Several years ago I showed a Vice News episode to my advisory/PBL students about the Syrian refugee crisis. A student of mine approached me after the activity to express her interest in this topic. The conflict in Syria was something she knew little about, and she wanted to know more. She decided to do a project on Syria. The driving question for her project, which she chose, would be how the conflict in Syria began. She would demonstrate learning by organizing the series of events that led to the conflict into a digital timeline. Again, her choice. With my guidance the student wrote project goals and created her own project rubric.
My student dove deep into research and quickly came to the conclusion that she wanted to do something to help or contribute in addition to her original timeline project. She organized a holiday pie fundraiser in the community. She turned the fundraiser into a group effort by recruiting students from our advisory. They made and distributed marketing materials, made order forms, and made their own "take-and-bake" apple pies to sell. The student still completed her original project and used her timeline as a marketing strategy to sell pies. She shared her timeline to various social media pages along with an ad for her pie fundraiser. The visual helped connect potential pie buyers with the cause.
What is Student-Directed Learning?
This project is the epitome of a student-directed learning experience. This student called all the shots from the beginning to the end. I provided guidance but the learning experience as a whole was entirely directed by the student. Student-directed learning by definition involves student choice at every step.
Without student choice you do not have student-directed learning.
1. Students choose what they want to learn.
2. Students write their learning goals and determine their own learning objectives.
3. Students choose how they will gather information.
4. Students partner up with community members of their choosing for expertise and collaboration.
5. Students choose how they will demonstrate learning.
6. Students determine an authentic audience and choose a method of reaching that audience.
7. Students establish a method of assessment and criteria for evaluation.
Ways to implement student-directed learning:
Student-directed activities: some teachers may throw in a student-directed activity once in a while into an otherwise teacher-centered curriculum.
Student-directed curriculum with teacher-directed objectives: other teachers will design a learning environment that is dominantly student-directed but will themselves lay down a framework around specific objectives. I see this as the most common form of student-directed learning as teachers have the unfortunate task of meeting standards. Imagine how wonderful teaching would be if students didn't have standards. Students could learn about whatever they want to learn whenever they want to learn it. Genius hour for more than an hour! Anyway, this is the type of student-directed teaching you'd likely see going on in my class at any given time.
Authentic student-directed learning: the final way of operating a student-directed learning environment is to give students full control of their learning from start to finish. Teachers do not place any parameters on the learning experience. The project conducted by my student on Syria is an example of authentic student-directed learning. Some would say it is not student-directed learning at all if every step above isn't directed by the student. I would tend to agree, but understand that it is much easier to implement in theory than in reality. There are obstacles to consider such as state standards, district philosophy and mission, class sizes, class structure, and district/staff/parent/community support.
I worked in a very progressive school for most of my teaching career. I didn't face many of the obstacles just mentioned, yet I still found myself choosing learning objectives for my students here and there. I did this for a couple of reasons. One was because progressive or not, we still needed to follow the same state standards as everyone else. I also learned that students need input. They need "sparks" as Wayne Jennings would say. The Vice News episode in the project example above was such a "spark" for this student. It was the introduction of a topic that sparked interest and questions. It is okay to plant the seed even in a student-directed learning environment. I showed a Vice episode to my advisory every single Monday morning to start off the week. I did this because they loved it. Every time I showed an episode of Vice at least one student turned the episode topic into a student-directed PBL project. I have Vice News episode guides and student-centered extension activities in my TpT store. This is a bundle I used with my students, the episode about Syria included in the "War and Peace" bundle - Vice News Series Bundle.
Benefits of student-directed learning:
The student mentioned in the Syria example not only learned the details of an important and current global issue, but gained numerous critical 21st-century competencies as well by learning how to learn. When students direct their own learning they take ownership. They are invested in the process and the outcome. An intrinsic motivation to learn emerges. The motivation for some, a passion for learning, has been buried deeply in students that have spent much of their academic careers in a teacher-centered learning environment. Allowing students choice, autonomy, room to fail, and opportunities to construct knowledge through experience sets the stage for lifelong learning. The alternative is a teacher-directed environment where information is given, answers are right or wrong, learning is passive, 21st-century skills are glossed over, facts are memorized and forgotten weeks later. There is little meaning or relevance, therefore, learning is shallow.
