For those of you that follow my blog closely you are likely not surprised that I'm writing a post on my distaste for worksheets, and for you I'll be preaching to the choir. Others may be thinking "ugh, another progressivist posting about how terrible worksheets are." I assure you, ditching worksheets is not a progressive move anymore. You might be neither of those people and are just curious about why worksheets may not be an optimal learning strategy and what some alternatives may be. I hope to provide some insight to all and some alternatives to worksheets.
I have used "worksheets" before and will continue to use them occasionally in my teaching career. However, I use them sparingly, and I use a specific style of worksheet. When I use the word "worksheet" in this post from now on, what I am referring to is that of the "drill" variety: pages or packets filled with the same questions over and over again, slightly modified, that have a right or wrong answer. I'm going to tell you why I don't use worksheets, common excuses for assigning worksheets and alternatives. As you move into summer, reflect on your practices this year. Will you use worksheets next year?
Why I don't give my students worksheets:
1) I would be a hypocrite.
It's an integrity thing for me. I talk heavily about the benefits of experiential learning in this blog. If I were to say "yes" to drill worksheets, I wouldn't be practicing what I preach. I support and promote experiential learning because I have observed the benefits, and science supports it as an effective learning tool. The same can not be said for worksheets, at least not in isolation.
For more information about experiential learning check out this blog post -"What is Experiential Learning, Anyway?". You can also hear my thoughts in my interview about experiential learning on the podcast, A Teacher's Shoes.
2) Worksheets do not accommodate all learning styles.
Worksheets are a one-size-fits-all approach, and learners are not one-size-fits-all. This can leave many students confused, frustrated, and deflated. Differentiation is a popular approach to accommodating many learning styles. At a minimum, then, leave worksheets as an option, but beware that students may not be choosing to do worksheets because they learn best that way. They are likely choosing worksheets because they offer concrete right or wrong answers. It's easier than having to problem-solve, work together as a team, reach out to community members as a resource, as some non-worksheet learning activities would require of students.
3) Drill worksheets do not have a place in life outside of school.
The only time I have ever done worksheets in my life was when I was in school. It would never come up in life; not to get a job, not to keep a job, not to plan for a family, not to plan a trip. Drill worksheets serve no purpose in life, so why do them? I'm short on time as it is. Adding busy work that serves no purpose is not something I'm going to do. Prospective employers are never going to ask students in an interview how well they can fill out a worksheet. They're going to want to know if the student has a thorough understanding of the content necessary to succeed in their field. They're going to want to know if the student can work well with others, control their impulses, critically and creatively think, work independently. These skills aren't gained by completing drill worksheets.
4) Worksheets "decontextualize" learning.
Drill worksheets are loaded with questions or problems in isolation from the whole. For example, I would get worksheets in high school chemistry that were filled with chemical equations to be solved. We would practice over and over solving these equations with specific formulas, yet I had no idea how those formulas applied to chemistry or what they really meant. I wasn't learning chemistry. I only learned how to regurgitate information that had little meaning.
I think the Alfie Kohn quote below is referring to "schooling" in general, but it applies to drill worksheets, which tend to be tasks isolated from a bigger picture. Worksheets perpetuate this problem. By hammering in discrete units, students are collecting piles of bricks but not building a functional home.
5) Worksheets do not ignite a passion for learning.
Worksheets are boring! Some may say, "who cares, students don't have to like it. That's the real-world. Life isn't always fun and games. Better to prepare them for that now." That is something I hear a lot and it's very frustrating to me. Students can quickly lose their passion for learning if worksheets are the norm. What I want for my students is to love learning. You will never have students seeking you out years down the line to thank you for your worksheets or to share with you the incredible impact those worksheets have had on their lives. They will thank you for building a relationship with them, creating opportunities for them to pursuit their interests, challenging them, and giving them autonomy and choice, because it's those things that make a real and important impact on their lives.
I assure you that the student comments above are not in reference to all of the worksheets she was given in school. She is talking about experiences she had. Worksheets are not life-altering. To hear more about this particular student's story, listen to my podcast interview. Link above.
6) Worksheets train students for careers of the past.
