Feb. 18, 2021

24 - Noan Fesnoux: experiential learning

24 - Noan Fesnoux: experiential learning

Noan Fesnoux highlights the importance of experiences within our educational journey. He shares how they have impacted his learning, and also how he views learning for students.  Noan shares all of this with clarity and a deep conviction.

Noan Fesnoux highlights the importance of experiences within our educational journey. He shares how they have impacted his learning, and also how he views learning for students.  Noan shares numerous examples of effective experiential learning activities, details his time working at Green School Bali, and provides some insight into starting The Real School of Budapest.

Noan shares all of this with clarity and a deep conviction.  Give a listen / Subscribe / Post a review!

Noan Fesnoux has been working as an educator since 2003, including his work with multiple startups. In Vancouver, he helped establish Little Mountain Learning Academy. Over eight years at Green School Bali, Indonesia, Noan developed several programs core to the school, including Green Studies and an impactful experiential learning program . He moved to Budapest, Hungary in July 2019 to start up the REAL School of Budapest.

Music: Believin Stephen

Shout outs:  Dave Strudwick, Glenn Chickering, Aaron Eden

Mentions: https://www.greenschool.org, www.realschool.eu

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Check out: DivingDeepEDU for a complete list of podcast episodes.

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DivingDeepEDU with Matthew Downing


Episode 24 with Noan Fesnoux


Hey everyone and thanks for joining me on diving deep EDU. This podcast is based in conversations that are willing to go off on a rabbit trail or two in order to find those aha moments. Those times when someone is able to say something in a way that brings increased clarity now. 


I'm an educator so much of our conversations will have that as the end goal. How can the things that we are talking about help us to dive deep? Er into educational practices. Thanks for tuning in. Our guest today is noon. No one has worked as an educator since 20003. 


His worked with multiple startups in Vancouver, he helped establish little mountain learning academy. Over eight years at Green School Bali and Indonesia no on developed several programs core to the school including green studies and an impactful experiential learning program. He moved to Budapest in Hungary July 2019 to start up real school of Budapest. 


Noah on thank you so much for joining. Me How are you doing I'm doing amazing have a big smile on my face It's great here and your voice and enthusiasm in that intro, thank you. It's great to have you it's great to be connecting, you know, right now. I'm in Philadelphia you're in hungry we're in different time zones. 


I messed up the time so I apologize for that but it's going to be able to have this conversation. No on you moved around quite a bit you move around quite a bit now as well, but as a child you moved around quite a bit you lived in some amazing places. 


What were some of the places that you lived? Growing up I grew up moving between Europe and the States I was born in France then we moved to the UK over to Michigan where my mom actually was born. Okay, and then back to Germany for a bit onto Canada. 


And then as an adult I said, why are we moving between these two continents when there's another couple and so I took myself to South Africa for a while and and then ended up in Indonesia. So, yes, I have been around a bit and it's actually a huge part of. 


How I've come to understand learning how I feel learning could and should be in a way totally experiential yes, so let's get into that a little bit more how has moving around and those experiences impacted the way that you viewed learning. So it really makes it easy when you have a context and context comes through experiences the more experiences you have. 


I think the easier it is to. To be able to place an idea to place a concept and essentially to me that is the essence of experiential learning something that I always bring in to the pedagogy of any school that I'm in and yeah, it's really almost the most natural and the only authentic way to learn in a sense when you look back on those experiences, you know, moving around and being part of different cultures and, Different schools and different environments what are some things that you've learned through that process. 


I guess a big one is the everybody is motivated and excited by the same things it doesn't matter where you're from on the planet a good food and jokes are probably universal doesn't matter what people say about Germans being serious, they love to laugh they love to eat and the same is true for indonesians for South Africans everywhere you find this. 


Dame core human spirit and to me that that's a pretty big deal to learn that and recognize our oneness in a way thinking about a lot of the places that you've visited. I'm not gonna ask what your favorite you have to ask it a different way what's a place that you visited that has allowed you to breathe a little deeper so think of it like this think yoga right helping you breathe in and breathe it out a little deeper what's a place that has done that for you that's a tough question, how would, I would definitely and it's almost cliche but having lived in Bali eight years that that has allowed me to really appreciate a different pace and lifestyle my wife's following these and it it just makes you think about the priorities what we what we consider really important in a different way and a lot of that revolves around family and culture to things that of course, everybody says is important but the degree at which, People spend their time of those is almost inverse when you go to a place like Bali compared to a place like the states or Canada, so bring me into that a bit especially with your your wife being from there, so they they prioritize those those things more or they experience them differently what does that look like a good example is the number of days I got off in a Bolognese school, it's international school in Bali but we have to honor the the locals. 