I'm elated to say that I don't see a lot of teachers running classrooms anymore that are completely teacher-centered. There are so many amazing student-centered learning activities that I see educators implementing such as STEM, maker education, inquiry, experiential learning, project-based learning, problem-based learning. There are so many cool ideas out there. You can teach in a traditional environment and still implement student-directed teaching activities. Start small. If your curriculum is largely teacher-directed right now, consider adding a few student-directed learning activities in here and there. See how they go. If that goes well do more until your entire curriculum is student-directed! You won't regret it.
Student-directed learning resources:
A great student-directed learning activity to start with is project-based learning. There are so many amazing PBL resources out there. My TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot is dominated by PBL projects right now. Feel free to check those out. I have a project-based learning bundle that includes a manual on how to get started with project-based learning in your classroom. This product is designed to move your classroom from teacher-directed to student-directed. If you are a beginner to project-based teaching or student-directed learning this may be a good resource for you. You can also go back to any number of my previous blog posts on project-based learning. Start here with "What is Project-Based Learning, Anyway?" I also like the Buck Institute. They work hard at spreading PBL love and have great tips and resources for using project-based learning in a more traditional learning environment.
Coming up in the student-directed learning series:
Stay-tuned for more from my student-directed learning series. Expect to see some future blog posts on the following, among others.
1. What does a student-directed learning environment look like?
2. What does the teacher do in a student-directed learning environment?
3. Student-directed assessments. I'm really excited about this one. I submitted an article to be to the Reformer, an education magazine through ASCD. I was accepted from a pool of over 500 submissions! My article on student-generated rubrics will be published in February. I will add a condensed version of it here.
4. Student-directed parent/teacher conferences.
5. List of student-directed learning activities.
6. What teachers are doing in their student-directed classrooms.
If you have questions about student-directed learning or would like me to write a blog post on a specific aspect of student-directed learning that I haven't mentioned, please reach out.
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You are likely aware by now that I did a lot of school travel when I was teaching. I post on these trips often because I believe traveling to be an indispensable learning experience. I wrote about the benefits of student travel in a post a couple months ago - Top Six Reasons to Start a School Travel Program. Take a look.
When I wasn't planning and coordinating school travel experiences I was project-based teaching. Because I taught at a project-based school, travel and PBL often went hand-in-hand. I took students on a tropical biology trip to Costa Rica in 2013. One student created a brochure on ways tourists could help protect sea turtles. She placed the brochures in hotel lobbies as we traveled the country. I took students to Hawaii in 2017. The students completed a group project on climate change interviewing locals, business owners, farmers, etc. as we circumnavigated the island.
If you're an educator looking to tie field trips or school travel experiences with project-based learning, or if you are a homeschooler about to go on a family trip and want to enhance the learning experience by adding a PBL project, head to my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, for this free student travel project proposal.
In just a few hours my family and I will be heading to Copenhagen. I have two kids; a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. My four-year-old has recently developed a passion for photography. He takes photos with my phone and edits them using the Photofox app. The cover photo of this blog was taken and edited by him. It started off as a close-up of my eye and evolved into this beautiful abstract photograph. His abilities blow my mind. I never expected a preschooler to be able to navigate a photo editing app, nor that he'd want to. But he can, and he's great at it.
My son and I sat down and filled out a project proposal together, the one mentioned above, which I would normally use with my high-schoolers. With effective scaffolding, students of any age can design their own PBL project using a project proposal. He will be doing a project on "Copenhagen Through the Eyes of a 4-Year-Old" by photo-documenting his travel experience.
This project proposal was written by my four-year-old. I wrote and he told me what to write. His "research questions" were largely based on activities - what he'll do in Copenhagen, where he'll sleep, what he'll eat. This proposal would look very different if it were to be completed by a high schooler. That's another great thing about project-based learning. It's personalized, so could be adapted to any age, backgrounds, skill level, etc.
Rather than "what will I eat when I'm there?", says the pre-schooler, a high-schooler whose project topic is "Danish culture", for example, might ask "what are the main culinary ingredients used in Denmark?, "In what ways are staple Danish ingredients used in Copenhagen?", and "What dishes are the Danes known for?" The student would demonstrate understanding or new skills and knowledge by photographing ingredients, food, and/or chefs in action among other things related to their driving question. They might arrange to take a cooking class while traveling, shadow a farmer, or interview a chef.
My preschooler has decided that he will take a few photos as we tour Copenhagen, edit the photos using Photofox, write a brief caption, and share with an authentic audience by posting his photos right here on this blog post. I will try to upload new photos each day as we go. Whenever I was teaching and took students on trips, I documented the experiences on a travel blog so that staff, students and parents could "follow" us on our travels. Check those out - The Jennings Experience. Return here, to this blog post, to see updates of our travels and my preschoolers project photos.
