Even before the beginning of social distancing, summertime meant a season away from school. While many of our children excitedly await the break from classroom learning, our hope remains that our growing heroes will never stop learning. Learning doesn’t solely take place in the classroom. In fact, we believe that some of the best learning happens outside of school.
Student-driven learning, also referred to as informal education, is a wildly successful method for delivery or lessons, comprehension, and retention for heroes of any age. Changing the goal from memorizing facts to actually solving problems that inspire emotional immersion makes learning an adventure.
Our Online Summer Camps are designed to take STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) concepts and integrate them into fantastic stories. Campers are not doing math equations to get a good grade and please the counselor. They are doing equations because without the right numbers the quest will not be conquered.
A recent example of STEM and informal learning being implemented into our stories was the lesson on marine biology in our Online Wizards & Warriors camp. Our merry band of heroes needed to obtain a magical potion, one that would allow them the ability to breathe underwater. In order to concoct this potion, they needed a basic understanding of how it might work. Insert STEM here.
This is how it works! Create an immersive world, deliver an engaging story, give the heroes the autonomy to decide how to interact with the characters they meet, and use real-life applicable education to grant them the tools they will need to succeed. With our camps, there is no need for fear of a gap in your hero’s education.
Classrooms might be closed, but learning is a daily adventure.
Outdoor camp has come to a climactic close and we simply cannot thank enough everyone who made it possible. From parents to counselors to the heroes themselves THANK YOU for another incredible summer of adventure.
Let’s take a look back at what your heroes got up to this year at Salem State…
WIZARDS & WARRIORS STEM SUMMER CAMP
Our heroes passed through The Gate Of Destiny and entered the magical realm of Sidleterra. They chose their respective Houses, got some combat training, and began their adventure with smiles and swords held high. Along the way, they studied the natural world around them, embarked on an archeological dig in an ancient burial ground, solved riddles and puzzles galore, and strengthened their understanding of the 3 Tenets of a Hero: Courage, Honor, and Compassion.
Creatures and characters littered their path as the adventure continued. The heroes met King Gilgamesh, a complex character, and fought alongside him in the shifting caverns. They gathered other magical allies and rid the land of the evil witch Baba Yaga. A cultural educator from the Center for Arabic Culture, Alma Richeh, arrived to teach the heroes about language and music.
In the final days of camp, the tablet of The Patrons went missing so our heroes traveled to a dark corner of Sidleterra where The Gate Of Destiny was originally crafted. They gathered information, banded together under a newly designed constitution, and defeated Tiamat’s giant army of evil. They also made boats…
“I’ve literally made the best friends ever at Guard Up and they really taught, and are still teaching me, a lot about friendship and what it means to be a hero,” – Annika (Hero)
“(Guard Up) is a place that allows children to have this amazing creativity in a space where they can be themselves,” – Lisa (Parent)
ZOMBIE STEM SUMMER CAMP
The Defenders entered the world of Asimov’s Foundation series, complete with the Galactic Empire, the Foundation resistance, and our big bad boss The Mule, a psychic mutant with control over the zombie hordes. They learned about the biology of the human brain while saving the helpful robot Daneel and vanquished The Mule by outsmarting his living dead henchmen.
The next week we introduced elements from Minority Report, specifically the concept of Pre-Crime. After learning about the concept, the campers decided that is was unethical to use it for themselves. They traversed a treacherous maze by solving parabolic equations, learned about punnet squares, and got to witness Marrow, the leader of the zombies, have a nice sloppy brain for lunch in the cafeteria (this was not served by our cooks, he brought it from home, we promise).
“The environment here is really nice. You get to learn all the things that you would in school but in a fun and different way that’s very compelling,” – Panda (Monster Camper)
“My son has been part of Guard Up for many many years and he loves the creativity, he loves working with the other kids, he loves being able to play different monsters, and I’m pretty sure he leaves a part of himself in Sidleterra every year,” – Liz (Parent)
Is your hero still itching for more summer camp excitement? We can help. King’s Watch Day Camp in Burlington is SOLD OUT next week but the final week (8/26 – 8/30) still has a few slots left. Register today and add one more week of adventure to your hero’s summer at www.guardup.com/campreg or give us a call at (781) 270-4800.
