If you've been following Experiential Learning Depot for a while, you know that my experience and passion lies in self-directed project-based learning, particularly when it comes to science topics (I'm a life science teacher). True student-directed learning encourages and offers ample opportunity for student choice. That includes students determining their own project topics and driving questions.
When students have the flexibility to choose project topics and driving questions for ALL of their projects over the course of a session (see self-directed learning series for details), they can get overwhelmed with possibilites. This is especially true if you are not beside them in a face-to-face learning environment.
If you're distance learning this fall, create a system for developing and organizing project topics. That system can include a digital brainstorming activity (FREE at ELD on TPT) that can be shared via Google Classroom. Another piece of this system is having students log or list project topics of interest that they can return to over the course of the session when in need of project inspiration. Once students have project ideas, they can list them out and design their projects using my digital personalized project-based learning bundle (personal learning plan and PBL tool kit). As they complete projects, they can showcase their work in my PBL assessment e-Portfolio, FREE when you subscribe to my mailing list.
True self-directed project-based learning is much easier done in flexible learning environments such as those that have support from the district, those teaching an entire course on PBL or passion projects, advisories, home schools/coops. If this is not you, PBL can still be self-directed, there just wouldn't be a need for topic brainstorming because you would be assigning a general topic for students to cover. However, students can still choose a subtopic around a broader theme, determine how they will demonstrate learning, how they will share their final product with an authentic audience, etc. Check out my guided, themed PBL resources.
If you are in a position to offer true self-directed project-based learning, check out how you can help learners brainstorm project-topics virtually!
Project-Based Learning Topic Brainstorming Activities for Distance Learning
Because self-directed project-based learning is personalized, you need to start by building a relationship with every individual student. Get to know them. That can be a little more difficult when learning is taking place virtually. Before moving onto the following virtual brainstorming activities, grab my personal learning plan. This is a great way to begin to get to know your students.
1. Look at Interests
Self-directed project-based learning is personalized, and part of that is identifying learners' interests. What do they enjoy? What are their strengths? What are their hobbies? The result of students developing projects around their interests is an intrinsic motivation to learn and a passion for learning.
How do that? Start with an interest survey, especially if you are just beginning to know your students. Check out my free interest survey that can be shared digitally via Google Classroom.
2. One-On-One Conversation
When working face-to-face with students, casual chat between us is the most effective way to determine a project topic. I go over their interest surveys with them, and/or their personal learning plan, ask them questions about their answers to those activities, and more. This almost always leads to a project topic that they can get excited about simply by allowing them to talk about themselves. But what about virtually?
I highly recommend making time to meet with students via Google Meet, Zoom, or some other video conference tool, to have this conversation. You can also provide feedback directly to their Google Slides personal learning plan and/or interest survey, as they are both shareable with Google Classroom.
3. Project "Circle"/Group Share
When we were in a classroom, my group had regular project circles, which is basically an opportunity for peer input. We would gather in a literal circle, go around and talk about projects that they are currently working on, what they may want to do next, lack of motivation and/or inspiration to start a new project, etc. The purpose of this is to get other students to add their input. It's a great big think tank rather than each student's only source of feedback coming from me. Virtually, though?
Zoom! I know Zoom is getting old. But if you're distance learning, make time for it. I suggest a project circle at least once per week, ideally more. You could also start a class forum or discussion on Google Classroom where they can offer their ideas in text format. One student might need credit in economics and is having a hard time settling on a project topic around those standards. Other students can chime in with their experiences or ideas.
Just because projects are student-led and they get to choose their topics, it is a reality that most students are required to meet specific standards/benchmarks or complete specific courses to graduate. This was the case at my school. So our students, in part, chose topics and designed their projects around standards that they need to meet. If a student needs to hit a benchmark in ecology, specifically as it relates to food webs, and they enjoy surfing, they may consider designing a project around the important role that sharks play as tertiary consumers.
Have students pull up a new Google Doc. They can add a table with two columns, one with standards that they need to meet, and the other with project topics that would help them meet those standards. The personal learning plan available in my store includes this type of organizing tool, which is also editable to fit specific needs.
This is my favorite way to inspire project topics. A "spark" is a word coined by my boss that is essentially a learning activity that gets students excited about a topic or question. Part of my job as an experiential educator at an experiential school was to plan and organize these sparks. Examples include field trips such as a visit to a museum, local park, a nearby factory, a farm, etc. The purpose is to get students asking questions that can become driving questions for a project-based learning experience. But there are many other ways to spark project topics than going on field trips, thankfully, since we are currently not in a position to be going on any.
So how can you provide sparks virtually or remotely?
There are many other options for sparks, you just have to keep your eyes and your ears open! My free project topic brainstorming activity mentioned above is all basically sparks compiled onto one document.
Let's summarize. What can you do to start self-directed project-based distance/remote learning today?
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Distance learning is a challenge in itself, as is differentiated learning, even in a classroom setting when you are face-to-face with students on a daily basis. But differentiating learning from a distance significantly adds to the challenge. How do you engage high school learners in content and skill building while also considering and applying each student's unique qualities and circumstances?