Combining Project-Based Learning with Student Travel:
"Copenhagen Through the Eyes of a Four-Year-Old"
Hey, we made it to Copenhagen!! After a long flight with two littles, no sleep, very little real food, and a minor bout of toddler motion sickness on the plane, we made it to Copenhagen. We plowed through the day yesterday a bit delirious, came back to our Air B and B, slept for 15 hours and awoke ready to explore the city. We stayed near the canal where we are lodging this week and explored the heart of downtown. We ate lunch at the fresh food market, TorvehallerneKBH, which is made entirely of glass. Lot's of bikes in Copenhagen, regardless of the weather. We strolled on cobblestone streets through winding roads of shops, castles, cafes, and of course, the LEGO store.
Now, for the 4-year-old's project. I mentioned above that my preschooler will be documenting his experience with a photography project. He is very into taking photos, but even more interested in editing using the Photofox app. A challenge for project-based teachers is letting go of control. It was for me when I was teaching and was even more apparent when working with my son on his photography project. We as teachers have likely been taught to instruct - share facts, seek the "right answers", with a few student-centered activities thrown in here and there. Project-based learning is not that. It's active participation by the student, not passive, which means students have to be given the freedom to arrive at conclusions through their own process. There should be a lot of student choice, and students should be directing their learning from project design to assessment criteria.
It has been an extreme challenge watching my child edit his photos. We are in a country with breathtaking views, old architecture, we are steeped in Danish culture, yet my son wants to add "stickers" and wild fiters to his photos. I have to remember as his teacher to scaffold, encourage, and accept his learning process. The learning experience is not diluted just because he added a few special effects to a photo of a castle. It's how he sees it and how he is expressing the experience. Just because it's not what I would do doesn't make it bad or poor work. So I step back and offer suggestions or ideas if he wants them. That is the job of a project-based teacher. To facilitate. The student through exploration, questioning, trial and error, and testing comes to conclusions on their own.
With that said, here are his photos from day 1.
Well, so much for posting everyday. Things have been a little crazy around here. We've been here for four days, and the time-change still has us all feeling a bit off. We have been keeping really busy, trying to get to every corner of Copenhagen, and we had one little set back. My daughter dislocated her elbow while rough playing with my son, so we have experienced the Danish health system. That was an eye-opening experience.
My son has evolved a bit with his picture taking and editing over the past two days. As his "facilitator" I've let him take the reins while subtly guiding him through the process. He played around with lighting on photos from day 3, which led to many revelations about angles, various sources of light and how they come together to add interesting features to his photos.
There is something really special about photography when traveling. If you are ever taking students or your children on a trip consider suggesting a photography project. Photographing one's surroundings encourages a level of observation that can only be achieved when coming from a certain perspective. Pulling out a camera, especially when there is purpose behind it, makes you notice things you may not have noticed otherwise. You're fully immersed in the experience because you are actively looking for great shots. There are certainly other ways to immerse oneself in an experience such as sketching or talking with locals. Project-based learning while traveling, regardless of the final product, gives students some direction and purpose. Taking pictures has led my son to ask a lot of questions that he may not have asked if he was just following me around the city.
I decided to put the original photos of day 3 side-by-side with my son's edited photos as well as captions. The original photos are on the left, edited on the right.
This area is called Nyhavn, a strip of colorful shops and restaurants lining a canal.
This building, Rundetaam (Round House), was built in the 1600's by Christian IV of Denmark as an observatory. The winding ramp leads to a tower that overlooks the city of Copenhagen.
A view of Copenhagen from the top of Rundetaam.
The royal crowns found in the "dungeon" as my son called it (aka the basement) of the Rosenborg Castle.
A view of the Rosenborg Castle from Kongens Have, or the "King's Garden." We toured the inside of the Rosenborg Castle where we found the royal crowns.
The tree-lined corridors are one of many stunning features of the King's Garden.
Day 4, 5, &6
I had to combine three days into one post because we got so behind! I don't remember timely posting being an issue when I used to travel with my high school students. I posted our adventure daily. Different with littles I suppose.
The last few days were amazing. We hit up all of the typical tourist spots like the Little Mermaid statue, the canal cruise, Nyhaun, the castles and shopping areas. We visited the sites that make Copenhagen such a kid friendly city like the Experimentarium and many of the awesome outdoor playgrounds. The best part of the trip though was a bike tour that my cousin took us on. She has lived in Copenhagen for a couple years. She took us on a full snowy day bike tour to all of the cool corners of Copenhagen that tourists rarely frequent.