Holidays and the fact that well, they have a lot of different ceremonies that they attend to and it's supernatural to be like off got a ceremony where a funeral that I'm going to and it's not an immediate relative it might be somebody from their village but there's still this. 


The understanding that that's important and so a lot less emphasis on I gotta I gotta work my butt off to succeed and more of the emphasis on a I have responsibilities in my community that I need to attend to and what's the benefit of that upon you how did you experience the benefit of that yeah, it's it goes both ways, it's not a hundred percent benefit, but the benefit it's a realization that I love my job and I love what I do. 


But it's also just one part of me and it may be an important part of me, but I've got to embrace and take time for all those other parts of me as well, yeah I would like to I would definitely like to hear more about Bali and and talk more about and hear about your experiences there and a little bit of that is is selfish because a bunch of years ago my wife and I were in Indonesia were with some friends and we had the chance to go to Bali and we for one reason or another we chose against it. 


I'm not sure why but I am sure that That was probably a bad decision so tell me, you know, I wasn't able to go tell us many of us aren't able to to go there what was it like living there, so I guess living there's different from visiting in the sense that you. 


You start you start to see the intricacies of everything that's happening at as a tourist. I mean as so beautiful and there's so much caretaking in the aesthetic and the ceremony and then living there you also recognize that that comes with a certain lifestyle restrictions it means that you each family is spending time making offerings every day and off. 


That falls on to somebody's shoulders who may not necessarily want to spend that time doing that hmm so it does living there gives you a bit of nuance and to into something that I guess globally looks and is so beautiful as a culture yeah yeah before we move on and get a little bit more into that. 


I really appreciate the distinction that you just made there between living in a place and being a tourist in a place because sometimes you know tourism is wonderful and a lot of people want to go to beautiful places. Like Bali but sometimes we go and don't think about the people living there day in and day out and experiencing that society and sometimes we come in there as tourists and I've been guilty of this and we just sort of take and not giving and not sort of ingraining and sometimes I can have I mean, I don't want to get off on that tangent the negative effects that can have but I just want to say I appreciate you making that distinction and allowing us to see the whole picture you're you're living situation there, what's a traditional maybe not traditional what's a common housing structure or living situation for people and and maybe what would Your. 


Living situation, like while you were living there. When I was living in Bali I. Spent a good amount of time the living in the family compound. This is a really traditional way of living. You have the, Parents and traditionally it's all of their sons will stay in the family compound and bring their families in that group of houses which are connected by yards. 


In our case, my wife's brother was in studying abroad and so we we took his place for a while and spent three years in the family compound living living with a buttock and evil that's mom and dad and donation and, And then we spent that time saving up money to build our own house and now we have a house and in the rice fields made out of wood. 


I I'm very big on sustainability and so we we made it out of reclaimed wood from another house just deconstructed a house and then rebuilt it and refurbished it. And it's great. We don't have to worry about actually for the first year we live there. We didn't even have windows so it. 


Posted a bit of a problem since there's also the year that Mount Agung the volcano decided to erupt so we got kind of worried as we weren't able to seal ourselves away from volcanic ash but fortunately none blue our way. I want to get into the green school and and for our or green school for our listeners who haven't checked this school out you need to Green school dot org and they're expanding to other places beyond the Bali as well. 


So bring me in there describe to me describe to us because this is a different type of school. What is Green school. I would I would start by saying green school for a progressive educator is almost a religious experience. It's like going to the cathedral of progressive education. You walk in to this bamboo gate and in front of you or a few bamboo structures behind is what they call the heart of school. 


It's a about I think it's over 10 meter tall, which is like 30 feet. Entirely bamboo structure with three levels and it spans maybe a hundred and fifty feet from a tip to tail and that's that used to be at least when I was there that was the high school and the architecture kind of puts you into a state of awe you are you surrendered to how amazing it is and. 


For somebody who wants to see education change, it becomes really strong symbol. The rest of the campus is laid out in between the biggest river in Bali and so it kind of folds down into the river and the classrooms all sit tiered as it drops down into the river basin and between each classroom you'd find a host of gardens and coconut trees a couple of the local agroforest trees are there. 


And of course tons of kids since since all the classrooms are open-air what you end up getting is a really nice ambiance a nice noise from the kids who are studying in different spaces laughing and playing and that kind of permeates the whole grounds. Trying to be unbiased and that's hard for any of us to do but looking at the students you mentioned, you know, there's tons of students running around, right? 