Project-based learning is an awesome tool for differentiated learning, especially when projects are self-directed. My students self-direct every PBL project while I facilitate, meaning they have choice in driving question, project topic, how they will demonstrate learning, who they will share their new skills and knowledge with, etc. Students all gain the same skills and learn whatever content you assign them, but they learn it in a way that works for them. Projects are designed and catered to each unique student to ensure success for all. Click here for posts on self-directed learning for more details.
So how do you apply individuality to project design when you can't be face-to-face? It will take several posts to answer this question to its entirety, so I'm going to start with talking about creating digital personal learning plans. A personal learning plan is a document developed by each student in collaboration with their instructor. A personal learning plan includes a variety of features such as interests, learning challenges, learning styles, goals, etc. That info is then used to develop a learning plan specific to each student. Part of that learning plan includes a list of self-directed PBL projects and desired outcomes.
I have a digital personal learning plan in my store. It is a Google Slides and it is editable for YOU to include whatever features you find important for understanding your students. You will use this digital PLP to help students develop self-directed PBL projects that suit their needs, interests, etc. You do not need my resource to do personal learning plans with your students. This resource simply saves you time in having to create a template yourself. The following is a list of what my digital PLP includes. Have students develop a personal learning plan right away when they head "back to school" this fall. Get to know your students right away to ensure successful project-based distance learning for the rest of the year.
Differentiate Distance Learning with Digital Personal Learning Plans
My Digital Personal Learning Plan Includes:
Using a PLP to Design Self-Directed PBL Projects:
This is one way to differentiate learning with high schoolers, but one very powerful way. I stick with self-directed project-based learning for a reason.
If you have not already, subscribe to my email list to get your free project-based learning assessment portfolio (also Google Slides). You should have seen a subscribe pop up upon entering this site. Combine that with my self-directed project-based learning tool kit, and you and your students will be set for the year. Check back next week for virtual project topic brainstorming activities.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Project-based learning is the perfect approach for distance learning, especially when it comes to high school students. You want them to be able to work productively and independently from home, and rest assured that they are engaged in the content and the experience. Project-based learning is a great way to check all of those boxes.
But how can student-directed, project-based learning be done from home? So much of PBL is community-based. As I said before in previous posts, PBL is not just doing poster board projects. With project-based learning, students incorporate the community into the experience, learn from community experts, engage in authentic learning experiences, present their work to relevant and often public audiences, and more (check out past project-based learning posts, such as the elements of PBL). So how do students do these things from home, or from a computer?
This series will walk you through that question! I wrote a vague blog post on this a while ago, promising to go into more detail at some point. Here we are! I'm finally getting around to it. So let's dig in!
Before diving too deeply into this series with me, I highly recommend snagging my free resource for subscribing to my email list. This free resource is a high school project-based learning digital assessment portfolio. It is an editable Google Slides resource that students use to demonstrate learning over the course of a class or session. They insert photos of their projects, experiences with community experts, completed evaluations and reflections, etc. If you are planning to do any significant amount of project-based learning with your students this fall, online or in the classroom, this is a great tool to have. Grab it now!
Project-Based Distance Learning Blog Series
So just to clarify, project-based learning is not the same as a project. How do you touch on all of the components that define PBL, those listed in the infographic below, digitally? This series will go over how to implement project-based learning digitally with confidence.
I will be going over the following pieces or processes of project-based learning over the course of the next few weeks, all about how to project-based educate from a distance. All of the following tips and tricks can be applied to a classroom environment as well. The purpose of this series is to show you how to get students engaged with the community even if they cannot be directly or physically immersed in it.
If you have any recommendations or requests for topics to include in this series, let me know! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or head to the contact tab above.
I plan to get my first post of the series on brainstorming project ideas out asap! Early next week at the latest, so stay-tuned or keep an eye out for an email alert. In the meantime, head to Experiential Learning Depot on TPT to download my free Project-Based Learning Topic Brainstorming Activity. We'll go over it right here in a few days.
If you are questioning project-based learning because you're unsure of your situation in the coming months, don't make any big decisions yet! Follow along here first so that you feel confident and solid about your ultimate decision.
I could say that project-based learning isn't for everyone, but in my biased opinion, it is for everyone. PBL is so wonderful precisely for that reason, especially when the experiences are entirely interest-led and self-directed. Student-directed PBL considers all learning styles, skill levels, needs, interests, backgrounds, home life situation, personal responsibilites outside of school and more. It looks at every individual child. It's a great form of differentiation for upper grade levels. Don't pawn it off just yet. We'll see you back here soon!
Again, I start a blog post with a reminder of how the world is changing. We are neck deep in a pandemic that doesn't seem to be getting better in any way; a very powerful racial justice movement is in place, and change feels hopeful and possible because of the tireless effort from the citizens - from the people.
I have been so impressed by the actions of not only the people, but of young people. Kids, from kindergarten age to high school graduation, have the capacity to do so much good in the communities that they are a part of, whether that be on a grand scale or simply advocating for a crosswalk to get put in near a local playground.
When I was teaching high schoolers, I included community action projects in every facet of my teaching. A community action project is a form of project-based learning where students identify issues in the community, research the issues, brainstorm solutions, develop an action plan, and take action. Community action projects deepen learning AND build essential 21st-century skills by engaging students in the community and investing their time and energy into relevant community issues.