Check out my preschoolers final project photos, Copenhagen through the eyes of a four-year-old. His favorite feature of the photo editing app is "blending." He finds background images on Google Images and blends them with his original photo. They turned out really interesting. Check them out!
Rows and rows of bikes and lights in Nyhaun Viking ship parked in front of Barr
Konditaget Luders - rooftop playground Classic Copenhagen courtyard
Experimentarium Inside an art installation - no filters or edits
Canal Boat Tour Glimpse of Church of Our Saviour from the boat
View of King's New Square from Nyhaun Photo of tour boat. No edits were made here.
Just changes in camera settings and angles.
Both of these photos were taken biking through Assistens Cemetery at dusk.
Copenhagen has an amazing sense of community and I think a part of that is tied to the biking and walking culture.
Sledders out in waves to sled the hills in front A view of the Royal Library on our bike tour.
of the King's Stable. The sky is an example of the "blending"
feature that my son loves on the app.
Going crazy with the stickers on the editing app. This is a photo of my daughter eating a
chocolate covered waffle on a stick.
The trip isn't the end of a project for student travelers. They return from their trip, organize their new skills and knowledge into a final product and demonstrate learning to an authentic audience. For example, they may put all of their information into a blog and share via social media like my son did here. They might share their final product in a presentation or exhibition night. Student travelers complete a reflection, which is critical in my opinion. Try this free option from my store - Student Travel Reflection. Finally they self-assess their own project and the travel experience in general using rubrics. They meet with their instructor to complete a final evaluation, and that's that!
I'll be moving on from student travel for a while, but I'm sure I'll be back with more in the near future. I'll be moving into student-directed learning for a couple of weeks. Thanks for following us on our learning adventure!
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Don't worry! We didn't forget about Thomas the Train.
As most of you know, I write experiential learning curriculum, primarily on project-based learning. I also have extensive experience with school travel, problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and dabble around with maker education. I have a background in science, I promote 21st-century learning environments, and of course, I am a passionate advocate for experiential learning. Naturally, I would do STEM with my students, right? I actually have not done STEM with my students, at least not in the formal sense.
I've been wanting to get into STEM for a long time, but have had some reservations about it, largely based on my own insecurities with knowledge and ability to get the job done. Science - sure, I have that covered. But technology, engineering, and math? I feel inadequate teaching my students any of those things independently let alone collectively. No way.
A couple months ago I got into a conversation with Ashley Pereira about teaching STEM. Ashley is the founder of Career in STEM, an awesome organization that promotes just that, careers in STEM. Her website is a phenomenal STEM resource for educators, parents, and students. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for details on her organization.
After spending some time talking with Ashley I have realized that my fear of teaching STEM was based on many misconceptions and misunderstandings that I had been sitting on. The take-home from this conversation was that anyone can do STEM. Anyone can teach STEM. You might feel out of your element at first, as would anyone trying anything new, but you can't know the benefits unless you try. Kids are adaptable and they're definitely forgiving. Just give it a shot!
If you're interested in trying out STEM start here with Ashley. She has a lot of experience and knows the drill.
Ashley Pereira has worked in STEM education since 2008, beginning with humble roots over a decade ago as an intern for the national 4-H organization. She holds a BS Degree in Animal Science from the University of Connecticut, and Masters degree in Secondary Education from Eastern CT State University with Summa Cum Laude honors. Ashley is a K-12 licensed STEM educator, a certified Career Coach, and experienced entrepreneur. Since 2015 Ashley has served as adjunct Professor of Science Education at Eastern Connecticut State University, where she specializes in teaching STEM as a mindset. Ashley is Founder and CEO of Greater Good Consultants LLC and its subsidiary, Career In STEM®, where she empowers youth, builds communities, and enhances economic opportunity for all.
Getting Started with STEM: Interview with Ashley Pereira from Career in STEM
1. How would you define STEM? How does each component (science, technology, engineering, math) fit into the bigger picture?
To me STEM is not the discrete topics of science, technology, engineering and math. It is a mindset wherein the four ‘components’ merge, through which we process and understand our world.
2. What is an example of a STEM activity? Describe what that might look like in action? What are the students doing? What is the teacher doing? Are there steps the students follow?