Drill style worksheets don't teach Important 21st-century skills such as tech literacy, creativity, social/emotional skills, collaboration, communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and other skills employers of today desire. Rote memorization is no longer a skill worth spending a lot of time cultivating because information is so readily available. It wasn't 50 years ago, at which time worksheets made more sense. Now drill worksheets are an archaic practice.
I have talked to a lot of teachers and parents that defend drill worksheets. Below I have listed some common answers I get from parents and teachers when asked why they give out or support the use of drill worksheets. I have included some alternatives to satisfy those justifications:
1) " I assign worksheets to students as content review."
Many teachers give worksheets to students with the intention of hammering in an idea or concepts covered that day in class or in that unit.
What's the problem with that?
Unless that content is tied to life, the real-world, or something personally meaningful to the student, that content won't be remembered, regardless of how many times they repeat repeat repeat.
What to do instead:
If your purpose for using review worksheets is to help students memorize content, consider doing an activity that will leave a lasting impression. Then students will not only remember the content long enough to pass a test, but may remember it 20 years later, and say to themselves, "Hey! That's an example of commensalism! I remember that from that ecology vocab scavenger hunt we did in Ms. Segar's bio class! Remember that egret we saw sitting on that cow?" (scavenger hunt free in my store) As an experiential educator, I believe "leaving a lasting impression" requires that the learner be involved in some way. A scavenger hunt where students can observe and experience the ecology vocab in action is more memorable than copying definitions onto a worksheet. Even a combination of an activity and a worksheet would be more effective than a worksheet alone (if you insist that the worksheet is necessary).
2) "I sometimes give out worksheets as a formative assessments."
Sometimes teachers just want to see if students know the material that they've been taught. I do understand why teachers would do this. It's quick, it's easy, it's cut and dry.
What is the problem with that?
The problem is that drills are typically in isolation from the whole. It's difficult to see how drill problems connect with the an overarching concept. You often miss misconceptions that students have developed, and you wouldn't necessarily know if students understand the concepts or if they are just great at memorization.
What to do instead:
Try other versions of formative assessments. I get a lot of mine from the book "Science Formative Assessment" by Page Kelly. It gives a ton of quick, easy formative assessment strategies that are designed to reveal where students are having trouble or forming misconceptions. There are so many creative formative assessment strategies out there. Do a simple Google search or head to Pinterest. You can even simply ask students to write a reflection, which is what I do with my students, as reflection is an important part of experiential learning.
3) "Worksheets give students practice."
I hear this one a lot, and understand why someone might think this. A drill worksheet likely does give students practice, but what is it that they're practicing exactly, and is it something we want them practicing?
What is the problem with that?
What students are practicing is memorization for the purpose of passing a test. This just isn't necessary anymore. They have access to information all of the time. The internet is not going away. I would argue that using worksheets to "practice" is doing more harm than good. If students are doing drills for practice, and they are doing the drills incorrectly or don't understand the material, the "practice" is just reinforcing misconceptions and confusions.
What to do instead:
Again, if the purpose for drilling is to get students to memorize the information, try making it experiential. Get your students involved. Not only are they more likely to remember the concepts, but they will have a clearer understanding of it. There are so many great ways to do this like inviting speakers to talk about their research, taking students on field trips, collaborating with the community, inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning, STEM, STEAM, maker education and more. These are all effective strategies for practicing and understanding content, while providing opportunities for students to build important life skills. For student-directed problem-based learning, project-based learning, maker, and inquiry resources, check out my store, Experiential Learning Depot.
This is much easier said than done for some teachers. I have math teachers in mind here. For math teachers, check out a previous post here written by Tony Geraci. He is a high school math teacher that incorporates 21st-century skills into his curriculum. Check it out here.
The series of photos above illustrates a STEM project where students worked cooperatively to build a treehouse for LEGO people as an extension of a book we read on citizenship. Not only did students learn about citizenship, practice team building, and work with their hands, they also learned math and physics concepts. They are more likely to remember and understand those concepts, as they had to actually apply them to be successful.
4) "Sometimes kids have to do things they don't want to do. That's life."
I hear this one a lot, "That's life", as if drills prepare students for life. I myself have said this before, especially when I'm frustrated with my students and their lack of productivity.