My own children and I recently did a community action project together that involved a supplies drive for a local animal shelter during Covid shutdowns. This project was entirely based off of my children's interests, but I had a big hand in organizing and coordinating the experience because my children are 3 and 6 years old. A high schooler could do the same project, but they would lead the entire experience themselves.
I have specific community action projects in my TPT store that focus on specific themes, such a mental health. I also have a community action tool kit that offers an unlimited number of open-ended, self-directed community action projects for high school students. This tool kit includes all of the guiding materials and templates that follow the community action project steps below.
Community Action Project Steps
1. Brainstorm/Identify Community Issues:
This is arguably the most important step of a community action project. This is where students find their interests, make observations about their communities, and decide on a general direction to take with their project. My tool kit includes a variety of brainstorming activities to guide students through this process.
My own children decided to focus their attention on Covid era animal shelters, which was inspired by a stray cat that had been frequenting our yard. My son wanted to keep it, my husband is allergic, and frankly, I don't want a cat. So we researched ways to make an outdoor cat house to protect it from storms and predators, and in doing so, came across a plea for supplies from our local animal shelter. This series of observations lead to our project focus.
2. Research the Issue:
Once students have settled on a community issue that they would like to tackle, they research the issue more thoroughly. The purpose of this step is so they can make informed action plans.
My children and I researched the details of the problem (lack of supplies for shelter animals during the Covid) and exactly which shelter supplies were needed. We discovered that many of the supplies could be hand-made, such as cat toys and blankets.
3. Explore Solutions and Write an Action Plan:
There are many ways that young people can take action. I have another blog post titled "Four Ways Students Can Take Action Today". Check that out for specifics. But this step basically includes brainstorming effective solutions that students can be a part of.
My children and I decided that the best way we could get involved would be to organize a supplies drive for the shelter, which included a neighborhood crafting project.
4. Take Action:
At this point students carry out their action plans. My children created their own fliers using Canva (with my assistance) and passed them around the neighborhood asking for shelter supply donations. We wrote a post on our block Facebook page asking for donations. We made a bin with a sign listing all of the supplies needed, and placed it on our stairs outside for people to make drop-offs. We also organized a cat toy making craft "party". By party, I mean supplying neighborhood kids with materials to make cat toys, having them make them at their own homes, and dropping them off in our donations bin.
We did all of this during the Covid stay-at-home order. This is an example of creative and authentic distance learning. My community action project tool kit includes a digital option to be used with Google Apps so that these projects can be done anywhere.
Summer is a great time for high school students to bolster their resumes for colleges and careers. It's even good for younger students to think about, not necessarily in terms of college and career readiness, but for developing life skills such as work ethic, team work, and responsible citizenship. Summer is a great time to do this simply because there is more time and there tends to be more opportunities available for young people, as it is assumed they aren't in school over the summer. This is obviously not the case for everyone. It doesn't have to be summer, nor do students have to be on break to work on personal growth and bulking up their resumes.
There are the obvious ways to build a high school resume such as gainful employment, volunteering, and a decent GPA or academic narrative, but there are many less obvious ways. I think it's really important for students to branch away from the typical or expected points on a resume for a couple reasons: 1) They will want to stand out amongst other college and/or job applicants, and 2) The skills desired in an employee have drastically changed from as recently as 20 years ago.
I've listed resume building activities for students to do over the summer and added resources that might go well with each. All of the suggestions are student-directed and experiential.
Note: Many students that are trying to build their resumes may be college hopefuls. Money.com has a page on their site with "The Best Colleges in America, Ranked by Value", based on a number of data points such as tuition and graduates' earnings. There is also an interactive feature where students can build their own rankings based on their own personal criteria. Great resource to pass on!
10 Summer Resume Builders for High School Students
1. Building 21st-Century Skills:
As I said above, having something to show for yourself other than the fact that you can get a decent GPA is critical. A GPA demonstrates limited capabilities, and isn't always an accurate representation of performance or potential. Employers of today are looking for employees that can problem-solve, work well with others, work independently, navigate technology that is constantly evolving, and more.
"21st-Century Skills Portfolio" - This is a great student-directed, summer learning activity and resume builder. The idea is for students to assemble "evidence" of skill building with skill-building activities. All of the following suggested resume builders could be added to this portfolio, which in theory could be shared with potential employers, college admissions, or even as a senior project.
2. Community Action Projects:
Community Action Projects are PBL projects where students explore community issues (locally, nationally, or globally) that they find important. They research the issue, make an action plan, and take action. It is not as simple as a community service activity or volunteer experience. It requires research, commitment to the issue, and making long-term change in the community. Raising money, advocating for legislation, giving time, and raising awareness are some ways to go about this. What is cool about this resume builder is that it is student-directd. The student leads the project from start to finish.
Check out my Community Action Projects on TpT, particularly the tool kit for unlimited project possibilities. This tool kit comes with a printable and digital version to be used with Google Apps.
3. Online Courses:
There are so many free courses online today, many of them from highly reputable colleges. Not only does this resume builder increase content knowledge, but shows that the student has the skills to self-direct and has interest in tech literacy, an important 21st-century skill.