Whenever you are doing something that requires analysis, you are doing STEM. Thus there is no specific way a STEM activity could/should look. It will be unique to each person. That said, there are some commonalities to how a STEM activity can ‘look’ especially when speaking of classroom-based instruction. My preference is the 5E model of teaching and learning. Other core components of effective STEM instruction:
3. What does the learning space look like in a STEM learning environment?
Since I define STEM so broadly, there is no set ‘must’. My preferences would be a space that is
- customizable/adaptable (ex: desks that can easily be arranged)
- routine based (ex: all students know what to do upon entering the classroom)
- stocked with items to foster creativity and innovation (ex: books, tinker box, etc.)
4. Is STEM integrated? In other words, could you incorporate STEM into class subjects such as writing, literature, social studies, physical education, history, music, etc?
YES! It should be. Sadly this integration is rare. Most schools do not integrate at all.
5. Along the same lines as the previous question, could stem align with standards? Unfortunately, educators are often bound by this reality.
The new Next Generation Standards are already aligned with the Common Core at all grades,
K-12. I would tell teachers that STEM is NOT extra! Rather, go to https://www.nextgenscience.org/search-standards and find a science standard that is aligned with the Common Core standard you ‘need to cover’. You would be killing 2 birds with one stone! Plus, your students would likely be more engaged because the NGSS requires students to DO things with their knowledge and apply it to relevant contexts. Also, the NGSS is called ‘science standards’, but they are really STEM standards, as they incorporate math, engineering, and technology within the standards themselves.
6. There are a lot of buzzwords with overlapping ideologies: makerspace, problem-based learning, STEM, STEAM, inquiry, project-based learning. What sets STEM apart from the others?
I view STEM as an overarching ‘umbrella’ term. All the things you list fall under the umbrella of STEM. STEM is the mindset students employ when participating in project-based learning, an inquiry-based lesson, a makerspace activity, etc.
7. What is one common misconception about STEM learning?
To me the biggest misconception is that STEM has to be something ‘different’ or ‘extra’. I completely disagree, and argue that STEM relates to any content, anywhere. For example, you are making hypotheses when reading a story in ELA class (science), using technology in pretty much every subject area, applying the engineering design process when building in the block center, and using math when making a recipe at home. STEM is happening already. Thus you do not need to ‘do’ STEM. Rather, teachers/parents should make it a point to identify the STEM that is already happening, and making connections to that (natural vs arbitrary/contrived STEM learning).
8. I for one have wanted to practice stem in my classroom but am not confident in my ability to do so. What would you say to those that feel the same way?
The worst thing you can do is nothing at all! Don’t expect to be the expert. Rather, take it one class/lesson at a time. Start with what you are ALREADY doing. Then try to find at least 1 STEM connection for that lesson. I have a free PD course I put together on how to do this here.
9. If I want STEM in my classroom where do I start?
To me the first place to start is to connect STEM to what you are ALREADY going to do. Start with one lesson per week, then gradually increase so soon all your lessons are STEM lessons, whether in history class, ELA, or any other subject. Taking it one lesson at a time rather than trying to plan projects and change your curriculum is much more sustainable and will help you maintain constant emphasis on STEM.
10. What are some STEM resources that you would recommend?
Of course www.careerinstem.com because it is my website! The two top ones are:
11. How could an instructor propose STEM to their administration? In other words, what is the value of STEM?
STEM itself is not all that valuable – STEM as a MINDSET is what is valuable. In ‘doing STEM’ students learn how to think, ask questions, and find their own answers. To me society is in desperate need of kids who can do this proficiently, and STEM is the only approach that can truly accomplish this.
Career in STEM:
Again, Ashley's organization is called Career in STEM. If you're interested in her work, start by visiting www.careerinstem.com. Peruse the website and find what's right for you. She provides classroom lessons, many of which are free. She offers a free online professional development course for educators as she mentioned above. Her blog is amazing! There are a lot of resources there for anyone interested in STEM. She also offers resources to students such as "Career Pathways Academy", an online course for teens interested in STEM. My favorite part of her website is the "Explore" section. There you can find interviews with STEM professionals, students can explore STEM careers based on personal interest, and there are free modules with information on various STEM careers.
I hope this has been helpful. Now get out there and start incorporating STEM into your curriculum!
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post on education trends of 2018. As the year was coming to a close, I wanted to look back to see what instructors were doing with their students, why they were trying out these trends, and if the trends would stick around for the long haul. Maker education was one of those trends. It's not a new idea, but has recently gained a lot of traction and attention. It is apparent now more than ever that students need to develop and build the skills to learn, and to navigate the enormous amount of input thrown at them at any given moment; not just memorize content. Maker education does just that.
