Earlier this month, I spent an extraordinary week at Opal School of the Portland Children's Museum in Portland, Oregon. I was there co-teaching a graduate education course through Butler University with Dean Ena Shelley and Susan Mackay, the Director of The Center for Children's Learning. The group of 18 people assembled ranged in age from early 20's to early 60's. We were administrators, professors, undergraduate and graduate students, and teachers. All of us were captivated by the different kind of school that Opal is and by the life long learning that takes place there every day. We focused on learning in three areas: Mathematics, Literacy and Social/Emotional Development. Before our week together, everyone read To Understand, by Elin Keene, and the first volume of Young Mathematicians at Work by Fosnot and Dolk.
At Opal, we felt as if we were living inside those books as we witnessed students speak with an extensive math vocabulary that they understood, dive into and solve complex problems in pairs that they then presented to peers during "math congress." "We do not hold anything as truth unless we are all convinced," Mary Gage, one of the math teachers explained to us. We observed students uncover and savor the meaning and beauty of books that they were reading and invent and craft stories that evolved over days using materials and the arts as well as writing.
We entered into the field of respect and joy that all community members experience at Opal no matter their age. We saw independent and collaborative thinkers, joyful and serious students, creative and careful learners. And, we became our own vibrant community of learners in a week-long learning group that carried over into dinner and breakfast conversations and into the night. Opal has many publications that are now available for purchase that I highly recommend. Contact The Center for Children's Learning to preview what they have to offer. The Portland Children's Museum is now host to The Wonder of Learning Exhibit from Reggio Emilia, Italy and they are holding conferences through June in collaboration with the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance.
Opal is indeed a place to encounter the wonder and power of learning in a school where the community commits itself to nurture and develop creative, active citizens who live a rich, imaginative and productive life of the mind and heart.