Udemy, Coursera, and edX are some options. There are many others. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to many organizations to provide historically expensive online courses for free while the pandemic persists. Check out this list of free websites (including online courses) here. You can also head directly to a list of Coursera classes that are offering free enrollment and a certificate through July. This is great for professional development and CEU's for educators as well.
4. Start a Business:
This doesn't have to be elaborate. It could be as simple as a lawn mowing or dog walking business, or as elaborate as starting a skateboard clothing brand. I have had students do both. There is so much to be gained from starting a business. Students will learn about marketing, how to balance a budget, use spreadsheets, write a business plan, etc. Check out my FREE template for getting started with a business.
5. Service Learning/Volunteering:
Yes, I have suggested that this is an obvious choice. It is, but is no less important because it's obvious. Get students rolling on self-directed service learning experiences this summer through project-based learning. Going through the experience using project-based learning principles will help students with structure and organization, as well as expanding the experience beyond simply putting in clock hours.
Elements of project-based learning include working with community experts, demonstrating learning with an innovative final product, and presenting the experience to an authentic, public audience. Check out my project-based learning toolkit that includes templates for getting started on any PBL experience.
This is such a great opportunity for students to develop career skills in their line of interest. Not only that, it gives students a clear understanding of whether their "career path" is really what they want. I thought I wanted to be a doctor my entire young life. I even went through several years of pre-med while I was an undergrad, just to discover later that I was not only uninterested in the field, but extremely uncomfortable with many of the tasks that would have been required of me - working with blood for instance. I could have saved myself a lot of time, energy, and resources if I had volunteered in a hospital in high school or shadowed a nurse or doctor before commiting to a career that made me queasy.
Check out a couple of these resources as potential student projects for summer, both of which require shadowing a community expert - Hometown Behind the Scenes: Local Business, and Hometown Behind the Scenes: Community Event. You could also check out my Career Exploration PBL project, which would help students reduce the chance of getting into a career that isn't right for them.
7. Gainful Employment:
Again, another one that I pointed out as obvious above, but nevertheless, it's an important experience for students to have. I had some older students that came to my school often after years of struggling in the traditional school system. Most of them, some 20 years old, had never been employed. That is not a great way to head into life after school. Employment helps students practice teamwork, punctuality, work ethic, personal finance, and other life skills. Not only that, it gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride.
8. Start a Blog or a Podcast:
Have students identify something that interests them such as art, music, history, social issues, education, etc. and start a relevant blog or podcast about that topic. In theory, the topic should be relevant to their future. For example, if they are interested in music production as a potential career, starting a blog about the local music scene would make sense.
Creating a blog or podcast is an experience in itself. There's a huge learning curve. I know from experience. It's also multi-disciplinary and helps build 21st-century skills. Another cool thing about doing this is that it could be referred to later on by employers or clients to demonstrate skills and knowledge on the topic. It would also illuminate character, which is a priority to many employers.
9. Responsible Citizenship:
Students can get involved in community issues by attending town hall meetings, voting, meeting with legislators, participating in walks or protests, etc. Students can even search around for student government opportunities. Model UN is the first one to come to mind, but community education programs and YMCA's also offer options for students.
Getting involved in community issues through government experiences is one action plan option for community action projects mentioned above.
10. Start a Club
This is one of my favorites! Coordinating and maintaining a club would look outstanding on a resume. It takes organizational skills, follow-through, commitment, creativity, leadership skills, time management skills and more. Summer reading groups, a community clean-up group, a wildlife club, and a skateboard club are all great examples. Check out my project-based learning resource, Start a Club, which includes a guide and all of the templates needed to get started.
I have a college and career readiness PBL bundle in my TpT store that includes most of the resources mentioned in this blog post. You can save a lot of money by choosing the bundle vs. each product individually.
Thanks for checking out 10 resume builders for students to do this summer break! There are of course many other options. I would love to hear your ideas and comments. Thanks for stopping by!
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The year 2020 has been a doozy. In a matter of six months there has been a pandemic, school closures, economic collapse, "murder hornets", countless instances of racial injustice, and an uprising, one that has been a long time coming. I've been thinking about how these unprescedented events have impacted the lives of my students and what power they have to shape the uncertain future of this world.
I believe that the young people that I have worked with have more power than many their age because active and reponsible citizenship is strongly rooted in the school's philsophy, and therefore is center stage in all curriculum. It is never too early to teach young people how to be responsible, active citizens for the betterment of their lives and those that they share the world with.
Why does is matter if students understand and participate in the community? So that they can navigate challenges and uncertainties, identify injustices and know how to make them right, and to protect themsleves and their loved ones now and into adulthood. They can participate in shaping a world that they are proud of; a world that is healthy; a world that is fair and just; a world that positively impacts everyone.
How do you teach your high schoolers to be responsible citizens? Incorporate authentic learning experiences into the mix where students work directly in, with, and for their communities. Check out the following learning experiences that naturally include opportunities to become active, responsible citizens of the world.
Start by Adding Current Events to Your Curriculum:
I spend a lot of time on current events with my students. I include current events in advisory, my science classes, and even with my student book clubs. I do this for a lot of reasons, one of which is to give students topic ideas for their self-directed project-based learning experiences. I also include current events in my curriculum so that learners stay informed.
I infuse current events into my curriculum in a variety of ways.