Like at like there should be any. School. What do you think the students experiences there? If you had to sort of guess without bringing them on and interviewing them, what what do you think their experiences going to that school? It is a really good beacon for bringing in some pretty amazing educators and so a lot of the students may kind of forget about beautiful architecture and environment therein. 


But their supported by some really incredible individuals who are designing their learning. And so I'm actually friends with many of the students who graduated from the high school and keep in touch with them and get really endearing messages just about hey, you know, I was thinking the other day and I really loved the impact that you had on my life and this way or that way. 


And I feel like I'm one of many adults or, Educators there who do provide that. So and there's a there's a really strong community element where? It doesn't matter if you are the sort of black sheet pumpkin or if you're the shy kid everybody finds a way to connect in and finds people they can relate to and feels pretty welcome. 


I feel like now when you were there you started an experiential program. Leap Academy. Tell me about that. It was I think my third year at Green School and, One of the new recruits was a friend of mine. Aaron Eden. Who is also a pretty progressive fellow in education and we are conspiring together on trying to create a bit of a school within a school we wanted. 


We wanted to up the level of experiential education, that kids could have we recognized that. While the educators are amazing buildings are amazing you've got great students, there was still a lot of the tropes that you would see in a traditional school but you'd move from period to period and over the course of a couple days or a week, you might have six different courses and there there's very little integration between the content of those courses so you might have six really different experiences. 


And we said it would be amazing if we could find a way to bring some kids in and do something where it was six weeks intensive and projects to both of us are one of the ways forward for that let's find a way to make it project oriented and we also felt we wanted to bring in a true entrepreneurial spirit a lot of agency and so rather than. 


Saying how about we pitch projects to kids and then they come on board for six weeks we thought no let's pitch an experience and then the projects are something that we figure out together and they are and from the start they decide which projects they want to take on and they can even bring projects with them and over six weeks they have a lot of time to work on it and the chance to really turn something from just a dream into a reality. 


Yeah that's astounding and it's also tell me about okay, so you had this idea you wanted to bring about this change and then how was that interaction with the administration to make it happen like I mentioned earlier there's a ton of amazing people and that goes always that green school so we did have really positive support from administration. 


There was some puzzlement about how we would be able to fit credits which is something that green school uses in the high school how we would accredit the the six weeks that the kids were doing in the traditional green school model and there was definitely some contention there but we we we put our heads together and found ways to accommodate that we also recognize that in some cases we're going to need to compromise. 


Kids may not be able to jump out of all their classes for six weeks, so maybe there's sometimes like their literacy or numeracy that. We can give them a break from the six-week intensive program and they can stay in their regular classes. And ultimately, we found a way to kind of check the boxes of the school's accreditation system and validating their education as well as still holding true to our values. 


And of course, like anything a compromise was found. Yeah. Yeah that's that's really encouraging. You know, you saw a need for something you worked alongside other like-minded people connected compromise figured it out made exceptions, you know tailored to students' needs and then you know through leadership and in a passion, you know, making it happen making it a reality and by you making that a reality it allowed other students that attended that to make ideas that they have a reality like you said now thinking about that thinking about student work and what they did. 


In that academy is there anything that jumps out to you that you remember project that a student did and they were either the student was really proud of it or you think it's a great example of experiential learning. There are a ton of examples of that. It would take me. 


We we got to have 10 episodes to get through them all but I'll give you a few of the ones that I and who thanks. Also something we recognized early on and you mentioned certain student projects and early on what we realized is there's so much power in it being collaborative work and so I think it was our third iteration our third run of running leap Academy we said, you know, let's avoid the individual project piece because there's other. 


Ways we can coach and support kids for that but what we love to see is when we are given kids a wicked problem that they can do together and we build that collaboratively and we have it where they can really find niches and recognize the power of a more distributed cognition where they all have different roles and can really play those out. 


So, I guess. One of the one of my favorites was the Green School is this beautiful campus but it also was locking in really good quality playgrounds for the the kids on campus. They had a forest but there was not much in terms of playground equipment and we we pitched this to the kids in the group and they said yeah, let's build a playground. 


So we went through the process of designing and resourcing getting all of the, Permissions to build a playground and ultimately we decided we are going to use old truck tires and we a beautiful. Play structure that still stands to today it was built entirely with kid hands. I guess I guess I helped a little as well as the other educators on hand but it was really those that group of 12 kids who pulled together one of the best playgrounds I've seen on the school school ground and that was a pretty amazing one another another kind of fun example was just one that lends some light into how we, Get the kids excited as well, we usually start with these ideas called mini missions and any missions are all about. 


