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Taking Experiential Learning to the Temple

By Tom Fearon
Taking Experiential Learning to the Temple

Futures Academy students learn the value of taking on a real-world passion project
Sometimes a passion can be an obvious calling, urging to be nurtured and brought to life. Other times it can be harder to identify, requiring us to scratch beneath the surface of our surrounds to discover what inspires us. Belgian entrepreneur Juan van Wassenhove experienced the latter when he stumbled across an ancient Buddhist temple nestled in Beijing’s hutong during a bike ride a decade ago. After prying open an iron gate, he was amazed to discover the derelict wooden temple that yearned to be restored to its former glory. Mr. van Wassenhove had discovered his passion project.
Futures Academy students from the International School of Beijing visited the UNESCO Cultural Heritage-awarded temple, appropriately named The Temple, on October 26 as part of a real-world learning experience that embodied L21 skills including creativity and innovation, leadership and responsibility, critical thinking and problem-solving, and communication and collaboration. Students rotated between three activities: analyzing the “Apartment” art exhibition, touring the temple complex, and inspecting a modern artistic skyspace. Finally, they watched a documentary about the temple, known in Chinese as Zhizhusi, before engaging in a Q&A session with Mr. van Wassenhove.
The trip to The Temple, made by students in Grades 7 and 8 at the Futures Academy, aligned with ISB’s Strategic Plan IV by creating increasing learning through an authentic, compelling, local, and global engagement (SI1), optimizing each student’s capacity to learn through individualized experiences (SI2), drawing on the best research on teaching and learning methods based on changing realities of the 21st century (SI4), and increasing access to expertise through networking beyond ISB (SI5).
Futures Academy Chinese facilitator Ann Light said the experiential learning opportunity allowed students to understand the importance of artful thinking, one of the instructional strategies from Harvard School of Education’s Project Zero.
The Theory of Multiple Intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner, one of the project’s professors, was at the forefront of students’ minds as they absorbed modern Chinese art and made connections between Mr. van Wassenhove’s initiative and multiple intelligences.
“Instead of students just looking at a picture and talking about the color or composition, artful thinking requires them to consider perspective and empathy,” Ms. Light said. “I was pleasantly surprised how engaged the students were throughout the entire learning experience. It seemed that all the activities were interactive and age-appropriate.”
Students were able to deepen their cultural connection to China by observing up close the history etched in the Ming Dynasty temple’s structures, from the Tibetan Buddhist sutras carved on the roof to the Cultural Revolution propaganda slogan that hark back to the temple’s days as a factory where black-and-white televisions were assembled.
“Today was all about seeing how the students could take their passion and, by formulating a clear vision, put all the pieces together to make it a reality. Jean had to take such a disciplined approach to his passion to achieve his vision,” said Kyle Wagner, Futures Academy program facilitator. “One of the things we’re focusing on is the rigor aspect of the students’ passions–the idea that a passion isn’t just about doing something you like and mucking around with it, but refining a vision for what you want to do with it.”

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