Last Wednesday, LAS students gathered around campus to listen to their teachers tell them about the location options for the upcoming spring cultural trips. Cultural trips, which happen once in the spring and once in the fall, represent an opportunity for students to explore a wider global community and take part in experiential learning. Student participation in these trips helps to fully immerse them in the customs, traditions, culture, and history of the country they are visiting.
For TOK teacher Daryl Hitchcock, who has been leading the fall cultural trip to Florence for the past 11 years, cultural trips also represent an opportunity to return to a favourite destination and bring theories discussed in class to life.
TOK, or Theory of Knowledge, is a class taken by students in grades 11 and 12. The class teaches students to analyze how humans build and construct knowledge, as well as recognize different “ways of knowing.” As a capstone class to students’ high school experience, TOK brings together different disciplines and areas of knowledge, and encourages students to consider the things we know, how we know them, and how, exactly, it is that we know we know them—abstract concepts, to say the least.
The TOK cultural trip to Florence helps students to sort through the abstract ideas they have learned throughout the year and see them at play in the real world. As an environment rich with history, culture, and art, Florence provides the perfect backdrop for this learning to occur. In the words of Mr. Hitchcock, “Florence is magic . . . The city shimmers with history.” A large part of Florence’s educational value lies in its status as the birthplace of the Renaissance. The Renaissance marks the coming together of art, architecture, economics, civic engagement, and an understanding of the importance of building and constructing knowledge—the very tenets on which TOK stands.
Part of the trip asks students to participate in self-guided learning. Using a “sense journal” provided by their teacher, students take note of everyday moments while they explore on their own, whether that be shopping, exploring, or out at a cafe. For example, students may take notice of the Italian language and consider the ways in which language impacts the way we think. They may also consider their emotions and emotional reasoning and elaborate on the ways these factors influence their stay and experience in Florence.
Besides these opportunities for reflection, much of the cultural trip is guided—students are taken on a city tour and to museums, cooking classes, dinners, and historical landmarks; they are encouraged to speak in basic Italian when they can, learn about different Italian dinner courses, and eat in the same way Italians do. With so much to explore, one week in Florence hardly seems like enough. In the words of Mr. Hitchcock, though, “I can’t imagine one teacher who wouldn’t exchange a week in their classroom, for a week in an open-air classroom like Florence.”
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