Discovering Ancient Olympia and Lehaina: An example of Experiential Learning

by: Julia Tokatlidou, IB Director, ACS Athens
Maria Leou, Majdi Samad, Dione Cavadias, 11th Grade students, ACS Athens

Ethos Magazine, Winter 2013, Vol 8, Issue 1

DSC00581  “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”
Confucius, 450 BC

68 Grade 11 students, jolly in anticipation of a class trip, loaded two buses on the afternoon of October 22nd en route to Ancient Olympia. They were accompanied by Ms. Dragatakis, Dr. Hristakos, Dr. Konstantoulaki, Ms. Leou, Ms. Makris, Dr. Romanos and myself. In addition to DSC00606creating more bonding opportunities for the Grade 11 students, the aims of the trip were primarily to provide out of classroom educational opportunities for the students. The students participated in various activities in the following educational content areas: Experimental Science, Social Science, English Literature and Writing as well as Good Citizenship. The learning process included group work, hands -on participation, and application of information and data collected from observations and experimental work at Lake Kaiafa and the Botanical Garden of the Museum area.

The successes of the trip were many as our faculty and students write. Realizing their power as a group to positively affect their surroundings and the world was, I believe, the biggest success for the students. They all returned more reflective and more confident about their ability to transform the world and to shape their own future.

The trip was a new experience for Ms. Leou, our new English Literature faculty member and Dr. Hristakos, our Physics faculty member and for all of our Grade 11 students who attended. Their testimonies are valuable.

Ms. Maria Leou writes a short journal of the trip
“Discovering Ancient Olympia”

“We started off just after lunchtime. It was a trip that would prove to be a landmark in our lives, both as teachers and as students. The bus was full of laughter and singing and the kids’ faces shone brightly. It was a long trip, but it was worth the wait. There were so many things to see and do in Ancient Olympia and only so much time to do them in. This was definitely going to be a valuable experience.

This excursion gave teachers the opportunity to bond with their students and other colleagues. For the kids, in turn, it was an opportunity to see their teachers in a different role and setting, hence making them come closer. They also got the chance to spend time with their friends and reinforce ties. Every single thing on this trip was educational – it would be difficult to describe it in a few words.  Let’s start with the rooming arrangements. The students had the chance to stay with their friends overnight and learn about sharing, being civil and respectful of each other. This also taught them how to be responsible and orderly within a hotel environment and within the wider society of Ancient Olympia. They also had to be punctual if they were to see everything and do all the tasks set out in the itinerary. Then there was the academic part. The students managed to “engineer” their own learning as independent learners as they were asked to do certain tasks that required group work, responsibility and intelligence. They managed to carry out various experiments for Physics, Chemistry and Biology successfully and learn directly, efficiently and effectively. Students were each given tasks for which they were responsible and worked well together in teams. The same held true for our visit to the Botanical Gardens. Students were asked to take the spades and shovels and start digging! They dug and dug and finally managed to clean up an entire block of land. They learned the importance of team spirit and teamwork through this experience. They learned what it meant to be close to nature and respect nature and its inhabitants. What better proof of learning than being in a natural environment and learning from the physical world? Then, there was the museum and the archeological sites. It was amazing for the students to learn about Greek heritage and delve deeper into the meaning and importance of archeological sites. They were inspired by the museum exhibits and the ancient stadium and even ran across the field, where thousands of ancient athletes had run before. But learning did not stop here. Upon our visit to the institution for mental and physical disabilities, both students and teachers were in for a surprise. It was emotionally very difficult to see these kids who had been rather unfortunate in their lives and to hear sad stories from their caretakers. Our students were very moved – some even shed a tear. It was painful to see these kids in their beds and wheelchairs, not being able to meet you at the door. However, it was a pleasant surprise to see them smiling, laughing and moving to the sounds of our students’ voices when they sang and danced for the kids! What an incredible feeling! It was worth every minute – just seeing their happy faces smile for a second was the most rewarding experience one could have.

Overall, this trip will always be dearly remembered as a wonderful journey into the unknown. It was a movement from darkness into the light. We got to see the silver lining in every dark sky and appreciate life much more than before. We were able to return to reality but this time we were all the wiser.”

Here is how the trip empowered Majdi Samad, an IB Diploma student to “transform the world as architects of their own learning”

“It is essential that students be able to choose their path in life. They must be given opportunities to design their education and like architects, design their building. The IB trip has definitely assisted in being consistent with the school’s vision of transforming the world, designing academic life and empowering individuals.

Transforming the whole world may be challenging but once broken into simple tasks, is much easier. That was the philosophy of the school at the Botanical Garden of Ancient Olympia, where the students improved the garden by removing weeds and clearing the soil for the intended plants to grow. It may have been but a fraction of the Earth itself, but it was left better than it was before.

Not only were material values improved, but also intrinsic values. Perceptions, mindsets and understandings were expanded and improved at the KEPEP Lechainon center for disabled individuals. The students started felt uncomfortable at first.  During the visit however, they realized that these individuals may have disabilities, but their world was utterly unique and different from that of the students. The individuals needed not the students’ pity because they found themselves to be completely normal.