Maker education in short is learning through designing and creating. It might be making an art piece, a moving model, an animation, or a promotional video. "Making" isn't limited to physical creations like a bird house, for example. Makers can also design and create things digitally such as illustrations, blue prints, maps, and more. Maker projects could be done independently or in teams.
There are a lot of benefits to making. Every child can "make", for one. It doesn't matter the age, background, skill level, gender, or school philosophy. It is a learning experience that is naturally differentiated (which was another trend of 2018, and many years prior.) Making considers individual needs, skill levels, and interests. Students develop critical 21st century skills like problem-solving, inquiry, determination, resourcefulness, team-work, communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking (the 4 C's) in addition to content.
Maker activities can be aligned to the standards. Maker projects are often tied to specific concepts. "Making" is an interesting approach to learning that can cover the topics required as well as help students build on important life skills. For example, I am a biology teacher. My students made moving models that simulated synaptic transmission. Rather than reading about it in a textbook, jotting down some notes, taking a quiz, and forgetting the information 5 days later, my students construct new knowledge of an abstract concept through experience. I got this idea from brainu.com. Science teachers, if you don't already know about this website, you're missing out. Take a look.
My students make things all the time. They're project-based learners so they make final products to demonstrate new skills and knowledge everyday. I just wasn't aware that it had a name until the recent past when I saw "makerspaces" littered all over Pinterest. I popped into Jennings (where I used to teach) this morning to say hello to the students and staff, and was blown away by some of their projects. It was rejuvenating and inspiring. I'm grateful to have worked with so many outstanding maker educators, Tom and Andreas, to name a couple. They didn't just run a workshop, the maker projects that students did with these teachers required meticulous planning, brainstorming, testing, modifying, and reflecting.
A few months ago I started doing heavy research on maker education. I did a lot of reading, participated in several workshops, and attended live webinars. I learned that there is a lot more to maker education than just making. It's one thing to build something. But there is a process if it is to be a profound learning experience, which is the end goal after all.
The elements listed below are a combination of what I've learned from maker research and what I've learned from experience in a project-based learning environment. A lot of this information comes from a free webinar I took on edweb.net called "Designing and Creating Makerspaces" , with Beth Holland and Douglas Kiang.
Important Elements of Maker Education
All maker projects should provide ample space and time to immerse learners in the challenge, observe problems, ask question, and explore available materials.
The brainstorming phase is when students play around with design ideas that ultimately lead to a prototype.
The prototype is the initial design. It is typically temporary as few designs turn out exactly as planned.
This is the part where students make their designs. They will ultimately hit snags, try something out, fail, go back to the drawing board, and try a new approach. Failure is an important part of the learning process with maker activities.
5. Community Expert:
Including community experts is an important aspect of project-based learning. I think it's important to have experts within reach during all phases of a maker project. They are additional sources of information, guidance, and provide additional feedback.
6. Sharing and Reflecting:
After each maker project I have my class do a gallery walk of all of the final products. It's fun to see what others have come up with and how diverse final products can be. A gallery walk is also a great way to provide peer feedback. Reflecting on the experience is also important. Reflection is a huge part of any experiential learning activity, which "making" is. It's important to look back at not only the outcome, but the process itself. Gallery walks make great opportunities for students to not only share their final products, but to share their making experience.
7. Authentic Presentation:
Sharing work with an authentic audience is also an important element of project-based learning. I like to add this component to maker projects because I think it's an important step in any learning activity. An authentic presentation is sharing work with a relevant audience. A gallery walk is great. But let's say a maker project was to make a toy. The toys created wouldn't be of any use to a group of high schoolers after the project is complete. Donating those toys to a daycare center, on the other hand, would be authentic. It meets a relevant audience and makes an impact on the community.
PBL Maker Challenge:
PBL Maker Challenge: Goal Setting Through Artistic Expression
I started a new product line in my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. The product line is called "PBL Maker Challenge", which is a combination of the elements of project-based learning and design thinking noted above.
All of these projects are budget friendly. You shouldn't have to dismiss maker education because creating a makerspace costs too much. Each project in this product line can be done using materials on hand, few materials, household items, or recyclables or trash. If there is a project that requires more sophisticated materials, I will provide tips on best ways to go about getting those materials.
The projects are also print and go. One of the beautiful parts about maker education is that the students guide the learning. You set the stage, they make the magic. I have only published one of these projects to my store so far. Keep your eyes out for others.
I'd love to hear about your maker experiences. For those of you that are seasoned maker educators, tell us what you do. What does your makerspace look like? What age group do you work with? Has maker education been beneficial to your students? What tips would you give to those new to maker education?
