Land Art: Bringing Quests to Life
This fall at Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa, Exploration Phase students have spent the bulk of their English and Social Science classes exploring themes related to the natural world. These classes included a diverse array of topics, from westward expansion and indigenous land management to the literature of Jack London and the contemporary film Gattaca.
Like other Quest Forward classrooms, students applied their knowledge with relevant and remarkable hands-on experiences.
Creating a Complete Learning Experience
One of the English quests students completed was Making Land Art, where learners studied the work of a variety of land art, from the Striding Arches of Andy Goldsworthy to the epic sand mandalas of Andres Amador.
But the learning didn’t stop there.
First-year English mentor Lydia Felty had worked with Amador at her previous school. Through this connection, Quest Forward Academy was able to arrange for students to work with Amador for an afternoon.
“Since Amador is based in the Bay Area and his work speaks so directly to the themes we’ve explored this year — especially that of humans working with nature — I was excited to bring his expertise into our learning experience,” Lydia explained.
Working on Nature Projects… In Nature
Since students at the end of the Nature portion of their courses are expected to produce a final project on nature, we decided to expand on our afternoon with Amador and make a day of it.
Two dozen Exploration Phase 1 students, Lydia, myself, and a caravan of parent chaperones made our way to the aptly named Paradise Ridge Winery, a 1500-acre ranch owned by the family of one of our students and nestled in the lush hills above our native Santa Rosa.
We began our time on the ridge with a talk from the landowner, who touched on several themes from the quest Changes in the Land by showing us some of the sustainable land-management practices and stewardship ethic at work on the ranch.
After the talk, we made our way to a picnic area near a pond for the day’s work (and play!) in nature. Learners spent two hours before lunch working on their final projects. Small-group and individual projects included a TED-style talk on the moral implications of genetic engineering, a collection of poetry and illustrations inspired by nature, a rap song taking on the existential threat of climate change, and a mountain biking video exploring the therapeutic value of time in nature.
The day was an excellent example of all of the learning that exists beyond our classroom walls. Students got out onto the land and into nature, all the while writing in their notebooks and working together on the bank of a gorgeous pond.
Exploration Year student Benjamin said, “Walking around and breathing fresh air really [helps] me be more productive. I got a lot of work done.”
An Afternoon with Andres Amador
After lunch, Amador addressed the students and answered questions about his practice creating ephemeral art. Much of his famous work involves huge and intricate sand designs crafted on beaches using a rake. Students asked great questions, including a few that touched on the artist’s application of Essential Habits like Be Curious and Learn from Setbacks.
Amador then led students through a series of activities that resulted in our very own ephemeral land art installations. Students practiced observing and noticing the land and natural materials available — from rocks and branches to leaves and flowers — and created several works of art. They began the activity solo, but later worked with small groups. Finally, the entire class created a large mandala.
“It was really fun being able to work with nature and really learning to slow down and observe the resources available to us,” said Montana, another student participant in the excursion. “Working alone was really calming and brought me in touch with the tranquility of nature around me, and working with groups was a great way for us to bring together diverse perspectives and create something no single one of us could have on our own.”
“The coolest part was seeing students who often struggle to express themselves finding new ways to engage with the curriculum. I also really loved seeing them engage with a professional who makes a living doing what he loves.”
— Mentor Lydia Felty
While our day at Paradise Ridge Winery was remarkable, when it comes to a Quest Forward classroom, experiences like this are in no way unique.
Quest Forward Learning complements classroom learning with carefully planned City as Campus excursions that take students out of the classroom and bring quests to life.
Parallels at Quest Forward Academy Omaha
At Quest Forward Academy Omaha, students and mentors took a similar learning excursion this year to Mahoney State Park in Nebraska. “They went on a hike, enjoyed nature, climbed the observation tower, composed a free write for a Social Science quest, and created Land Art for an English quest in the Nature [course],” mentor Ed Vogel wrote.
Bridge Engineering in Real Life
Last year when completing the Bridges course in Mathematics and Science classes, Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa students engaged in a learning unit where they designed and built model truss bridges. To expand on the relevance of what students learned in class, mentors arranged a learning excursion to the nearby Healdsburg Memorial Bridge, a truss bridge built using the same principles they had just practiced in class. Students even got to meet the municipal engineers responsible for designing the bridge and learn exactly how it was made.
Growing Outside the Classroom
Similarly, students involved in the Gardening course reinforced their classroom learning by taking a trip to an award-winning local organic farming demonstration site, the Permaculture Skills Center. There they witnessed ecological design in practice and learned from real-world professionals about the very topics they covered in the classroom.
We’re Just Getting Started
The Quest Forward classroom is already an active and dynamic learning environment that emphasizes curiosity and meaningful, individualized learning. But when our students are brought out into the real world on excursions like these, we can truly see the relevance in quests come to life like never before.
I look forward to many more excursions like these, as the education we deliver continues to evolve and become increasingly relevant, meaningful and grounded in real-world practice.
You can read about other City as Campus trips here, and you can view and learn more about Andres Amador’s work here.
Nils Palsson is the Pathways Coordinator at Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa. He formerly served as a Social Sciences Mentor, Mentor Coach, facilitator of the City as Campus at the Academy. Nils joined the Quest Forward Academy team in 2018 and loves Quest Forward’s agile and individualized approach to education.