middle school students in classroom wearing masks

problem solving

Adventure Is Out There

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Wednesday, February 11, 2015

By Tristan Whitehouse

Not all classrooms need walls — or proper floors for that matter. What they do need is people willing to learn together through exploration.

Over the past decade, outdoor education programs have grown in prevalence throughout the country, because the interpersonal skills that students develop in the woods directly influence performance in schools.

Three years ago, Landmark School began the Outdoor Leadership class with hopes of improving the lives of our students with comprehensive leadership and wilderness training. When most people think of schools designed to meet the needs of students with language-based learning disabilities, they may be surprised to find some of our students learning various communication techniques seventy five feet up a rock wall or a hundred feet below in caves. We've found that not only do these students succeed, but they thrive when presented with the challenge.

At the beginning of the course my co-teacher, Zachary Fisher, and I, encouraged students to meditate on the word “Leadership” and come up with a series of adjectives to describe it. Common candidates included trustworthy, amicable, knowledgeable, and considerate. They then categorized these words into three key criteria for leadership: interpersonal skills, judgment skills, and technical skills. In any setting, whether it be the wilderness or the board room, these skills must always be present and balanced. The Leadership Triangle, became the theme for the program. Every skill students learned would relate in some way to a side of the triangle.

While the students learned a slew of outdoor skills such as outdoor cooking, fire building, knots, gear repair, survival, and first aid, they were encouraged to write in their field journals. We expected these journals to be simple notebooks with periodic visitation by students but we were amazed to see that these journals have become prideful works of art for many. Intricate diagrams and drawings have complimented student’s notes on every subject from fitting a backpack to their body, to maps and landscapes of places we've visited as a class. We've learned that if you give your students the opportunity, they will surprise you with superior quality and craftsmanship.

The Outdoor Leadership class at Landmark School is still relatively new, but already it has shown that the woods can have a dramatic effect on our students for several reasons:

First, outdoor learning can provide opportunities for students to immediately see the fruits of their labors:  Lashing together two saplings and hanging a tarp between them can provide instantaneous relief from the elements. Toiling over twigs and bark to make the perfect tinder results in flame. Helping a peer get to the top of a twenty foot wall builds trust and friendship. The outdoors provide instant feedback for a job well done.

Second, solving problems presented by hiking, camping, and leadership initiatives, develop creative minds and more versatile learners.  Problem-solving tasks such as group games, challenge students to think critically about their surroundings and make good judgment calls.

Lastly, studying leadership results in a greater sense of citizenship, connection, and responsibility. Sharing common experiences builds togetherness and encourages fraternity. Wilderness Education gives students the ultimate gift: the gift of adventure. It allows teens to lace their boots, strap on their pack, and head out their doorstep with the knowledge and skills to succeed anywhere the road takes them.

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Tags:  alternative classrooms education trends Interpersonal skills journaling judgement skills Landmark School language-based learning disabilities leadership initiatives Leadership Triangle outdoor education outdoor skills problem solving technical skills Wilderness Education

Executive Function 101: Independence

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Monday, April 23, 2018

This is the fourth post in a five-part series about Executive Function. Each post includes downloadable templates to use at home and in the classroom. The first article is about managing time. The second addresses managing materials, the third addresses managing information, and the fifth finding balance between school and extra-curricular activities.

executive function templates room cleanup
Download the Room Clean-up and Daily Checklists. 

The ultimate goal to mastering executive function skills is achieving independence. This gives us the liberty to take on new challenges and thrive.

Once students have been introduced to the skills and strategies to manage, and in some cases, overcome executive function deficits, the goal is to push them to become independent learners. First and foremost, students achieve independence when they understand themselves, their strengths, weaknesses, foibles, and learning style. The next step is to take all of this information and make adjustments to best manage time, information, and materials, and to ultimately be a confident and effective self advocate


  • Practice new skills.
  • Build time into the day to reflect, update, prioritize, plan, review.
  • Refine skills to suit your learning style.
  • Know yourself.
  • Self advocate for your needs.

Support at Home

Most experts agree that families and guardians must listen to their students struggling with executive function deficits. They should encourage their students to master skills for school and home and practice them regularly. Robin Day-Laporte, the head of the Study Skills department at Landmark School, said, “As students encounter more opportunities for success and failure and as time passes and they grow up, their executive function skills are strengthened. Failure is okay—it appropriately challenges the brain and a child's character. Opportunities to fail help a child to develop problem-solving skills and build resiliency. "And as it relates to helping a child grow, develop, and eventually transition out of high school, I encourage parents to know their children, to watch and listen to figure out what they love and what truly brings them joy, and then to honor and cultivate that. If a child genuinely loves what they are doing, they are motivated. And motivation is a key component of executive functioning."



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Tags:  Executive Functioning executive functions learning style problem solving schedule self-advocacy
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