Check out Experiential Learning Depot on TpT for more experiential learning resources. You can also follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
The Importance of Intergenerational Learning Experiences
The young and the old and everyone in between living, playing, and working side-by-side is a tale as old as time. Yet that tale seems to be one of the past. We currently find ourselves in a
society where those interactions across age groups are few and far between.
Once upon a time intergenerational relationships formed organically. A family living in tight corridors was necessary for survival. Children, parents, grandparents and so on worked and lived as a community working toward the same goals. Their lives were interconnected. Today we live in discrete units. We have our own goals. We have our own lives from 9-5. Students split up by age. A greater role is placed on peers than ever before. Modes of communication have drastically evolved from my grandma's generation to my daughter's generation. Heck, communication has changed dramatically in the past 5 years let alone the past 50 years. Information is at our fingertips. Why ask grandma about the Dust Bowl when I can ask Alexa? I can ask her in the bath. I can ask her while I'm driving. I can even ask her at 3 in the morning when grandma has been long asleep.
Alexa has become such a fixture in our household, that not only does my daughter know how to get what she wants from her, but she also thinks Alexa is a real person. Living with us.
Now don't get me wrong. I don't believe that the changes we've seen, especially in the recent past, are necessarily bad things. Especially when it comes to technology. These changes are here to stay and are continuing to evolve as I write this. The best thing I can do as a parent and teacher is embrace it. But I also don't want to see my children or my students (or myself for that matter) miss out on the amazing benefits of intergenerational relationships.
Before going on I want to be clear about the definition of intergenerational. The way I mean it in this context is in connection with learning. Intergenerational learning is when those from varying age groups learn from each other. It's not a matter of being in the same room at the same time with people of all ages, like in a movie theater for example. It's working together with the intention of learning from one another. And yes, older generations CAN learn from younger generations, regardless of what you've heard about millenials, or your fears about Generation Z! Everyone has a role to play.
Benefits of Intergenerational Learning Experiences:
1) Learning from each other.
2) Building a stronger, healthier community of trust, reliance, and collaboration.
3) Discovering commonalities.
4) Provides opportunities to see different points of view.
5) Breaks down misconceptions, judgements, and stereotypes.
6) Those involved gain skills from those that are more experienced. This goes both ways. There are skills that young people have that some older generations struggle with. Tech literacy is one example.
7) Older generations can help children develop a healthy self -concept (self-esteem, confidence, identity, ideals, values and priorities.)
8) Intergenerational relationships can provide personal one-on-one attention to a child if approached as a mentorship experience.
9) Gives children someone other than a parent (fear of parental disappointment) or peer (fear of judgement) to confide in.
10) Elders with intergenerational friendships report better mental wellness.
Ways of Making Intergenerational Learning Experiences Part of the Curriculum:
1) Consider developing a mentorship program. Bring mentors from various generations to spend time with your students. They can play games, read to each other, chat, build something, etc. But the interactions should be one-on-one and should occur regularly.
2) Start a technology literacy volunteer committee. This would work well for older students. Pull together a group of kids that would like to offer tech lessons to those in the community that need it.
3) Start a club that community members of all ages can join. Ex: book club, knitting club, chess club, etc.
4) Incorporate intergenerational learning experiences into your current curriculum. Don't change anything, just add community volunteers to work with your students in the classroom.
5) Along those same lines, assign a project specifically designed to provide intergenerational learning experiences. I created a PBL project on generations that asks students to interview several individuals from different generations.
Check it out here: Project-Based Learning: Generations.
6) Organize shadowing experiences. Older students can arrange shadowing experiences with community members from different generations outside of the classroom. Urge them to make this activity a regular occurrence, not a one time thing.
7) Pen pals - if mobility is a challenge, consider a pen pal program with any number of mixed- generation facilities. An assisted living facility is one option. These relationships don't have to be between children and the elderly, however. My high school students used to go to an elementary school once a week to read to first graders. That is also an intergenerational learning experience that benefits both parties.
8) Form an Intergenerational community service crew to give time to improving the community. The purpose of this would be to bring various skills and ideas from different generations to the table. It's also a great way to learn from each other while working toward common goals.
These are just a few ideas. There are many possibilities. Play around with what might work for the age group you work with, your schedule, the number of students you have, your level of flexibility, mobility and more. What works for you and your students may not work well for others. But don't let these obstacles stop you from providing intergenerational learning experiences to your students, or if you're a parent, to your children. There is so much to gain from intergenerational relationships. Don't waste an opportunity!