Pedagogy that Promotes Active and Responsible Citizenship
1) Project-Based Learning:
Project-based learning is largely built around the idea of community. It is not simply a series of projects that students knock out in a couple of hours and present to their classmates and instructor. Students work closely with community experts, participate in authentic learning experiences (ex: meet with a scientist in their lab vs. read about their study online), complete innovative final products, and share their new knowledge with a wide and relevant audience (ex: submit a mini-documentary on habitats to a local nature center.)
A large part of my TPT store is dedicatedt to PBL resources. Check those out here. A great resource to start is my PBL Tool Kit. Students direct their own interest-led PBL experiences. *Note: I have converted, and will continue to convert, many of of PBL resources to include a printable AND digital (paperless) version to use with Google Apps. Check back here throughout the summer for posts on using these resources effectively during the distance learning era.
Ninety percent of this blog is dedicated to project-based learning. If you're interested in learning more about the basics of PBL, click here. Check the archives for more posts on PBL.
2) Problem-Based Learning:
Students identify a problem in the local, national, or global community and develop a "comprehensive plan" that would theoreticaly solve or drastically mitigate a real-world problem. Students research the problem, look at a variety of perspectives around the issue, come at the problem from a several angles, and assemble a plan to solve the problem.
Problem-based learning is an amazing way to encourage active citizenship. Students learn how to identify real-world problems, how to track down the source(s) of the problem, to see issues from many perspectives, and how to go about tackling the issues through a community lens.
You can find several problem-based learning resources in my TPT store, including my problem-based learning tool kit. This tool kit includes the guiding materials for any problem-based learning experience.
3) Community Action Projects:
Community action projects are the most tangible way to practice active citizenship. It is a combination of project-based learning and problem-based learning with an added service-learning component. Community action projects require that students take action. Students dive deeply into a specific community issue, develop an action plan, and TAKE ACTION. This is the most tangible way for students to be active citizens of the world.
Check out this post for more details on community action projects. I have created several community action projects that follow specific themes. Those resources can be found in my TPT store. I also have a tool kit with guiding materials for student-directed community action projects.
I often combine the learning methods mentioned in this post into one large project. My students spend weeks working on projects that result in positive long-term impacts on the community. Students direct their own learning experiences, engage in real-world issues, and actively participate in building and strengthening their communities.
This full experience helps learners develop a deeper understanding of important events and issues in their communities. Through active citizenship, students are able to see their place in the world and why/how their own actions matter.
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I have been thinking a lot about my students over the last couple of weeks. They are residents of St. Paul and Minneapolis, many of them black Americans. Many of them have been actively involved in the protests taking place in the Twin Cities.
I’ve been thinking about my students because they're exhausted. They feel and experience a combination of blatant, passive, and systemic racism on a daily basis. I’ve been reflecting on my place in their lives and on my responsibilities to them as their teacher; how I have served them in the past and if I have served them well; whether they have felt or experienced racism in school. In reflecting on this question, I've come to some harsh realizations, one of which is that I have generally been silent around the topic of race for fear of saying the wrong thing. That silence needs to stop. I have responsibilites as an educator, a white educator, and so do you. So let's iron those out:
Educators have responsibilities to their students beyond teaching content; to teach their students love and compassion for all, fairness, and justice; to teach acceptance, tolerance and empathy; to encourage children to celebrate their differences. Teachers have the responsibility of helping young people use their voices and advocate for themselves and their communities; to stand up for what they believe in, for themselves, and for others; to demand action when they experience or observe an injustice. These things matter. They matter the most at the end of the day.
How do you fulfill these responsibilities? By modeling them. By practicing love, compassion, fairness, justice, acceptance, tolerance and empathy yourself; by taking a sincere and honest look at your own biases, taking accountability for them, and putting them in check; by changing your language in a way that acknowledges racial trauma and doesn't minimize that trauma (check out @ogorchukwuu on Instagram for more on gaslighting); by listening to your students and learning from their stories; by giving your students the same trust and respect that you expect in return; by educating yourself on other cultures, particularly those of the students you serve, without expecting anyone else to do that work for you.
Support and utilize pedagogy that promotes active citizenship and community partnerships; pedagogy that provides students with a platform to use their voices, share their stories, and make positive change in their own lives and the community; pedagogy that highlights and celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of black, indigenous, and people of color.
I don’t have it all figured out and I’m certainly not without fault. But I know that as a white educator, I have a responsibility to my students to reflect, listen, and educate myself, and to that I am committed. Racism needs to stop at your classroom door. You are in a unique position as a teacher, influencer, role-model, protector, supporter, and cheer-leader. Use your position to challenge systemic racism in this country and move toward an equitable future for your students.
Since schools have been closed I have been doing weekly experiential learning activities with my own children that revolve around a theme. Last week we focused on pollinators, for example. You can head back a post or two to check those out.
This week we focused on maker projects of all kinds, which was initiated by my kindergartener. We were on a walk and we came across what looked like a a table that once held a grill. It was in rough shape and was out on the curb to be thrown out. My son has been wanting a station for all of his science gear, so he thought we could turn this piece of trash on the curb into a science lab. So we did, and thus a new interest was born: turning trash to treasure.