What's the problem with this?
I have to take a step back and remember that life is hard as it is, especially for teenagers. My students have experienced a lot in their short lives. They are tougher and more responsible than they should have to be at 16-years-old. Worksheets are also not a real-world reality. Students will never encounter a job in which they have to sit at a desk and fill out worksheets for the purpose of rote memorization.
What to do instead:
There are many things that our students do in life that they don't like. You don't need worksheets to teach them about hardship or work ethic. Encourage students to prepare for the real-world by getting a job or starting a business. Facilitate learning experiences that are student-directed so they can practice desired career skills. Problem-based learning is a great example activity. Promote community relationships with your students such as starting a mentorship program or organizing service learning experiences.
Want to toughen kids up and help them understand the value of hard work? Have them spend nine days working on an off-grid chicken farm in the middle of the mountains. Everything takes effort. I never heard "that's doing too much" from one of my students because saying that wasn't an option. I understand that these experiences aren't realistic for all. Consider then bringing the challenge to the classroom. Use the community to make your point.
5) "Worksheets are quick and easy to plan and implement. Sometimes I just need a break from rigorous lesson planning."
This is completely understandable. Teacher burnout is real and powerful. Sometimes teachers just need a breather. There is no problem with that.
What to do instead?
Like I said, I get it. If you must give out worksheets to give yourself a break, try to do it sparingly. There are other ways to take breaks that are better for everyone:
Put on a movie! I know this can be frowned upon, but there are so many educational movies out there. There are documentaries galore about any subject you can think of! I love throwing on news series for students because they are relevant and promote citizenship. Check out my Vice News episode activities. Note: I call these resources "worksheets" in my store only because I don't know what else to call them. I assure you, they are not drill worksheets.
Find resources that are quick and easy to plan that are applicable to life. For example, rather than giving students a drill worksheet on basic math principles, ask them to write a travel budget. Rather than giving students a vocabulary worksheet where they copy down definitions, have them create a slideshow with vocab definitions along with a photo that represents the definition. One of my coworkers used to do this with her students. It helps students make real connections with the words in a more interesting and effective way.
One final method of limiting intense lesson planning is to incorporate student-directed learning activities into your curriculum. Your students direct the learning experience while you facilitate. No lesson planning. Check out my store for student-directed learning resources AND refer back to blog posts from my student-directed learning series for guidance.
As you drift into summer, reflect on your year. What did you do well? What could have gone better? What changes do you want to make? What kind of people do you want your students to become? How do you want your students to perceive learning? Does your current approach support your teaching goals? Are drill worksheets working for you, and more importantly, are your students getting anything out of them?
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Spring is here, the weather is warming, and students are getting antsy. The school year is wrapping up. Teachers want to end the year with a bang, but we're also exhausted and don't know how much more we have in us! It's testing season, prom season, graduation season, grade report season! Ah! May is bonkers in the world of education.
What better way to go out with a bang AND cruise through the rest of the year than with community action projects (CAPs)? I did a post on this a while ago. Feel free to go back to that post for details. In summary, students choose a local or global issue, design an action plan, and take action. It's a great mix of project-based learning, problem-based learning, and service-learning. Community action projects are interesting, multidisciplinary, and mine are designed to be student-directed, which means there is little to no preparation on your part other than introducing and facilitating the project.
Here's how it works: Students choose an issue that they'd like to get involved in and do some research on the problem. After students have chosen and thoroughly investigated an issue, they brainstorm solutions, design an action plan, and act. Hosting an exhibition night to showcase projects is a nice way to wrap up the experience.
You could allow students to choose any issue of interest or keep it within parameters pertinent to goals or learning objectives for a class. For example, I have done an entire seminar called "community action projects" where that's all we did. I have also incorporated CAPs into specific courses such as a final project for my environmental science class. Students focused on issues pertinent to the environment such as water pollution. Check out this community action project designed specifically to the concept of pollution.
