Expeditions at YIS: What has Changed?

Expeditions at YIS: What has Changed?

by Alex Thomas, Physical Education Teacher / Expeditions Coordinator

At YIS, we make it a priority to pause, observe, and truly listen to our students. Young people have incredible stories to share, especially after they’ve faced a stimulating challenge or delved into a mastery experience. It is a teacher's responsibility to facilitate reflective thinking while also listening attentively to ensure that we are fulfilling our core mission as a school: being a place of student learning.

But how do we measure this success? The key lies in asking the right questions. After an expedition, you might start with basic inquiries such as, “What was the weather like?”, “How was the food?”, or “Was it fun?”. However, at YIS, we strive to go deeper and ask questions that truly reflect on the learning experience. We start with the question,
"What has changed?" 

I often ask colleagues to look for changes in students when they return from expeditions. These changes are significant, and students deserve the opportunity to showcase them both at school and beyond.

"Then they took a moment to step back, listen to different ideas, and give alternate suggestions a go. That was when each child realized how they could succeed when they worked together as a team. These collaborative skills were so clearly evident even without words to explain what was happening," shared Ms. Sangeeta Nanwani, Gr. 4 Expedition.

"I observed a remarkable transformation in a reserved and timid student who, despite finding diving challenging and uncomfortable, persevered with the support of their instructor, ultimately emerging from the water with a sense of confidence and excitement." Mr Matt Broughton, Gr. 10 Diving Expedition


While the weather and food contribute to the overall experience, asking thought-provoking questions like “What has changed?” allows for deeper reflection on learning, often influenced by those rainy and snowy moments.

"And now, I didn’t even mind getting wet or being in the water. Four days ago, I wanted to stay dry the entire time, but this time I was willing to get wet," reflected a Gr. 11 student after the Gr. 11 Whitewater Expedition.

Recently, Grade 10 students were invited to use the Global Citizenship Diploma Wilderness Engagement criteria to tell their stories. To deepen their thinking, we asked:

"On the expedition, what skills and knowledge did you acquire, and how did these lead to changes in your thinking, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors?"

The resulting stories are often wonderful to read:

"There were two main things that I learned. The first is to stay positive, not only for yourself but for the people around you. Moods are contagious, and I noticed that on this trip. If the people in my group started getting negative, that feeling would affect me as well. But staying positive and striving forward also motivated others," Gr. 11 student from the Gr. 11 Snowshoe Expedition.

"Even so, since I was on the safety boat, I was expected to help and save any of my classmates in need. It made me feel like a special person on this expedition," Gr. 11 student from the Gr. 11 Whitewater Expedition.

"The feeling of not worrying about all of life's trivial things—you get reminded that at the end of the day, we are all just humans trying our best. Interacting with nature in such a way puts many things into perspective and gives your mind a break from constant stress," reflected a Gr. 11 student from the Gr. 11 Snowshoe Expedition.



Over the years, I have noticed a pattern. Typically, on a five-day expedition, the ‘Forming & Storming Stages’—where students are figuring out how to rely on themselves and others—last until about Wednesday and can feel a bit chaotic.

By Thursday, students often reach the ‘Performing Stage,’ which is impressive to witness. They differentiate between perceived and real fear, adopt positive mindsets, experience growth in self-esteem, unplug, and learn to use the wilderness as a wellness tool.

"Stepping aside from the river, I also want to acknowledge that the removal of my mobile phone helped me get closer to everyone else. Especially around the campfire, we played games, exchanged stories, or just had fun. This made me truly unplug, and I felt more at peace without social media notifications or wasting time online," Gr. 11 student from the Gr. 11 Whitewater Expedition.

By Friday, the atmosphere is a mix of accomplishment and the longing for their own beds. I like to guide students to become aware of how they have changed over the week. I also urge them to ‘bring it back.’ Student learning does not belong only in the mountains but rather stays with the individual for years to come.

"On the fifth and last day, although I was dying to get home and relax, I also realized something. I had changed so much within the past five days, going from being scared of the water, to fearing the rapids, to gaining confidence, to losing it, to regaining it, and finding the water amusing. So much had happened that I can proudly say I conquered my fear of the river," reflected a Gr. 11 student from the Gr. 11 Whitewater Expedition.

These changes in students' thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors may not be immediately apparent. However, when life presents challenges, the resilience, teamwork, organization, risk-taking, and adaptability they practiced on these expeditions set them up for success in the adventures life will throw at them.

"This experience will continue to roam my mind for years to come, and although it sounds dramatic and cliché, it truly has changed me," concluded a Gr. 11 student from the Gr. 11 Snowshoe Expedition.

At the end of your child’s expedition, as they drop their bag on the front porch and head to the fridge, what will you ask them? And in the days after, what changes will you notice? 

Click here for more information about YIS Expeditions.