What do a medical school and an elementary school have in common?

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” –John Dewey

What do a medical school and an elementary school have in common? More than you might initially think.

The University of Virginia medical students in the Class of 2014 are undergoing a learning experience that is radically different from that of previous generations. With a new medical education building, upgraded curriculum, and innovative technology, these students are being offered a learning experience like very few in this country.

As I reflect on The Walker School’s vision for the future – which includes both building upon an already strong foundation and enhancing our program in many ways – I am confident that our students are embarking on an unparalleled learning experience from the early years in Preschool through their final year in Upper School. Reading the article Adjusting the Prescription: University of Virginia’s School of Medicine Overhauls its Century-Old Educational Approach provided solid confirmation for the new directions in which we are headed.

Cooperative Learning: The Medical School’s “Learning Studio” is a radical departure from the lecture halls of the past. The large circular room with tables houses 155 first-year medical students, and Randolph Canterbury, Senior Associate Dean of Education, explains that “one of the goals of this whole model—of having students do a lot of the learning themselves rather than passively listening—is that they need to be lifelong learners.” In many classrooms in the Lower School, you will find desks assembled into tables and often students are working collaboratively on an art project, debating the best medium for a group presentation, or engaging in a cooperative learning task that requires problem solving and creativity. These tables require that students sit “elbow to elbow and knee to knee” in order to do the active learning that Dean Canterbury describes.

The Power of Reflection: UVA’s Medical Simulation Center is nationally recognized. While some may think the prestige lies in the six adult and two pediatric medical simulators (one of which costs $250,000), rather it is the Center’s focus on debriefing (or reflection) which is an essential component of the simulation experience. In fourth and fifth grade at Walker, a reflection period is built into the school schedule on Fridays which allow students to seek to understand their role as learners and the power of the learning process. One-on-one conferences during writing and reading blocks in first, second, and third grade, carefully and regularly planned class meetings, and a thoughtful approach to character education which includes student input and leadership provides our students with time to reflect on who they are as learners both in and outside of the classroom.

Active Engagement: Students in UVA’s Class of 2014 indicate that this new approach has made them feel less stressed and more engaged than their peers at other institutions. Student Tom Jenkins explains, “The faculty really wants us to understand, not parrot back a lot of rote information…and I like the way everything meshes.” At Walker, teachers place a premium on understanding. Students – whether they are in the hallway working in partnerships, in Winship Library grouped in small clusters with laptops, or in small groups at lab tables in the science lab – are actively engaged in the learning process. They are exposed to countless opportunities for the worlds of art and science (or math and language arts) to collide, just as they do at UVA’s Medical School and in the world outside of The Walker School.

Cooperative Learning. The Power of Reflection. Active Engagement. It’s easy to think that elementary education is merely preparation for secondary school or even college. However, I agree with the educational philosophy of John Dewey and believe that education, even at the elementary level, is life itself.


1 thought on “What do a medical school and an elementary school have in common?

  1. Very interesting Megan! I am so glad to see your vision and how it can better the overall education of our students at Walker LS!

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