We’re looking forward to the next adventures on the horizon with great anticipation. Our storytellers have recently begun creating new interactive stories with a Moroccan cultural consultant, keeping with our standard of cultural respect and accuracy within our stories. Curious what this new tale will involve? Join your friendly local Guardians and find out for yourself…
…but before we dive into that, we’re thrilled to announce our big plans for October! (Hint: it’s got to do with Korea)
I attended a weeklong conference for educators last year at Harvard Graduate School of Education. One of the speakers asked the audience what kinds of things they had learned that were not from formal classes or schooling. The audience offered a wide variety of topics from investing to woodworking. I briefly considered mentioning my own hobby of fire breathing… but didn’t want to throw the topic off with people wanting to know why the heck I would take up such an activity.
The instructor asked where each person learned their craft. For quite a few, the answer was YouTube. Some learned from friends. And of course, many read books or visited websites. In my case, I hired a professional circus performer because I knew the consequences of a mistake in lighting a big breath of liquid paraffin into a massive burst of flames just inches in front of my face could be quite painful, if not fatal. But the most interesting part about this discussion was the idea that, more than anything else, Informal Education teaches us our learning doesn’t stop when school ends.
Long ago, I read a book called Teaching as a Subversive Activity (Neil Postman & Charles Wingartner). I thought that schools needed a solid dose of this concept. However, not in the common interpretation of “let the kids learn whatever they want to learn” as much as making learning applicable to something of interest to the student. As well, I appreciated the chapter that bestowed upon the teachers the daunting task of helping students develop a strong “BS Detector”. This idea has never been more important than now in the Age of (Mis) Information.
Formal schooling serves a very important function in providing a foundation upon which to build our own inquiries. You will have a hard time getting the information you need to pursue your interest if you do not know how to read and write. You won’t be able to make sufficient estimates or question internet memes that contain questionable statistics if you don’t know math. History, myth, and literature teach us about humanity through time… what we did, why we did it, and whether the climate is becoming ripe for us to repeat atrocities we thought would never come to bear again.
Children need education. And yes, they do need at least some memorization. But as the foundation is being laid, they also need something very different: They need to be encouraged to tackle problems with no clear answer. Even better: Diving into problems that no one immediately knows how to approach with certainty. This is because at the highest level of innovation they will constantly find themselves in the state of “no one has done this before”.
My youngest daughter, Gwen, is working as a Physicist for the summer at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. They have shut down the Large Hadron Collider and a large team of Particle Physicists are working on a massive upgrade. Gwen is an undergrad at Cornell University and was accepted into a small program to spend the spring semester of her junior year at CERN. This internship was then extended into the summer as she continued her research work. Gwen is the one undergrad on her entire team who are almost entirely PhDs. She was given an assignment to program custom circuit boards for the CMS detector. The upgrade she is working on will go into effect in 7 years.
When Gwen was handed the assignment, she was told that no one knew how to do what she was being asked to do. She would have to figure it out and then report back to the team. They could provide feedback and suggestions… but she was going to have to forge her own path. Meanwhile, the other team members were doing the same with their own assignments. This is because what they are trying to accomplish at CERN has never been done before on any machine, let alone the largest and most complex machine ever created by mankind.
When I talked to Gwen about this, she said that it was a little intimidating at first. Because as a student in school or college, you know you have a teacher, with answers, whom you can turn to if you are truly stumped. In this endeavor, however, everyone is in a constant state of trying to “figure it out”. Since there have been many people in the past who have used coding to accomplish goals that can be related to her project, Gwen spends quite a bit of time reading and researching what others have done. Then, building off of these resources, she combines approaches and tries different paths… essentially just “messing around” with the coding to try and see what fits her objective. She also mentioned that one hurdle she had to overcome was letting go of achieving specific outcomes in a specific time frame – which is what a lot of formal education focuses on. Instead, there are checkpoints where the teams meet and individuals give presentations on their work. The focus is more on showing progress than on having concrete expectations around what is being produced.
