The Floating Classroom
by Dayna McRoberts
The Community Sailing Center (CSC) in Burlington has developed a multi-age, year-round environmental curriculum that works in conjunction with local schools to teach the opportunistic, seasonal lessons provided by Burlington’s landscape. Floating Classrooms engages students with their environment through ecology, science, and a medium the CSC holds dear: sailing.
This spring the CSC implemented four exciting weeks of Floating Classroom programs. The program included schools from Burlington School District’s 4th and 5th grades, as well as other middle school and high school groups. Teachers and Sailing Center staff worked together to ensure lessons were supporting long-term science and ecology curriculums. Specific topics this spring included the history of water, importance of freshwater conservation, the water cycle, implications of pollution within the water cycle, water quality testing, and the physics of sailing.
The activities were hands-on, incorporating tag, sidewalk chalk, water testing tools, and experiments, all focused on immediate learning and application. The CSC Educator provides guidance and inquiry teaching techniques. The experience provided an equal platform for participation and learning.
A typical day in the spring looks like this: A school group arrives at the CSC bright and early by bus, foot, or bike, and we jump right into the three-hour program. The entire group fills out a pre evaluation about their prior experience on the lake and preconceptions they have about stewardship surrounding the lake environment.
The group splits in half and one half sails on 23’ or 19’ keelboats with CSC sailing instructors. The other half stays on-land with an educator for interactive lessons and activities. After an hour or so the two halves switch and get to experience sailing or the on-land interactive lesson. At the end of the program, the whole group comes back together and completes the post evaluations.
The core piece of Floating Classrooms is that every program uses locally relevant science curriculum and experiential learning to engage Vermont students in science education using Lake Champlain as a platform for discovery and learning, and using sailing as a medium to deliver each lesson.
This results in interactive lessons with keelboat sailing to create a stimulating, fun, learning environment. The pairing of the two allows students to take either what they saw and learned sailing and then understand aspects of it better via the on-land lessons, or take what they learned on-land and see those lessons exemplified while soaring across the water on a keelboat.
CSC Executive Director Mark Naud explains that, “Lake Champlain is one of Vermont’s greatest natural resources and is the biggest thing any of us will ever own.” Thanks to reliable partnerships with local Burlington schools and the undeniable beauty of the Lake Champlain Basin, Floating Classrooms will continue to grow and assist in the development of future stewards and sailors of tomorrow.