An example of such a perception was examined in the KEPEP Lechainon Institution. There was a girl in the institution who was blind, deaf and confined to a caged bed. Her visual world was dark but by feeling the shoes of the nurses and others she could distinguish each person from the shoe textures and imperfections. It was truly remarkable to view that individual’s abstract world.

In general, the trip was definitely a sandbox experience. The exploration of the town of Olympia was great and the experience of life with friends was an unforgettable adventure. It was definitely a trip to remember with the life lessons it provided; the true meaning of the school’s Vision.”

Dr. Hristakos reflects on “the experience of collective work throughout the trip”

“For a solitary animal, egoism is a virtue that tends to preserve and improve the species: in any kind of community it becomes a destructive vice.
Erwin Schroedinger

As Schroedinger pointed out, the ability to work in a group and thus be able to offer to a group is the sign that we are evolving from an instinctual animal to homo sapiens. This was the attempt in the ACS Athens Bonding trip to Olympia. The communal work at the Botanical Garden, the visit at Lechena, the running at the ancient stadium were but brief moments of a collective effort at unity.”

“May it be continued.”

Ms Dione Cavadias shares her reflections:
“A changed perspective”

The 11th Grade Retreat was an impeccable experience that has impacted our lives as young developing citizens. We learned and experienced the concept of labor and we were exposed to an entirely different perspective of the world. Two buses carried excited teenagers for six excruciating hours to Ancient Olympia. Six hours of laughter, music, movies, singing, sleeping and aches led us to the picturesque little town of Olympia. We were greeted by a cobblestone road surrounded by various cafes and tourist stores under the night sky with a cool breeze. After a satisfying dinner out we went to our separate hotels and welcomed the beds with open arms as our exhausted bodies sunk into the thin uncomfortable mattresses.The hotels troubled many of the students, as the two were greatly different in status and care. However, despite the complaints about the accommodations or service, I personally believe it was what made the experience. The broken lights, the windows that didn’t open and the cold beds only further compounded the true experience of travelling.

All the activities were split into two days, where the first focussed on the sciences whilst the second focussed on helping others and society. The wakeup call struck at eight, ringing phones echoed through the hallways of the hotels as we hesitantly woke up. Wednesday started with a walk to a footpath near the Botanical Garden. There we were, split into science groups; I, belonging to the biology group, collected soil samples under various trees. Doing so, we were able to determine which soils inhabited a specific amount and type of species. Other biology groups did quadrates, where they measured the amount of visible organisms in a certain amount of land. Afterwards, we – along with the non IB students – worked in the Botanical Garden of the Archaeological Museum and the Archaeological Site. The students rolled up their sleeves, prepared their shoes for mud stains, grabbed a pickaxe and began to clean the garden. As we were tending to the Botanical Garden, piles of rotten plants, mushrooms and weeds surrounded our feet. Filth and sweat continued on in Lake Kaiafa, where further experiments were conducted. I was lucky and managed to be part of the group that gathered water samples along the beach. Soft and creamy sand of the wide beach unrolled itself seemingly infinitely to our left and right. We stumbled upon a river, which derived from Lake Kaiafa, and its delta, where unfortunately rubbish and litter was scattered along the riverside. We climbed over mountains of sand as we collected samples from the sea, delta and upper river, reporting back to the rest of the science groups triumphantly and exhausted from the heat after the above activity. That day ended for most students then, but eleven of us had a cozy Literature lesson with Ms. Leou back in Ancient Olympia at a nearby cafe. We felt like young bohemian members of the literati whilst discussing the various empowering themes and concepts of life and suffering in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

Life lessons continued the next day as I lived through an experience that has imprinted itself to my life, it will never leave my memory. At 9:30 in the morning we arrived at the Therapeutirion Lehainon where we visited children with physical and mental disabilities. Most of the children had Down syndrome and bodily deformities, but they possessed the most beautiful hearts. The students again were split into two groups; one of which visited the rooms and children, whilst the others painted the walls of the third floor with joyful, exuberant and colourful images. I had the privilege to do both.   I had joined the art group first and helped paint the walls using my limited knowledge of art. With the guiding help of the Visual Arts students we managed to paint multiple dynamic and vivacious images on the walls. Every stroke of a brush was an act of giving, an act of care and an act of love for the children from us. Despite the imperfect colouring, the unrealistic depictions of cats and birds, every image glowed with an essence of love and generosity, transforming them into perfection. A stream of generosity flowed through the hallways as the other group of students laughed and sung with the children. Firstly they visited the small rooms; I only stole a glimpse of the plain walls and wooden bars cutting the space in half. A few students cried as they pitied the, as they believed, “imprisoned” children, but soon were too engulfed by laughter and singing to be distressed. We all gathered round in the waiting room and began to sing various songs; modern or old, in Greek or English, anthems and rhymes echoed between us. The most innocent and gleeful smiles grew on the children’s faces and quickly enveloped on to us. These children with deformities and disabilities turned into the most beautiful people I have ever seen, and I will never forget the flutter in my heart when they began to sing and dance along. I was overwhelmed with happiness and for just a moment the world felt perfect.