Getting them to open their eyes and start thinking of new ideas. And one of the many missions we gave the kids was to kind of go undercover to an illegal pet market in the heart of dentists are which is the main city in Bali and find out what was in the garbage there see if there was dead animals and what kind of animals and and kind of get get the scoop a bit of journalism. 


And it shook the kids up but we also found that we could take those we found a couple hours some snakes and the kids said, you know, these these could make really interesting reality a things that the primary kids could be looking at in science like the feather bones of who have birds wing and so we learn the process of removing everything except for the bones by first burying and then using hydrogen peroxide to clean them. 


And the kids can't came back the next week with a cow's skull that they had bought from the butcher in the market and we went through that process and created some really amazing bone kits that the the kids then could be using in the science lab to learn about animal anatomy, that's that's great thanks for sharing that those examples it would be great to hear more but we'll be content with. 


That and and it's great like you sharing that is is getting me dreaming getting me thinking and I hope to listeners you know are doing the same and and the way that you presented these projects giving students, you know a challenge and then sort of letting it go with with their passions with their choices the kids were interested in those bones, so you helped them figure out, you know, how we're gonna do this and let's do it and that I can only imagine the excitement and the engagement on their faces in 2019, you left the green school to help start a school in Budapest hungry, which is where you're at now where we're talking from. 


The real school why was that important for you to leave Bali, you know your wife bonies and and leaving a place you've been for eight years and start real school why was that important for you this time is really nicely into how I was brought up as I said a big part of what I think made me me was having that international experience and it was something I really wanted for my wife and my daughters to have. 


Be able to learn in that same space that I felt was so rich. It also was pretty amazing that it's geographically right between where I'm from and where my wife's from and culturally even fits that middle ground to not developing nation not super developed nation, but right in the middle, so it kind of felt like a nice synthesis there and, Probably most importantly the there was a founder here the founder of Real School Barna who really shared in the same vision for education as I did and was willing to support me and and build a school but ultimately he had confidence that what I envisioned for education would align with what he wanted to see his school turn into and that was too good to resist. 


I mean, I, I could have known anywhere with that kind of a tag line. Thinking about real school green school right there two different places, but just trying to understand it in my own minds and maybe for the listeners is there anything that makes real school distinctly unique or different from your experience at Green School, well there's a lot. 


I mean, it's a really different environment it's a beautiful environment but it's indoor school for one it doesn't mean I spent my day actually outside and then even a little sunburned in the middle of winter, which says good things. But yeah it it feels very different inside and in terms of what we are doing also has some different angles that or approaches we're taking one is. 


We are emphasizing that project-based learning and green school. I think is going on this path but is a school that goes k to 12 and it becomes a lot harder to. To make adjustments when you're at that scale a real school for the moment is kindergarten to grade six and because of that we can align everybody in the school a lot faster to what we want. 


And then also because it's a smaller school we can really focus on something that I think so fundamental to what education is about and that's community so our students are not segregated for the majority of their day and when I'd say segregated, I mean by age so we've got. 


Kids in grade one and two well we don't have grades actually but we have the younger kids who sometimes come up for math classes, we spend our outdoor days all together side by side learning the same things hmm and we try to encourage as much as possible the pinnacle of learning which is where the learner becomes the teacher and we emphasize that in all of our students, so the grade sixes. 


Are working towards becoming great at teaching the younger kids, whether they're grade four grade three and so that's a big difference to mentioned, you know, project-based learning or sort of like real life projects there's definitely an increase in talking about projects with learning these days which is great, but I feel like you know in looking into your work and hearing you talk these real-life projects go beyond that how are your real life projects different or? 


Promote deeper learning than just alright class we're gonna do this project today, you know, get out your notebook and and you know write down five answers to this question how do your projects how does your vision for a project lead to deeper learning so it's a one of the most key parts to an authentic project is that it has a likelihood of failing and and that's something that, Creates a heap of anxiety for my colleagues. 


I've become pretty good at living with it we recognize that we always need to pivot and adjust a lot of what we're doing is for the first time and we don't actually think there is gonna be a second time because that would defeat the whole process of doing something authentic to the group and to the needs of the current day and so we we actually I think are more grounded in a process than and, Me content or any like stellar projects hmm a really focus on okay, how do we make this process something that kids can live again and again and become better at and feel like more empowered by ultimately to the point where they are doing their projects on their own and using the same language and tools as as we apply. 


