how she was able to observe their rapid growth in the space of a few weeks as they engaged in the course material. “In my leadership class, many were engaged and eager to learn and practice their leadership skills. We started with practicing running small activities in the class, which kids would come up with themselves. They worked on their public speaking skills, and several team-building activities….The class ended with the students planning activities to run with the entire camp, and these games ranged from ‘marshmallow softball’ to making new paper from recycled newspapers. The kids were able to take something that they had created and were passionate about, and teach it to their peers, just as the EXPLO instructors were doing everyday,” Carrigan said.

For Carrigan, the only downside to working at EXPLO was the “exhausting and almost unattainable pursuit of creating the most educational, fun, and exciting summer for the kids,” she said. “Work started at 6:30am with running club and did not stop until 10pm when the kids went to bed. In between we were teaching, conducting activities, supervising free time, and preparing for the nights’ main events. Even off time usually consisted of further curriculum planning,” she added.

Jennifer Breau ’16, who also worked at EXPLO last summer added, “It was a really challenging round-the-clock job but it was definitely worth the experience. At one point, I was ribbon dancing to ABBA songs and thinking to myself, ‘I’m getting paid to ribbon dance to ABBA right now.’” Breau taught public speaking and debate and stop-motion animation classes to sixth and seventh graders during the day, while also serving as a residential advisor for a floor of sixth grade girls.

Carrigan’s experience at EXPLO reaffirmed her goal of becoming a teacher after graduating from the College. She discussed the satisfaction she gained from working with children: “Working…in the classroom was definitely the high point of every day for me. It is so exciting to watch kids grow throughout three weeks—I can only imagine how this growth is amplified over an entire school year. I will be returning to EXPLO next summer again, and I cannot wait.”

For current Colby students that are interested in working at EXPLO or teaching in general, Carrigan advises getting classroom experience. “Teaching is a great goal to have, but it’s hard to know if it’s what you want to do until you try. There were definitely a handful of instructors at EXPLO this year that determined, after the summer, that teaching was not for them,” she said.

“I think EXPLO is an excellent opportunity to get some experienceand also have fun while doing it. It is a low stakes environment—only three weeks—and you get to have fun with whatever you’re teaching,” she added. “Plenty of instructors at EXPLO have no intention of teaching after school but loved working with kids and teaching them about their own passions,” she added.

Though Nov. 3 was the first deadline to apply for a summer position with EXPLO, there is still time for those interested. EXPLO continues to consider applications until the spring.

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