I recall one scientist saying that most discoveries come less from having the right answers as much as having the right questions. But having the right questions is often not the focus of formal primary and secondary education (although it tends to get into much more exploration at the college level). Innovation requires us to learn a process of forming an inquiry. We need to let go of the idea that inquiry is innate. We may all be capable of asking questions. But if we lack foundational knowledge, we can waste a great deal of time asking questions that don’t address the challenge.
I don’t think the answer to raising innovative students is to abandon formal education. We do need foundational knowledge in order to build our inquiry. However, I think the strength of Informal Education makes more space for learning the process of inquiry. The process of Informal Learning is self-directed, learner-controlled, and present in most of our lives on a regular basis. It’s part of a child’s daily life when they play, such as building structures out of sticks or containers. As adults, we still come upon this in our own life routinely. Just think of the last time you looked up a solution to a problem you had on the internet.
There are many aspects of Informal Education and Learning that deserve comprehensive discussion and exploration. For example, Formal Education uses the “Push” model of education delivery: Teachers present information that the student receives. Informal Education uses the “Pull” model: Students reach out and locate the information they need to solve the problem at hand. The former is assigned work that is often based in a grade (pass/fail). The latter is utilized by individuals who have an immediate need or interest that is based in performance (how well does it get the job done), to satisfy a curiosity, or for formulate an informed opinion. I see this repeatedly with digital natives (the generations who have grown up with the internet). If they want to know what kind of plant is in front of them, they can take a picture with their cell phone, upload it to the app called Seek, and it displays the name, genus, species, and other important information about the plant.
One of the biggest differences between Informal Learning and Formal Learning, however, is that the learning is driven by the learner and based on the learner’s desired outcome. Because of this, a higher level of motivation is often a driving factor in the learning process. It is easier to stay focused, work long hours, and be resilient when the learner has ownership over both the process and the outcome. Don’t believe me? Just watch a videogamer learning a new game. They will ignore sleep and food as they become immersed in the process.
Another important aspect of Informal Education is that failure isn’t just allowable, it’s necessary. Failure is an equivalent building block to success. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what works… and why. Ask anyone involved in innovation and they will tell you a long history of failures that led to the resulting service, product, or discovery. Failure is part of the process – not a punishable offense.
The challenge before us is that Informal Education has to meet the needs of the Informal Learner. With the power of the internet and massive databases of information, the focus can be more about curating information than creating it. However, then we need to figure out how to best present the information in a way that the learner can find it most readily, which is essentially the largest task of most modern search engines. There also has to be a consideration for which medium the information is relayed through – written instructions, video, online mentoring, story-telling, augmented reality? The method is often determined by the learner’s problem:
How urgently is the solution needed?
What are the consequences if the provided answer is wrong?
What is my preferred learning style?
What is my current knowledge base or need for additional context?
There are many more questions that we need to answer. But thankfully, the topic is also the answer. So let’s move forward with the understanding that education doesn’t stop at the school exit.
Let’s explore how and why people learn – both intentionally and incidentally. Presenting information in a manner that is both discoverable and applicable will be our biggest challenge as we collect more and more answers that are stepping stones to problems we have not yet identified. Through this process, along with collaboration and non-stop inquiry, we can inspire the innovation that is necessary for solving the most significant challenges before us… whether that’s how to breathe fire, or how to upgrade a particle accelerator.
About the Author:
Meghan Gardner is the founder of Guard Up, Inc. which owns and operates Wizards & Warriors and Zombie Summer Camps, programs and events. These educational camps and events are the STEM and story-based experience we all wanted to attend as a kid – where instead of watching movies or playing video games about heroes, mythological creatures, mystery, and adventure, they get to live it. Kids and teens spend the summer playing a character of their own design and fighting monsters with foam swords or NERF Blasters, physics, biology, chemistry, and more.
“The Introducer isn’t just a publication, it is a vehicle for creating meaningful connections around the globe that expand social impact.”
