Where Learning Comes Alive and Magic happens

by: Stefanos Gialamas, Ph.D, President, ACS Athens
Peggy Pelonis, Ed.D. Candidate, Dean of Student Affairs, ACS Athens

Walking into the courtyard of ACS Athens one sees the citizens of Ancient Greece come alive dressed in classical Greek garments, having lively discussions in the ‘agora’; a central gathering place in Ancient Greece where discussions took place regarding politics, athletics, art, spirituality and all aspects of life. Is this an isolated flashback to the past to recreate a scene for the purposes of demonstrating a lesson plan or is it part of a philosophy of education about how history is learned and integrated?  The Holistic Meaningful Harmonious (HMH) philosophy of education encompassed in a learning paradigm called Morfosis allows learning to take place in creative and innovative ways.








When students live, breathe, speak and hear history the events are engraved within their memories. Historical events become meaningful and are owned by students, stored in their minds ready to be used when needed because they not only have words but pictures, interactions, conflict resolution opportunities, critical thinking and improvisation in order to create their scene. Enacting situations in the “agora” is based on script that students write after history lessons and research giving them the opportunity to ‘live’ the life of ancient Greeks.

Figure_3_DILIn another part of the ACS Athens campus instructional dogs, students and faculty are engaged in answering interesting questions.  A student asks: ‘how many steps do the two dogs Iro (a French Bulldog) and Arnold (a Beauceron) need to take to cover 50 meters?’ “This is enjoyable; I never thought this type of learning could be fun. Is this mathematics? If it is then I love mathematics”. Learning mathematical concepts is fun and intriguing when students are engaged in a meaningful and enjoyable ways. Students first make an educated assumption, then debate among themselves about the validity of their assumptions and then experiment by walking and counting steps for Iro and Arnol . One of children wonders: ‘what does a step mean for a dog with four legs?’ naturally moving the teacher in the direction of helping students develop critical thinking skills. A third student is suggesting that the dog’s paws be painted with non toxic, water soluble paint so the dog can leave print marks thus allowing students to count the number of paw marks. Iro covers the distance with 60 of her steps, and Arnold in 30 of his steps.

Therefore 60 Iro steps = 30 Arnold steps is the conclusion.!!!

This was a lesson that will be etched vividly in the children’s minds. The questions continue: ‘if we ask Iro to do the same again what will happen?’ They repeated the experiment and they found: That Iro took 62 steps and Arnold 32, Mary said well they were tired and it took more steps to get where they wanted. So, what is the correct answer? 60 or 62 for Iro and 30 or 32 for Arnold. Greg had a suggestion he said “well 61 is between 61 and 60 and 31 is between 32 and 30 so let us accept 61 for Iro and 31 for Arnold”.

The teacher then explained that they just defined the average between two numbers and all students recorded the new mathematical concept they discovered together.

Learning is meaningful when students can relate it to personal experience and while comparison measurement is a very difficult concept, finding the average or the ‘mean’ via this method is a concept well understood.

In the HMH model Holistic refers to using all the senses (or as many as possible) to learn. The lesson becomes Meaningful when it applies to kids lives in a way that is interesting to them. Harmonious means that the teacher aspires to create harmony within the child; seeing the student happy to learn and creating opportunities for the type of learning that is aligned with the goals of the teacher and the curriculum.


A similarly meaningful experience takes place in high school where one walks into the classroom and wonders what the United States Supreme Court is doing in an ACS Athens classroom. Several students attempt to persuade the rest of the class, which acts as the United States Supreme Court, to decide a particular case in their favor. Two groups argue whether the issue under debate is constitutional or unconstitutional. The debate includes arguments based on the Constitution of the United States. The class ultimately votes bringing to life the unique American system of government. Topics include:

‘Should the national security agency collect data from third parties (phone calls, emails) in order to maintain national security?’

‘The public school districts have a right to free school teachers who teach the scientific method of strengths and weaknesses of biological evolution’

‘Citizens who reasonably believe their lives are in danger may be granted immunity from prosecution for murder under the ‘stands your ground’ law’.

Research of American history leads students into a living, breathing thought experiments which ignites their curiosity and creates a platform for taking risks and developing their debate skills (Nelson, Reulens, Ethos, 2014).


Naturally Middle school could not be left out of this process as students decide to engage in a learning experiment combined with community service where they organize the gathering of olives from the olive trees on campus. They harvested the trees, contacted and arranged for a small family owned oil production unit to process their olives and produce almost a 100 kg of high quality olive oil. In addition they bought bottles, developed the logo and graphics for the bottles and sold all the bottles at a comparable price raising money for a good cause. The ‘very virgin olive oil’ became a grand ‘hit” within the ACS community and every last bottle was sold in record time. Here then was a lesson in planning, negotiations, collection, oil production, packaging, marketing and serving humanity by fund raising. Beginning with the birth of a concept which was developed and brought to life, students learned about business, leadership and service all in one!

A philosophy of education, Morfosis ( Holistic, Meaningful, Harmonious), a leader who inspired this creative approach, an institution comprised of faculty and administration willing to take risks, students and parents embracing this model of education creates a recipe for developing student who are indeed ‘architects of their own learning”.

Figure_6_World Hands

Perhaps the time has come to engrave in our minds that “a country has borders but education not “ and thus to allow learning to take its natural path which is to understand the world, develop new knowledge, and find answers to current and future challenges for the benefit of all the citizens of the world.

As educators, we may choose to learn from the new generation of students; their way of learning- why and what- before we unload countless facts, procedures, and techniques.

Further Reading

  1. Dogs in Learning: Transforming Education

International Journal of Elementary Education

2015; 4(2): 16-24


  1. Metamorphosis: A collaborative leadership model to promote educational

change (Pages 73-84), Volume 10, Number 1, February 2014