There are a couple important distinctions between this kind of project and any other school project. My community action projects follow the principles of project-based learning, so one of the most important distinctions is that these projects make an impact on the community, preferably long-term. Check out my post on the elements of project-based learning for more details. A student could create an elaborate awareness campaign with beautiful illustrations and a catchy slogan, but if their final product isn't shared or never reaches a relevant audience, then learners aren't reaching their full potential. The project wouldn't make a real impact if not shared with a meaningful audience and the student is robbed of deeper learning, particularly of opportunities to build important 21st-century skills such as networking, communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and citizenship. The purpose of a project like this is not to theorize solutions to hypothetical problems. It's to teach students how to be responsible and active citizens, to have the tools to fight injustices, or simply know how to solve real-world problems.
The following is a list of community action project ideas that could apply to most issues. Students can refer to this list when designing their action plans or you could choose an idea from the list to assign to the class. That would be the more teacher-guided approach vs. student-directed where students design their own projects. You choose!
***I have a community action project toolkit in my store that includes all guiding materials and templates needed for students to carry out projects on issues of their choice.
10 Community Action Project Ideas To Wrap Up the School Year
1. Awareness Campaign:
Students design a campaign that would educate the public on the issue. They could create posters, t-shirts, a video promotion, etc. They can get super creative with this one, and the options are endless, especially with social media and other technologies having come onto the scene.
2) Design and Make a Product:
The idea behind this one is that students design and make something that raises awareness and provides a tangible outcome. The product should be usable or sellable to raise money for the cause. One example would be starting a philanthropic business. The shoe company, TOMS, was founded on this idea. They observed that kids without shoes were developing health problems such as hookworm. TOMS business model then is one-for-one where they give a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair they sell. Check out this free business plan organizer from my store. Another example would be taking an invasive species, like buckthorn here in MN, and using it as material for a product to sell such as a bracelet or waste basket. This action plan physically removes the problem and brings in money (selling the product at a school function, in boutiques, or on ETsy) to use toward a permanent, long term solution (ex: donating the funds to the DNR.) This is a great option for the makers of the world.
3) Innovative Strategy to Raise Awareness:
Imagine a student is interested in the issue of teen pregnancy. One way to raise awareness would be to create a brochure with some info and stats on the isse and pass it around town. Okay. That is technically raising awareness, but it's not a head turner. There is nothing creative, interesting or shocking about it. Brochures are overdone and overlooked. To truly make an impact, the student's audience needs to be intrigued.
For example, a student of mine did her community action project on teen pregnancy. Rather than a simple brochure, she created a website with information about teen pregnancy. She then assembled HUNDREDS of fortune-tellers (paper origami game). She put information about teen pregnancy on the fortune-tellers as well as a link to her website. Near the website link was instructions for entering a drawing for a prize. She then discretely dropped hundreds of these fortune tellers around the city - on city buses, in community center bathrooms, on the bleachers at school football games, etc. In order for a reader of the fortune teller to get their name in the drawing, they had to go to her website, find the contact page, and send her a note that included three facts that they learned from her website. There are several cool things going on here. One is that the fortune teller screams to be picked up. It would be odd to see a fortune teller sitting next to the soap dispenser in a public restroom.
4. Organize a school club or community organization:
I have had several students start and organize clubs for their community action projects. One group started an environmental science club. Enough with the science examples already! I'm a science teacher, what can I say? They created objectives and goals and organized club events related to their community action projects. They put together a community wide clean-up day where they walked the school neighborhood picking up trash. The club organizers invited speakers to come in and educate students on local environmental issues and give them tips on how they could help. I have a PBL project specific to starting a club, which includes templates helpful for getting one started.
5. Community Volunteer
One way to take action on an issue of importance is to give time to a cause. That often takes the shape of volunteering. Students find an organization relevant to the issue they've chosen for their project and give their time to that organization. Leaving it there would be a typical community service or volunteer experience. A community action project doesn't stop at giving a few hours of their time. Students also need to document their experience and share that experience with an audience that is meaningful or relevant to the issue.