One of my favorite things about maker projects is that they do not have to be expensive. They don't have to cost a dime, in fact. I have done maker projects with my high schools students forever, and usually use materials that I have sitting around. In the case with my own children, we used only what we had in our home or what others were giving away. The only thing this past week that I had to buy was straps to hang our tree swing.
Making, particularly when on the cheap, is an awesome way to gain content knowledge AND build important skills such as problem solving. The maker project ideas listed below, and the ones that I did with my own children, can be modified to fit all ages and skill levels. I also have a variety of maker projects for high school students at my store on TPT. Check those out here. Make sure to check out my maker project tool kit, which provides the guiding materials for an unlimited number of self-directed maker projects for high school students. It includes a digital and printable version.
Have an amazing summer making!
Check out other posts from Experiential Learning Depot for more tips, tricks, and ideas on maker education. You can also check out how to add design thinking to your curriculum.
DIY Kids' Science Lab
Like I said, we basically went on a treasure hunt through alleys in our neighborhood and came across this awesome table. It was junk when we found it, but we easily cleaned it up, painted it, and added some science flare to spice it up.
DIY Palette Tree Swing
All you need for this activity is an old palette, paint, cushions, and rope. I purchased additional straps to hang our swing because it the branch is uneven. The palette was on the side of the road, the rope and paint we had sitting around, and the cushions came from our patio set that hasn't been used in years. If you feel more comfortable having specific instructions, check out palette swings on Pinterest.
25 Maker Projects for Kids to do This Summer
Since schools have been closed I have been working with my young children while simultaneously working on high school experiential curriculum. My child is required to sit at his computer much of the day to work on his school assignments, so to break up the monotony, I have been adding experiential learning activities to the day. Everyday we do a hands-on, subject-integrated, activity that follows a theme for the week. I have been adding those experiences and schedules here to inspire other parents and teachers in the same situation. I have also been adding modification ideas, particularly for high school students. Click on April for Part 1.
All About Pollinators Experiential Learning Activity Schedule
This is an awesome time of year to study pollinators in my neck of the woods. It's spring in the northern United States. Some pollinators are in the middle of lengthy migrations or are just arriving. Spring flowers are blooming. On top of that, we're all feeling really cooped up by this point and are needing some hands-on learning activities to keep us going. My kids do, anyway, and so do I, frankly.
The great thing about this week's schedule is that every activity can be done from home or outdoors. Even in urban areas. Hopefully you can step into a courtyard or take stroll down the block. The only activity this week that helps to have access to some wildlife is the citizen science experience. I'll offer some modifications below. The others can be done indoors, although, I highly recommend trying to take them outside if that is an option. Good luck!
Monday: Pollinator Simulation
I chose honeybees as the pollinator for this experience with my own young children. They are three and six. I also planned the simulation. We started by observing the apple trees in our yard. They are just starting to flower so my kids were able to observe some of the reproductive parts of a plant such as the stamen and stigma. I made flower models for three separate apple trees, which is the situation on our block. My kids made bees out of cotton swabs and learned how bees cross-pollinate apple trees by carrying pollen from anther to stigma. I used the colorful sugar from Fun Dip as my pollen.
Modifications: Older students can turn this into a PBL experience by choosing a pollinator of interest, researching that pollinator, and creating their own interactive simulation on the mechanism of pollination by the pollinator that they choose to study. They could create a stop-motion animation, make a moving model, or even design and build a physical interactive simulation like I did for my own children. Check out my project-based learning tool kit to guide learners through this process.
Tuesday: Citizen Science
There are so many interesting citizen science projects out there that specifically focus on pollinators. Each citizen science project can be catered to work for a variety of ages and skill levels. My kids and I participated in Bumble Bee Watch. I wasn't sure if my kids would like it, thinking they may be do young to understand it. But my son loved the idea that his findings were sent to and used by real scientists. My daughter loved the process of finding bumble bees in nature and identifying them on the citizen science project page.
Check out iNaturalist for a variety of options. What citizen science project you do will depend on your geographical location, your access to natural areas, and time of year. For more citizen science project ideas head to my citizen science blog post.
Modifications: Consider having older students create their own citizen science projects on a pollinator of their choice. iNaturalist makes this possible. If this is not an option, consider turning citizen science into a project-based learning experience using the tool kit mentioned above. Another option is conduct experiments on pollinator behavior using my open inquiry tool kit.
Wednesday: Design a Pollinator Garden
My children and I have wanted to make a small butterfly garden on our boulevard. My son and I researched a variety of native plants that provide food and shelter for native butterflies. We spent a lot time on the University of Minnesota website perusing flowers. He chose plants that he liked and drew out a map/plan for flower placement in our blvd. He worked on research skills, reading, writing, science, and more. We ended up building this garden, but you do not have to for this to be a worth while experience. If you do not have access to a plot of land consider looking into urban gardening. Try pots and vertical gardens if you have acces to a porch or balcony.
Modifications: Turn this into a maker experience for older students. There are so many benefits to incorporating design thinking into high school curriculum. I am working on creating a maker PBL resource on this very idea and will post it here soon. In the meantime, have older students do the same project as my son. They can choose a pollinator to study, research plants that support the safety, survival, and reproduction of their chosen pollinator, and design a garden. Older students can/should consider plant placement, needed distance between plants, the amount of sunlight required, height potential for plants, and more. Check out my Pollinator Garden Design maker/pbl resource.