Check out Experiential Learning Depot on TpT for more experiential learning resources. You can also follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
The bulk of my experience as an educator was at a school that was student-centered, travel-encouraged, and predominantly project-based. Combine all three and you have student-directed school trips.
I participated in dozens of travel experiences with my students, from one night camping excursions, to weeks abroad. Out of all of those trips I only planned and organized a couple of them myself. All of the others were planned by students as school projects. I provided assistance with logistics, but the students gave the trips meaning and purpose. Some trips planned by students include an earth science trip to Hawaii, an ecology trip to California, marine biology trip to Florida, and a tropical biology trip to Costa Rica. Note: all trips do not have to be biology related! The ones just mentioned are because my background and teaching license is in biology.
Step-By-Step Guide to Student-Led Educational Trips
Where do school trip ideas come from?
All school trips start with a "spark". There is some input a student receives that strikes a chord. They may come across an interesting concept while working on a different project. They may hear stories from friends, family, teachers, students, or community members about a place that ignites curiosity. Maybe they even learn about something on a documentary, from a podcast, social media or in the news. It's typically accidental. The student isn't necessarily "looking" for a school trip to plan.
One of my students, let's call her D, was interested in primates. She wanted to know everything about primates from natural history to a career in primatology. I gave her a book to read for a project she was doing on primates called "A Primate's Memoir." In the midst of exploring this topic, she decided she wanted to visit a primate research center. The closest one we could find was in Iowa. We tried EVERYTHING to get a hold of this primate reserve, but were ultimately unable to connect. She went back to the drawing board. She discovered a primate research center in Sacramento, California and from that point on was determined to get us out there to study primates.
This interest in primates launched D into a high school career of school trip planning. She planned the trip to California and upon our return decided she needed to get to a place where she could observe primates in their natural habitat. Her senior project then became planning a school tropical biology trip to Costa Rica. Never did it cross D's mind when she started school that she would travel across the world.
A student decides they want to plan a trip. What's next?
Ok, so let's say D just discovered this primate research center in California and now she wants to go. What's next? If it's to be a school trip, there are requirements she needs to follow. She needs to identify the purpose of the trip, research cost, look into learning activities, connect with community experts, and create a fundraising plan.
Part of planning a school trip requires determining a specific purpose that is educational in nature. D quickly learned that California isn't where one typically goes to study primates. She also discovered that California has diverse ecosystems scattered throughout. When you drive an hour in any direction in MN what you see is more or less the same. When you drive an hour in any direction in California the landscape completely changes. It is night and day between San Francisco and Napa Valley for example. So D modified her purpose, broadening it to ecology to study biomes, biodiversity, climate, etc. This made it easier to align the trip to standards while sticking by her original plan to visit the primate research center in Sacramento.
My students use a Trip Plan Guidesheet that I created to assist them in the process. This product is FREE to download in my TpT store. My students research the questions on the guidesheet, put their information into a slideshow, and present their trip plan to the school board. The school board then approves the trip. The slideshow below was created by D and presented by her to the board. The trip to California was approved.
Preliminary plans are in place and the trip has been approved. Now what?
The first step once the trip has been approved is to start fundraising efforts. These fundraisers can and should also be student-led. A school policy was that students needed to raise a certain amount of money before making any trip arrangements. Check out this blog post I wrote a couple months ago on student-led fundraisers.
Once an agreed upon amount of money has been raised students start preparing for the trip (with your guidance). They will refine their itinerary; book tours, lodging, car rental if needed, etc; complete pre-trip projects; create project proposals for on-site trip projects; and connect with trip experts.
Even if educational travel isn't reality at your school, consider assigning students to plan a theoretical school trip. The skills and knowledge that D gained in the planning process alone was staggering. She learned how to budget. She gained content knowledge, in this case related to ecology. She learned some topography techniques and had some lessons in geography. D gained experience in public speaking and speech writing. She even practiced important life skills and competencies such as organizing, planning, follow-through, and determination. She learned how to fail, go back to the drawing board, and try again.
Planning a trip is an impressive learning experience. Feel free to download the Trip Plan Guideline mentioned above. You might also consider purchasing my PBL project - Plan a Trip Around the World - which provides all of the templates helpful in trip planning.
Student-led trip planning is just one of many ways to implement student-directed learning in your classroom. In the near future I will be writing a series of posts on this topic. Also stay-tuned for tips on what it takes to start a school travel program at your school.
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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.