One student was interested in trafficking. She connected with a shelter that took in trafficked survivors to help them get back on their feet. They asked her to organize a food and clothing drive for women in the shelter. In order to collect a substantial amount of food and clothing, this student needed to get the attention of the community. She invited some of the women from the shelter to speak at the school. She opened the event to all students and community members. The women's stories were powerful. More people were willing to donate food and clothing once they were aware of the issue. This wasn't a simple volunteer experience where clock hours logged and signed by a supervisor. This student not only gave her time to cause that she was passionate about, but she was able to raise awareness about the issue a the same time. Deep learning took place here. Volunteering has a been a popular action plan. Other projects have included a student helping dog shelters at adoption events. Another group of students observed elementary teachers needed help, so they connected with a local elementary school to come in and help, which included reading with kids.
6. Host a Fundraiser
Raising money is a great way to take action for a community action project. The outcome makes a direct and tangible impact. Several of my students organized a holiday pie fundraiser at the time when the Syrian refugee crisis was front and center. They not only learned about the Syrian conflict, but also how to organize an effective fundraiser. They had to learn which organizations were reputable and would get the money into the right hands. They learned how to make homemade pies and how to market their fundraiser. They had to figure out how to make a profit, not lose money! They knew pie ingredients could get expensive (particularly apples), so worked with local orchards to work out a reduced price. They created a survey to determine how much money people would pay for homemade pies so they could price them appropriately and effectively. See this free student-directed fundraiser organizer from my store.
7. Write Letters and Meet with Legislators
Advocating for legislation is a really powerful learning experience, not only because students make an impact on their community at the time, but they also develop the skills to continue to do so long after they've graduated. It's important for students to know their rights and how to advocate for themselves and their communities over the course of their lives. I had a student that was frustrated with the lack of job prospects for ex convicts. She wrote letters to her local legislators expressing her interest in the issue and invited them to come to the school to meet with her and talk about possible solutions. One of her legislators called her back, came to the school to meet with her, where they brainstormed solutions at the legislative level. Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs (MAAP) also organizes a statewide legislative day every year where students from all corners of Minnesota come to the state Capitol to discuss the importance of alternative education with their legislators.
8. Artistic Production
This is another way to raise awareness about a local issue. This idea here is that students create some kind of production such as a skit, play, documentary, music concert, etc. that raises awareness in an interesting way. They then bring the production to relevant audiences around the community or host an event. For example, a group of students doing a project on the issue of bike accidents might create a skit that demonstrates bike safety and perform that skit at local elementary schools or community clubs in the area.
This is when students organize a walk or demonstration to raise awareness or put pressure on politicians to act. Our students have participated in the Science March, March for Immigration, and the Women's March. They create original signage for the events. They document the experience via vogging, a documentary, photojournalism, blogging, etc. I have also had students organize walks, which is what the photo on the cover of my Community Action Project resource illustrates. Some students read a book for their book club called "Am I Blue?", which inspired them to organize a walk for gay rights. They recruited participants from the school and community.
10. Host a School Event
This is a fun one but might would take significant effort on your part. I have had students organize screenings of documentaries that are only available to educators. One specific example is the documentary "Sold", which is a movie version of the book "Sold", which I read with students for a women's studies seminar. I have also had students host environmental science fairs, fundraisers (carnivals, cook-offs, car washes, etc.) We have had students host a speaker series from community members relevant to the issue at hand. The list goes on. Let kids get creative!
There are many more options for action plans, but these are the most common with my students. This particular project is really powerful, inspiring, and is a great way to end the year, especially if you host an exhibition or presentation night to show off their final products. Good luck! I would love to hear of student projects and outcomes. Feel free to send me photos or comments to email@example.com. I'd love to feature them on my blog.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources. I am participating in the sitewide sale 5/7-5/8. The whole store is 25% off.
'Tis the season for road trips! Whether it be a spring camping trip with students, a summer road trip with your own children, or a cross country trip with just you and your dog, take full advantage of learning opportunities along the way. Learning is powerful beyond the walls of a classroom. Hitting the road opens doors to learning experiences that couldn't be achieved from a classroom.
There are many gears working to make a road trip possible from the planning stages, to packing, navigating, financing, and more. Involving students in these steps gives them the chance to apply skills and knowledge in real-world contexts. Travel gives students the wherewithal to figure things out regardless of the situation or changing circumstances. If you get lost, you have no choice but to find your way. It might put a wrench in your plans, but this is a learning experience in itself.