Thursday: Pollinator Shelter
This turned out to be a much more interesting activity than I anticipated. Last year, my son and I made a bat house. He enjoyed that so much that I thought he might also like to make one of these trendy bee "hotels" that I'm seeing all over Pinterest. As someone with a background in wildlife biology, however, I know the importance of building wildlife shelters that are safe for their residents.
After my son and I did a little research, we discovered that many of these bee hotels are not safe for bees. In fact, many of them kill bees if they are not made correctly and if they are not continuously maintained. We decided to modify a cheap, not very safe bee hotel that I got from a gardening center not long ago. We researched safe bee hotels and how to care for them. We modified the bee hotel that we already have and created a "how to take care of a bee house" guide sheet. We posted our bee hotel and care sheet on our blvd for passerby's to observe and learn from.
Modifcaitons: I have a maker PBL project on this exact experience that is geared toward high school students - Build a Wildlife Shelter. Another great option is doing community action projects. These projects are a cool mix between problem-based learning and service learning. In our research on bees we came across a pretty serious problem. Our final product, in a sense, was the result of a community action project. We identified a problem and worked toward solving the problem. Check out my community action project tool kit.
In the picture below my daughter is inserting paper straws into the tubes so that they can be removed and swapped out occassionally for cleaner straws. This reduces the chance of pathogens taking over the shelter, and causing potential harm to the bees. I've read that bamboo, which are the small tubes in this store bought bee house, are especially susceptible to problems.
Wind: Wind Pollinator STEM
This was a really fun one! I have my high school students do a cool STEM challenge on this topic to learn about adaptations. I attempted to have my own children to the same thing, but it turned into a more age appropriate activity, which was designing their own plants. My kids love to do anything that involves grabbing whatever crafting materials are around and making something out of it all. They made their own plants out of recyclables and crafting materials, each with a stamen and stigma to show the parts necessary for cross-pollination.
Modifications: My older students do the same thing, create plant models, that cross-pollinate using wind (anemophily). They design models, make a prototype, test their prototypes, make adjustments, etc. until they have a final product that effectively cross-pollinates using wind. Check out my resource - STEM Challenge: Wind Pollinator Adaptations. This resource is alined with NGSS and focuses on the concept of beneficial hertiable traits, in this case, as they pertain to plants that pollinate with wind.
Plant Science Experiential Learning Activity Schedule
Spring is such an awesome time to bring plants into any curriculum, and it is one of those topics that is experiential by nature. There are so many ways to get involved in learning when it comes to plants. Students could start and maintain a community garden, grow plants and sell them to raise funds for habitat protection, design a product that solves a gardening problem (design thinking projects), design and conduct experiments on any number of plant topics, develop a comprehensive plan to solve a local invasive plant species problem, and the list goes on.
Each of these experiences engages learners in the content, and helps them better understand and absorb the concepts because they are actively involved. These examples are all learning experiences that my high school students have undertaken, as have my own children, 3 and 5, with modifications. For the past few weeks we have been growing our own plants from seed, experimenting, baking, creating, writing, and more, all as they relate to plants. Check out the details of each activity below, try some out for yourself, and easily adapt them to a variety of ages and skill levels. Good luck!
Monday: Water Transport Demonstration
You've probably seen or tried the classic celery demo, where you place the celery in food-colored water, and observe as the celery leaves slowly take on the color of the water. The purpose of this activity is to demonstrate water transport from the stem to the leaves via xylem.
I tried this activity with my own children, but we used a variety of plants - celery, kale, a tree branch, asparagus, and a branch from a bush in our yard - which we then observed and recorded the similarities and differences between them. Try this with whatever plants you have on hand. Practice using senses to make observations. Pull out your magnifying glasses. Pair the experience by making a model of xylem and phloem using straws, toothpicks, toilet paper roles, etc. if you wish.
Modifications: This is a great opportunity for older students to conduct open-inquiry investigations. They can develop their own questions based on their observations, and design and conduct their own experiments. Click here for a self-directed scientific inquiry tool kit (printable and Google Classroom digital version included).
Tuesday: Green Sun Butter Cookies
Chlorophyll is an important plant feature. It's vital for photosynthesis. Chlorophyll (chlorogenic acid) uses light to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and gluclose. My young children and I baked sun butter cookies, which are a beautiful golden brown color on the surface and green on the inside. What happened? Sunflower seeds contain chlorophyll, so when chlorogenic acid reacts with baking soda in the baking process, the green pigment of the chlorophyll emerges. For my own young children, this activity was mostly done in fun. But it is also a good way to introduce chlorophyll and it's function in a plant.
Click here for the recipe that we used.
Modifcations: Older students could take this a step further by experimenting with different ingredients. Chlorophyll isn't the only plant pigment. Others include carotenoids, anthocyanins, anthoxanthins, and betalins. Carrots, red beans, cauliflower, beets, sweet potatoes, and eggplants all have pigments in them.
