Prompting exploration, serving as a resource, guiding learners with various interests, and facilitating personal growth are all traits of a Quest Forward mentor. For Kyle Collins, Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa mentor, these practices come from his experiences as a national park guide. Kyle is all too familiar with the similarities between the two roles. His experiences educating visitors not only at the Rocky Mountain National Park, but also at an environmental education center and “Earth Camp,” an organization he created, fostered his love for teaching. After being an outdoor educator for six years, Kyle went back to school to get his educator license to teach older students. He has taught various science courses over the past eight years, many with a project-based learning foundation, and when Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa opened, he jumped at the opportunity to join the team of mentors and educate students in a new engaging way—making him one of the first of only six mentors at the Quest Forward Academies.
Last year, Kyle taught several science classes using Quest Forward Learning. Although he came from a background in project-based learning, the Quest Forward Methodology and curriculum enabled Kyle to become more successful at guiding non-traditional learning and developing an engaging classroom community. For example, the students in his exercise science class (a hybrid of physical education, anatomy, and physiology) participated in a longitudinal artifact where they took their own vitals regularly. This kept students both interested and eager to see the progress they made towards increased health over the school year. Through experiences like this, Kyle has used quests to make learning engaging for his students. He states “quests allow students to find themselves by enabling them to develop their skills, and find their passion and voice in their work.” Over the course of the year, Kyle encouraged students to take responsibility for their academic and personal development, resulting in them being “more comfortable guiding their own educational inquiry and initiating artifacts or taking them a step further, rather than waiting for permission from a mentor.”
One of the most memorable experiences Kyle had in his classroom was when a group of students drove an ecosystem artifact to the finish line and beyond. They made aquarium ecosystems out of jars and changed a variable for each jar to see the effect on the ecosystem. The students got really excited about their artifacts and spent additional time analyzing the results. They pulled out microorganisms and algae for examination, documented their observations, and hypothesized how the biota got into the jar. Kyle was excited to see his students “so passionate about the artifact, because they truly went above and beyond the curriculum and made the artifact their own.” This passion and curiosity from students has encouraged him to use quests as a backbone for learning this year. However, they won’t be the only resource he incorporates in his classroom to improve teaching and learning. Instead, he knows quests may “lead to a different pathway depending on the students’ interest, campus needs, or current issues” and is “open to exploring those different points of view with students, even if the quest doesn’t specifically outline that approach.”
Even though Kyle has been a Quest Forward mentor for only a year, he quickly cultivated the ability to lead a more dynamic (and possibly chaotic) classroom and learned to model the skills he wanted students to develop, like time management, communication, and collaboration. In previous educational settings, he would lecture, discuss, and then apply the lesson in the science lab. However, with Quest Forward Learning learned to resist lecturing and providing answers and instead support student curiosity. While this adaption was challenging, since the nature of the curriculum facilitates personalized education, it has allowed him to more readily make connections with students. He loves that Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa allows him to “have more one-on-one time with students to develop these relationships and then continue to watch the[students] transform as learners over the years.” Kyle has seen his students grow in their ability to ask questions confidently and engage in dialogue to seek out help. Ultimately, he says the key to success in the classroom is to “be flexible, because things are new. Everything is going to be messy and chaotic so be comfortable with approaching the challenges, but also feel good about speaking up to continue to drive the innovation.” Kyle’s quick adaptation to the Quest Forward Methodology has already made a difference in the education of his students, and he is eager to gain the new insights that this year will undoubtedly bring.