Whale of a lesson

John Schell, associate professor of occupational studies, has had a “whale of a time” incorporating contextual teaching and learning principles into one of his classes. Literally.

During a 1998 whale-watching excursion off the coast of Massachusetts, Schell visited with the on-board naturalist, Cynde Bierman, discussing how whales are threatened by toxic chemicals. When Bierman learned that Schell conducted research about education, she invited him to return to the sea the next morning as a special guest, to critique the educational program on the boat.

Schell and Bierman kept in touch and he has returned to Massachusetts almost every summer since then to work with the Ocean Alliance and Whale Conservation Institute on contextual teaching. The program he and Bierman have developed aims to make teaching and learning more relevant to work and other real-life contexts.

Again this summer, Schell will bring UGA undergraduate and graduate students, with middle and high school teachers and pre-service teachers, to Massachusetts for nine days to help WCI naturalists redesign their on-boat educational program. The class is still open for students who want to help develop situated-learning experiences that connect whale-watching with broader ecological issues.

The class focuses on situated cognition: natural learning that takes place in natural settings. The goal is to align context-based learning principles with the art of teaching. The Massachusetts whales offer a place for Schell’s students to practice the art of teaching and learning…naturally.