Self-directed inquiry experiments are always a great option when it comes to science topics. Look for my tool kit link above. But there are many directions older students could take this concept, such as project-based learning. An example is developing unique recipes that result in fun science lessons for kids. The student could then compile those recipes onto a blog or webiste and share the link with parents and teachers. This ONE example of project-based learning. The options are endless when you have the right guiding materials for self-directed PBL. Check out my self-directed project-based learning tool kit here (printable and digital options).
Wednesday: Grow and Experiment
We sprouted dry pinto beans from the grocery store using a plastic bag and a wet paper towel (instructions). But we didnt' stop there. Once the seeds sprouted, we planted the seeds, and added a couple of experiments to the mix to hammer in plant parts and requirements for growth. One of our experiments was on different types of soil and their affect on plant growth rates. The other experiment was similar, but we changed the amount of water added to the plants vs. the types of soil. This was a good opportunity to talk about the nature of science and experimental design.
Modifications: Because my kids are so young, I setup and directed their experiments. My kids made predictions, observations, practiced taking measurments and graphing, and more. But older students could self-direct these experiences and elaborate significantly, focusing on skill and age appropriate content. For an environmental science class, for example, they might test the growth or success rates of plants using different types of fertilizers. They could then connect their results to a larger problem-based learning or community action project on water pollution.
My experiential water pollution bundle includes a scientific inquiry and problem-based learning activity on fertilizers, as well as a community action project. Each resource in this bundle can be purchased independently as well.
Thursday: Phototropism Maze
This is such a cool experience to observe directional growth of a plant toward light; otherwise known as phototropism. There are so many ways to see this phenomenon first hand, but one way is to create a maze in a box and block out all light except for one small opening at the top of the maze. Check out our pictures below. The point is to see if the plant will change direction and grow toward the light. You could do this using a cardboard box. My children and I used a cardboard doll house that we made a few weeks ago. We are still waiting for the results. I'll post on the results either when the plant reaches the roof or when it dies! Cross your fingers.
Modifications: High school students could easily turn this concept into self-directed inquiry experiments. Example investigations include how light intensity affects the rate of directional growth, the differences in phototropism rates of different plant species, the role that different parts of the plant play in phototropism, and so on. Check out my latest scientific open inquiry resource that guides students through self-directed experimentation ON the topic of phototropism.
Plants are such a integral part of the balance of nature. They are food for a variety of organisms, they provide essential natural services, and shelter. Plant communities provide habitat, which I wanted my children to see first hand. Not only that, I also wanted them to pay close attention to the dynamics and activities of nature taking place in a seemingly quiet and barren landscape. I took them to cattail marsh. We sat quietly and observed the habitat before us. We identified a variety organisms using this habitat for food, shelter, mating, and more. We then went home and made a moving model of the habitat that we visited.
Modifications: This exact experience could be done by older students. They can be given a lot more independence and autonomy, but the general idea is the same. Check out my project-based learning experience on habitats.
We currently find ourselves in a very unique situation. Never before have we been required as a society to operate entirely by computer. Of course being confined to the home is not ideal for any experiential educator, but we work with what we have. One silver-lining? The opportunity to work on 21st-century skills such as adapting and problem-solving.
As a reminder, experiential learning is doing; learning through experience. The activities are hands-on, personalized, relevant and applicable to real-life, and self-directed (click on "experiential learning" in the archives for more details). That is the key during quarantining; "student-directed". Many parents are trying to simultaneously hold down their jobs and home educate their children. What they need is for their children to be able to work independently with a little guidance here and there.
Project-based learning, inquiry, problem-based learning, and STEM all promote experiential thinking, and these are the resources I provide. I have been in the process of converting many of my resources to digital. I provide a printable and digital option for each resource. The digital option is the same as the printable, but it can be assigned, personalized (by students), and shared via Google Classroom. The resources listed below each include a digital option.
High School Experiential Learning Resources to Use with Google Apps
To fast track to all of my digital resource, click here. If you are looking for something in particular, peruse the listings below. Click on the title to get to the resources. I convert more resources to digital each day, so check back often. Scroll to the bottom for free resources.
The following tool kits provide all of the templates necessary for an unlimited number of self-directed learning experiences. Each includes printable and a Google Classroom version.
Project-Based Learning Tool Kit
Maker Project Tool Kit
Problem-Based Learning Tool Kit
Scientific Open Inquiry Tool Kit
Tool Kit Bundle
These PBL resources focus on a specific theme. The templates included help guide students through the project design process and project execution independently. For open-ended projects rather than those that already have a topic in place, check out the PBL tool kit mentioned above.
Plan a Trip Around the World
I am technically a life science and environmental science teacher, so a lot of my resources are about science. So, although a good chunk of my resources would be considered in the sciences, the following are the only two in the sciences that are currently available for use with Google Apps. I will continue to convert more over the next few weeks.
Inquiry Bingo: Earth Day
Climate Drivers Inquiry Activity
The first three freebies are great supplemental activities that go well with self-directed project-based learning, especially helpful for those that are new to the process. The last one, College Exploration, goes well with a couple of my other college and career readiness, particularly Career Exploration, which is also Google Apps compatible.
Project Topic Brainstorming Activity
Start a Project: PBL Cheat Sheet
College Exploration Activity
I hope you find some of these resources useful during this crazy time! As always, if you have any questions about experiential learning in ANY learning environment, including home/remote, reach out at experientiallearningdepot.com
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To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.