Bamford

Watershed’s scholars master real-life learning

BOULDER — The Watershed School educational model aims to eliminate the student’s question: “How will studying this ever be useful for me in real life?”

Instead of emphasizing rout memorization, the private school in Boulder focuses on experiential learning and extends the classroom for sixth- through 12th graders into the community.

In the process, students learn how to think critically and how to solve real-life problems.

It basically puts students in the driver’s seat of their education.

According to Greg Bamford, Watershed’s incoming head of school, creating an environment where students are both emotionally and intellectually engaged is fundamental to teaching them how to be leaders. Learning how to ask questions that turn answers into new ways of perceiving both problems and solutions is the result.

“At Watershed, students can always answer the questions: What are you studying? What questions did you have? What did you find out from answering those questions? And why does it matter?” Bamford said. “They can then explain the connection the whole project has with everything else they’ve done in the class.”

One reason experiential learning is a successful way of developing potential, according to Bamford, is that real-world problems are harder to address than problems that are posed in textbooks. Without a relationship to the kinds of issues students currently face and will face in the future, the information can be too static to be applied outside of the classroom.

Watershed brings issues to life by turning core subjects into real-life case studies.

Bamford said, for example, a humanities teacher and a teacher with a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) background could spend an extended block of time with students investigating a problem and using history and math to solve it in an interdisciplinary way.

With 58 students and a student-to-teacher ratio of 8 to 1, Watershed engages students in work that addresses community, national and global needs. The school utilizes community farms, local businesses, government agencies and non-profit organizations as learning grounds.

For Bamford, the new role as head of school combines his experience with his passion.

“I’m a career educator,” he said.

After 13 years in classrooms, Bamford took some time off to develop his own learning program. The path led him to three and one-half years working as an organizational development and learning consultant for companies like Philips and Microsoft.

He credits the experience with helping him develop a new perspective on economic, social and environmental issues. As an educator, he looked at the business world to get a better understanding of what would be necessary to prepare students for working in the 21st century.

“The future of learning is knowing how to collaborate, communicate and problem solve,” Bamford said. “That also means knowing how to learn, unlearn and relearn.”

With the intention of teaching teachers how to teach those skills and students how to learn them, Bamford co-founded Leading is Learning, based in Washington and New York, in April 2012. Sponsored by the Santa Fe Leadership Center, the program focuses on developing leadership skills like collaboration in diverse teams.

“We coach teachers and students through hands-on problem-solving workshops,” Bamford said. The program works with designers and engineers who teach the skills necessary to solve real-life problems.

An example of one of the projects, which are similar in scope to those in the Watershed curriculum, involved taking students into an older neighborhood in Seattle, Washington. The task was for them to come up with ways for people to safely move around using various types of transportation.

“They had to redefine the problem to be able to see opportunities,” Bamford said. By interviewing residents, taking photos and using the data uncovered, students learned to analyze the challenges and use questions like ‘how clear is it where bike lanes start and stop?’ as ways to more clearly define the problem.

Bamford feels confident that the work he started with Leading is Learning is solid enough now to continue without his direct leadership.

He’s also trading his consulting work for the full-time head of school assignment, which starts in July.

“I’ve been consulting on the future of and innovations in education, and Watershed is doing those things every day. It’s definitely a trade up.”

BOULDER — The Watershed School educational model aims to eliminate the student’s question: “How will studying this ever be useful for me in real life?”

Instead of emphasizing rout memorization, the private school in Boulder focuses on experiential learning and extends the classroom for sixth- through 12th graders into the community.

In the process, students learn how to think critically and how to solve real-life problems.

It basically puts students in the driver’s seat of their education.

According to Greg Bamford, Watershed’s incoming head of school, creating an environment where students are both emotionally and intellectually engaged is fundamental to teaching them how to be leaders. Learning how to ask questions that turn answers into new ways of perceiving both problems and solutions is the result.

“At Watershed, students can always answer the questions: What are you studying? What questions did you have? What did you find out from answering those questions? And why does it matter?” Bamford said. “They can then explain the connection the whole project has with everything else they’ve done in the class.”

One reason experiential learning is a successful way of developing potential, according to Bamford, is that real-world problems are harder to address than problems that are posed in textbooks. Without a relationship to the kinds of issues students currently face and will face in the future, the information can be too static to be applied outside of the classroom.

Watershed brings issues to life by turning core subjects into real-life case studies.

Bamford said, for example, a humanities teacher and a…