Adventure-based learning integrates highly structured physical activity with periods of reflection that help promote personal and social development. Additionally, this kind of adventure pedagogy, if framed through place-based education, has been shown to help students to develop emotional, value-based connections to ecosystems and to other species. As Part of North Yarmouth Academy’s Kauffmann Program for Environmental Writing and Wilderness Exploration” I taught a semester-long interdisciplinary Environmental Writing course, “Kayaks, Glaciers, and Renewal: Literature of the American Environment and Glacier Bay,” I taught the class in an interdisciplinary way that weaved connections between ecosystem science, environmental literature, creative writing, conservation history, and hands-on backcountry skills. The course culminated with a weeklong backcountry sea kayak trip in Alaska’s Glacier Bay. I aimed to awaken students to the history of American conservation and environmental writing, and to inspire students to self-identify with ecosystems through academic study and intensive experiential backcountry experience. North Yarmouth Academy’s Kauffmann Program in Environmental Writing and Wilderness Exploration uses environmental writing and adventure-based learning to encourage K-12 students to self-identify with ecology and their home place.
The students, the larger school community, and the community around Glacier Bay National Park all had many positive outcomes from the semester-long interdisciplinary learning project. Students progressed in their ability to apply classroom material to “real world” dynamics, developed greater interpersonal and intrapersonal development, and learned to self-identify with wilderness and ecosystems, all while expressing the complexity of ecology and personal relationships through creative writing. As a faculty member I came away with more nuanced and empowered concepts about how to teach in an interdisciplinary way, and a stronger commitment to using adventure-based education as a path to ecological education. The school community, through presentations by the students and faculty, developed a long-term relationship with Glacier Bay, and also found analogs in the local marine ecosystems. Today's students live in a time of rapidly accelerating change. Through interdisciplinary learning and practice, and through wrestling with complex ideas in writing, and then putting those ideas into practice that includes reflection, they will not only thrive in a complex world, but also be advocates for natural ecosystems and wild places.