This is a mission strongly supported by Guard Up and our CEO, Meghan Gardner, so it’s no wonder that she sat down with the magazine to share our stories of cultural education and life long learning. See what she had to say in the brand new article from The Introducer…
As informal learning evolves, Guard Up remains front and center, pushing the boundaries of education. It’s important to us to share what we’re accomplishing and spread the word about this rapidly growing practice. Informal learning is the name of the game at Wizards & Warriors STEM Summer Camp. Heroes aren’t given a question and answer, instead they are presented a challenge. Through overcoming that challenge, the lesson is learned on their own terms. Knowledge is discovered rather than drilled in the grand adventure.
Is your hero ready for the challenge? Bunks are still open at camp this summer. Reserve yours today at www.guardup.com/campreg
If you’ve come to our Summer Camp before then you’ve definitely heard the word “LARP,” the common abbreviation for “Live-Action-Role-Play.” Sounds like fun! But before you can play…you must create your role. Character development is one of the most creative aspects of LARP. You can be anyone, or anything, from anywhere, or any time.
Take long-time camper Kira for example, or should we say Barrel…
The possibilities are endless. If that seems overwhelming, don’t fret! Guard Up is always here to help. Try your hand at one of the Character Creation guides. Remember to use Mythology as your resource, get as wild as you wish, and, above all, stay true to your own inner hero.
What do you picture when you read the word: job. Most would answer something along the lines of “the same monotonous task, day after day, fueled by coffee and ibuprofen.”
What do I picture? (yes, I’m breaking the fourth wall for this blog post) Well, let’s run through my week so far, shall we? On Monday I helped a 67 year old man sign up for weekly fencing classes and got to share his excitement of finally jumping back into his passion after a 20 year hiatus from the sport. On Tuesday I spent my break with my NERF blaster, using a Chinese gong for (loud) target practice. Yesterday I walked around our Castle…on stilts.
So what’s on the docket for today? Quite literally, anything! But enough about little old me. Let’s hear from one of our veteran Guardians, our Quartermaster, the incredibly talented Chris Wiley…
Working for a Place You Believe In
My name is Chris Wiley and I am the Program Director for Guardian Adventures, Wizards & Warriors, and Zombie Summer Camp. I get to play pretend for a living and help bring worlds of imagination to life. I am on my 11th year working with Guardian Adventures and approaching my 12th summer with our epic adventure camps.
On any given day, I get to design STEM curriculum, write stories based on myths and legends, pick up a foam sword to spar with kids and adults, dress up and play ridiculous characters (like the villainous Duke of Bones or the friendly Cyclops brothers), or don knickers and a mask and get paid to fence.
I have so many stories and anecdotes over my years with the company. From students growing into instructors under my mentorship to ridiculous birthday adventures coworkers have thrown for me to meeting the love of my life at this very job and marrying her at the campsite where we met, this building and this community of coworkers means so much to me. Guardian Adventures has been an integral part of my life for over a decade.
All of the above are reasons why I started working here and the reasons I enjoy each day I work. But the reason why I stay, the reason why after taking two years of spending time with my family and starting my own family down South I decided to uproot my family and move back to Massachusetts to this company, is because I believe in our mission. The part of working for this company that motivates me the most is that we serve our students and campers — who we call heroes — by challenging them to be better people. Whether encouraging compassion and courage through roleplay and consequences, building a life-long love of learning through story-based informal education, or just helping kids and adults relate to the world around them through unplugged active play, Guardian Adventures helps make kids into heroes and educators into champions.
That’s why I work here and that’s why I believe in Guardian Adventures.
Needless to say, us Guardians never have to worry about getting stuck in a monotonous routine. There’s always more adventure to uncover at The Castle, and now it might be time for your own adventure to begin…
“A champion team will defeat a team of champions…”
This is a powerful quote. Think about it. It defines exactly what a “team” is: a collective, a collaboration, a unit. When likeminded heroes work together towards a shared goal, they create something larger than themselves. Simultaneously, they become their creation. They become that unstoppable organization. An article from Positive Psychology Program lays out the core of teamwork in 7 elements:
1. Team Identity: A group with a strong team identity demonstrates belongingness, a desire to work together, and a sense of clarity around the role of each member. Groups with strong team identity also have high degrees of loyalty.