And and then also it does need a real world impact you need that authentic audience and authentic need so a lot of the projects I'm doing with these younger kids address their needs and their needs are authentic but they're also school needs we need to create a camp for you because you know what it's way more interesting if you designed the camp decide what we're gonna eat cook the meals do all that kind of stuff it a way to get your. 


Parents to take you on walks in nature more so let's figure out a solution for this and we get the kids together and brainstorm conceptualize and then ultimately get get dirty. 


Another another thing you highlight is community and that you have highlighted in our conversation today a lot of times my experience and this might be overly negative but you know, we take kids out of a community and separate the school from the community, how do you go about intersecting the two school and community and and why is that so important the school is a community for one and it's actually a it's a really interesting one part of the reason that real school was built in a, In a huge large city is almost two million people is the recognition that you can bring like-minded people together and in school is a great attractor for that because people really do care about their kids and one the best for them so those who have that the capacity can seek out the type of education that aligns with their values and that's part of growing a community. 


As well as recognizing that it goes beyond just the kids and the teachers. But it goes on to bring in the parents and bring in the staff bring in all the entrepreneurs who sort of operate in that sphere and at becomes actually the community that that our school holds it's it's a really powerful thing and it also leads to a certain authentic feel to the projects when we, Have a project that involves filmmaking well our community has filmmakers in it when we have a project that involves architecture we find the architects and the contractors in our family group and we bring them in so the kids can hear from them and really often it's pitching to them and getting critique from them so that they can improve on their product and get a glimpse of what the real world is really doing what's it been like for you starting up this new school what have been. 


Experiences that you've gone through I would say starting a new school is a great test of your resilience and persistence it's never going to be easy there are just so many barriers in in building something where you are looking for for the voices to all be heard yet still be able to move forward. 


And so we we definitely have have grown a ton myself personally the school. But it takes it takes takes a certain amount of persistence you need to stick with it you can't say oh my gosh this is overwhelming. I need to get out of this you say you have to come at it with a bit of a alright it's challenging right now but we're working towards something and if it wasn't challenging it probably wouldn't be worth working towards so let's keep at it and let's see where where we end up yeah, well thanks for the work you are doing there and just want to encourage people to check it out, you know, go to real school. 


Has a great website, you know and has really encouraging pedagogy and examples and there's a blog on there and so forth so check it out, whether you're going to go there or if you want to you know connect and and look for some inspiration, we talked a lot about your living experience in Bali we won't go into as much depth with Budapest, but give us a little bit what's it like living there it's amazing being in the place that, Relatively speaking feels so operational taking public transits a treat when it arrives on time finding that well bank cards work and stores are open till exactly the hour they say they are and really have what you're looking for if they say they do is is really nice the there's been a lot of really pleasant surprises along the way we. 


Never knew that hungry had so much care towards the kids and the playgrounds in this country are off the wall amazing some yeah, some are some are works out of the fantasy. I don't think you could find better playing setups in amusement parks that you pay $50 for and here they're open to the public and that's an awesome and then also I kind of expected a bit more of a, Coolness from Eastern European culture, this was what I read and assumed I guess but actually have found quite the opposite it's been really warm and maybe it's because we've got cute kids but oh we get smiles and and it's kind of nice nice looks from from people so yeah, it's been really nice. 


I want to pause this podcast for a moment to let you know about another great podcast, hey everyone my name is Mike Dunn, and I'm one of the co-hosts of rethinking EDU our podcast is around table discussion about education possibility, we talk with professionals from around the country who are doing groundbreaking work reimagining and remaking schools come check us out at rethinking edu.co or wherever you get your podcast. 


Now let's get back to the show. No one as we're winding things down this has been such a wonderful and eye opening conversation who do you want to give a shout out to I'd love to give a shout out to a few people one is Glenn shivering he's the head of middle school at Hawaii prep academy. 


I worked with him in Bali for eight years beautiful person and mentor another is Aaron Eden who I've mentioned earlier as the co-conspirator to make leap Academy a reality. And then finally I'd like to shout out to my current mentor and the head of real school. Dave who brings a whole new world of experience and a genuine love of children to to the table, so there we go time for the final word, what would you like to say to close out this podcast okay, so alongside our kids we can dream and build a better world. 


That's great thanks for leaving us with that and thank you so much for chatting with us today, this has been an out of this world conversation. I appreciate your time sharing your experiences and helping us dive deep to those listening thank you thank you for tuning into diving deep ED if you like this episode subscribe, share it out post a review on Apple podcast all of those things will help get this podcast out to more people. 


Until next time


DivingDeepEDU with Matthew Downing