Learning on The Land to Grow an Ethic of Excellence

By Matt Diller, Third Grade Teacher

at The College School


Measure twice, cut once.” is the old school wisdom of craftsman carpenters.  It is a quote Ron Berger, the author of Ethic of Excellence, likes to say to remind us that, if we are thoughtful about how we approach our work and execute our work with care, we will know what excellent work looks like, and we will strive to achieve it.  The College School’s new 28-acres of property in Pacific, MO offer a bounty of opportunities to inspire children’s ethic of excellence.

Examples of this multiplied ethic of excellence can be cited in our curriculum development on the property in science and in writing.

In science, our children have thrown themselves into a rigorous botanical assessment of herbaceous plant diversity of four natural communities on the land: the prairie, the glade, the lowland forest, and the upland forest.  The kids have become somewhat adept at using a hula-hoop protocol to count different species in one sample and then to count novel species in subsequent samples.  The children also take measurements of light, air temperature, soil temperature, and soil moisture.

Something magical happened by connecting to the same land over multiple trips, respecting the children with high expectations for data collection, analysis, and use of scientific vocabulary and access to instrumentation.  The children exceeded our expectations.  They grew their ethic of excellence compelled by their curiosity, their connection to the place, and to the satisfaction they gleaned from doing their best.

In writing, we have asked the children to make entries in a nature journal.  We shared with them models of excellent and beautiful nature journals and set standards for excellence such as inclusion of date, place, observations, events, people, and feelings.  From these journal entries we asked the children to select a favorite piece that would give them opportunities to expand on their writing traits of ideas and word choice.  We toured the school to observe other displays of published student writing and noted what made the writing strong in ideas, word choice, conventions, and presentation.  Each child identified their main idea, highlighted the ideas that were already strong, circled juicy or descriptive word choice and set strategies to revise a second draft with intentional improvements.

The outcome of this process of project based work linked to the land and compelled by an ethic of excellence and thoughtfully designed curriculum is enough to give us goose bumps.

To learn more visit www.thecollegeschool.org or stop by at Open House on Saturday, 11/13, between Noon and 3 PM.