Written by Logan Rosenberg, Youth Programs Manager

It was a scene of absolute and wonderful chaos.

Everywhere I looked, children were engaged in something different.

One was sketching a spiderweb in his journal, diligently tracing the domed shape of the cobweb. Another sat on the dirt, flipping through a field guide to ferns, being helped along by her teacher. Fifty yards uphill a gaggle of students were whooping with excitement as they scrambled to catch millipedes and pillbugs. The discovery of a jelly-like mushroom growing on a dead twig went viral. All over this little patch of cove hardwood forest there were students, journals in hand, making discoveries, investigating questions, and sharing moments with each other.

This was their first hour of class at Tremont.

Level Up Challenge

A young student explores Great Smoky Mountains National Park during Tremont Institute's Level Up ChallengeThe students were doing what we call the Level Up Challenge, an activity that became a staple of our first day programming this fall. The Level Up Challenge is pretty simple; it takes the structure of video game challenges but puts the focus on exploring the natural world.

At the start, students are given a series of challenges, for which they earn points upon completion. Points unlock new equipment such as bug boxes or hand lenses. Even though the rewards for “leveling up” are minimal, students still are incredibly motivated to get out and do the challenges.

…the Level Up Challenge is both lighthearted and an intentional statement of intent about what learning is like at Tremont

What may seem like a lighthearted intro game is anything but. Or, at the very least, the Level Up Challenge is both lighthearted and an intentional statement of intent about what learning is like at Tremont.

During this game, the students are finding things that spark their curiosity. They may investigate, sketch, poke with a stick, or share what they found with a friend. Along the way they are recording their accomplishments in journals, sharing discoveries with friends and teachers, using field guides to run down answers, and are just having fun. The experience, in other words, is in their hands.

One of our frequent after-activity reflection questions is, “What helped you learn today?”

This fall I had a student respond: “I like that you trusted us.”

The experience…is in their hands.


This fall we entrusted 2,251 students to take control of their own learning.
We helped train 200+ teachers over 3 Teacher Escape Weekends in the experiential education routines that we think lead to effective educational moments.

We helped students and teachers connect to themselves, each other, and the natural world. 

The world is a better place because of the combined experience of the 41 schools that stayed in residence this fall. 

We have no idea what these students and teachers will do as a result of their Tremont trip. But we trust them.