I met a lady today who has BIG ideas and is making BIG things happen for school-age kids in Lansing and surrounding areas. Margaret Holtschlag took her 4th grade class to the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing, Michigan. It was a typical field trip where the students were routed from one exhibit to another, kept in a straight line and barely allowed to speak, much less ask questions. Margaret left frustrated … “there’s so much for students to learn at the museum,” she thought. She decided to do something about it.
She called the museum after their class field trip and asked if she could bring the students back for a week-long visit. “Why would you want to do that”? museum staff asked. She showed them why by creating the BIG History Lesson. Just one of the curriculum programs Margaret has developed since that trip to the Historical Museum back in 1998.
Today I spent several hours chatting with Margaret about her BIG lessons, particularly the BIG Zoo lesson at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, which is celebrating 10 years of bringing students to the zoo for a week of total immersion in animal life. Last year 1,450 kids had the chance to live and learn outside the walls of their school and within the fences of Potter Park Zoo.
After just a few minutes with Margaret, it’s easy to see why the BIG programs are so successful. Her vision, enthusiasm and passion are infectious. Story after story of students, teachers and parents working together, fully engaged in the learning process left goose bumps running up and down back of my neck.
After earning the Michigan Teacher of the Year award in 1999-2000, Margaret set out to spread her BIG plans throughout the community. At a conference in San Antonio, Texas she heard Gillian Kydd speak about her work implementing the Open Minds program in Calgary, Canada. Hearing Gillian describe her plans and ideas for Open Minds, she was amazed. “She was describing my exact thoughts and ideas,” Margaret recalled. She marched right up and introduced herself to Gillian. They’ve since shared progress, successes and ideas as both programs have taken off.
Contemplating our chat on the hour-long drive home from Lansing, I was struck by a couple compelling thoughts.
First, as a Mom with three of four kids still attending K-12 public schools, I was jealous. I want my kids to experience a BIG lesson, taking their learning beyond their classrooom and even school and allowing them to really see, feel, touch, smell, hear, taste their curriculum.
Second, I was inspired. Listening to Margaret tell about the too-numerous-to-count times she’s witnessed the real life impact of the BIG Lessons, I was awed by the opportunity Margaret has provided to the many teachers, students and parents. But also at the opportunity she has had herself to bring a BIG idea to life, watch it take off and provide positive learning experiences for so many people.
Margaret says it all started with a “need” … a need for a better chance for kids to fully-experience all the learning possible through some of the assets located within the community — a historical museum, zoo, nature centers and science center.
There are so many possibilities for learning once you get outside the classroom and Margaret has BIG plans for even BIGGER lessons.