2. Motivation: A high level of motivation corresponds with the energy and responsibility levels of the team, and whether competition is working for or against the team. Having a motivated team requires knowing and meeting desires, setting stretch goals, reinforcing success, and being persistent.
3. Emotional Awareness: A team’s emotional awareness encompasses the amount of attention the team pays to notice, understanding, and respecting the feelings of team members. Emotional awareness is a critical factor in motivation, productivity, and a team’s ability to collaborate, making it central to the success of every team.
4. Communication: Intuitively, we know that communication is an essential factor for a group of people working together. It provides feedback and guidance on how well each of the team members listens, encourages participation, and discusses sensitive topics.
5. Stress Tolerance: A team with good stress tolerance knows how well it’s doing in managing the pressures of workload, time constraints, and the real need for work-life balance.
6. Conflict Resolution: Assessing a team’s conflict resolution means examining how a team processes disagreement and whether the team is able to deal with adversity as a way to enhance its functioning, rather than being caught up in the conflict. It’s essential for productivity and creativity.
7. Positive Mood: A team with a positive mood has is built on foundations of encouragement, a sense of humor, and an expectation of success. Positive mood is a major factor in a team’s flexibility and resilience, and it’s the heart of a “can-do” attitude. It influences how energized the team’s attitude is.
Our summer camps take teamwork to a whole new level with our Houses of Sidleterra. Every House is unique, supplying their own special skills and beliefs to the battle for good. From protecting the weak to conquering the ruthless, each House adds a new way of exploring the magical realm of Sidleterra.
“The universal thing we’re trying to get at is just curiosity and wonder…That excitement about the world, where you want to uncover something magical,” – Damian Kulash (Singer/Guitarist OK Go)
Since 1998, the American rock band OK Go has released an ever-changing catalog of music, from heavy headbangers to happy go lucky pop hits. However, it’s their music videos that have solidified the band in pop culture. You’ve probably seen the one with the Rube Goldberg machine, or maybe the one in zero gravity. The videos are visual stunners but it’s the magic behind the scenes that really excites us. Guard Up is a proud advocate of STEM Education and using real life to teach science, math, and technology to the future heroes of the world. OK Go has recently joined the STEM movement by releasing the OK Go Sandbox.
The Sandbox is an online resource designed for teachers to engage students, using the creativity of the band’s incredible video collection. The band allows students to step behind the curtain of some of their most popular videos and learn the science that went into every shot. Once the lesson is learned, students can experiment together, playing with what’s around them…like a sandbox! Check out this Sandbox lesson where math (and colorful explosions) meets the music:
STEM Education is an incredible tool for promoting life long learning and a love of experimentation in today’s young heroes. Guard Up’s summer camps are designed to apply STEM lessons into all of our interactive storylines, helping your kids to become the thinkers of tomorrow while having the adventure of their lives. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign up today as spots are filling quicker and quicker as summer approaches. Give us a call (781-270-4800) or register now at www.guardup.com/campreg.
In the meantime, take a look at what all that math accomplished for OK Go…
Close your eyes and take yourself back to the last day of school.
You’re staring at the clock, anticipating every tick, until that magical moment arrives when the bell rings and summer starts. Your head is packed with fresh knowledge. Your year has been one amazing learning experience after the other. You’re ready for the world, (especially vacation)!
But then, as suddenly as it began, summer comes to a close. It’s time to return to school.
You take your usual seat and settle in for another year of learning. The teacher asks you what you learned last year and…uh oh…now you can’t remember.
Summer Learning Loss is very real. It happens to everyone, it even used to happen to you. Luckily, our heroes are equipped with everything they need to combat this common occurrence. Our summer camps are designed to keep your child active, adventuring, and above all else learning. Keeping their minds sharp boosts retention and puts them one step ahead when Day 1 of class comes rolling back. What else can summer camp do to defeat Summer Learning Loss? Check out the article below for 6 reasons why summer camp is your best ally to keep your child growing year round…
Guardian Adventures is a company specializing in informal STEM education programs and camps. In addition, we provide weekly classes in swordsmanship and fencing as well as custom themed birthday parties and events.