Learning naturally happens all the time, especially when traveling. But you can still encourage students to plan PBL projects, reflect on their experiences in a way that is intentional, collaborate with locals along the way, do the trip planning, fundraise, and more. I used to take students on road trips for summer school credit. When leading an educational travel experience, having purpose, expectations, structure, and guidance is important. I require my high school student travelers to complete student-directed PBL projects that are relevant to the trip at hand. I have also done this with my own young children. You might recall a past post on a family trip to Denmark where my four-year-old documented the trip with my camera and edited the photos using a photo app.
I am a champion of learning, particularly when it is student-led and promotes lifelong learning. It doesn't matter if it's summer. It doesn't matter if it's not in a traditional learning environment. Parents and homeschoolers, this post is especially pertinent to you because you have more flexibility when it comes to using the world as a resource.
The following is a list of learning activity ideas to do for or on a road trip. They are intended to be adaptable, modifiable, and work across the board with all skill levels, age groups, backgrounds, and more. They are just ideas to bring learning and travel together. Project-based learning is one of the easier ways to incorporate intentional learning into travel experiences. Check out my project-based learning toolkit to help guide students through the process of student-directed project-based learning from the design stage through to the reflection and assessment.
Good luck! I'd love you to add any ideas not listed here. This list is certainly not exhaustive. If you have your students or children do any of these learning activities this spring or summer I'd l'd love for you to share the experience!
20 Learning Activities To Do On Road Trips
1. Create a tour using Google Maps -
I wrote a blog post a while back about using Google Maps in project-based learning. Check that out for more specific ideas. Learners could plot points and narrate a tour on Google Maps of just about anything from restaurants to overlooks to birding spots along the way.
2. Scientific inquiry experiments -
students could ask a question about their route and collect data as they go. For example a student may want to conduct biodiversity sampling from a variety of different habitats. I took students to California a few years ago to study the starkly contrasting ecosystems in the state. We traveled by car around the state collecting climate and biodiversity data. I also drove students through Florida studying the diverse marine ecosystems along the way. These are just examples. There is an infinite number of questions your learners could ask and test on the road. If you're interested in inquiry-based learning but would like some guiding materials, check out the toolkit offered in my store.
3. Scrapbooking -
Students could create a physical scrapbook by adding photos with captions and collecting and adding artifacts from the trip such as museum stubs or souvenirs. They could also find a digital scrapbooking program such as Shutterfly. Shutterfly is a photo program where you can create photo books. They can be costly. Students could use any number of free programs as simple as Google Slides or the free version of Canva.
4. Photojournalism -
Have students document some relevant current event using photography as their medium. This could be on any number of topics in politics, art, culture, humanities, etc. An example would be documenting evidence of an upcoming election. There may be events taking place in towns along the way, campaign signs littering yards or billboard advertisements splattered along freeways.
5. Budgeting -
Have your students create a trip budget that includes lodging, gas, food, activities or tours, etc. I have many travel products in my TpT store, most of which are free. One of these products, free, includes budgeting guidance. Challenge students by encouraging them to keep the trip under a certain amount of money. It might also be cool to have students create a blog post on tips and tricks to pinching pennies on the road.
6. Design and create a road trip game -
Road trips can get long. Ask your students to create a game before the trip begins that they can play in the car. The challenge is making sure the game is road trip appropriate such as keeping it compact, limiting small pieces, and making sure it can be played while seated. You could also have students create a game that is inspired by the trip such as gathering information about small towns on their route and writing trivia questions about their stops.
7. Journaling -
Students could also keep a written journal. I have done this on every trip I've ever taken, even as an adult. It's fun to look back on them years later. I have had students do doodle journals instead of written journals as well where they articulate their experience through pictures, or doodles in this case.
8. Make a cookbook -
All cities have cuisine unique to their region, or types of food they are known for. Determine food staples in different towns/cities along your trip, learn how to make those dishes, and create a cookbook. For example, if I did a road trip through the midwest I might learn how to make deep dish pizza (Illinois), pasties (Michigan), hot dish (Minnesota), and cheese curds (Wisconsin).
9. Photography -
Capturing the travel experience with photos is an obvious road trip learning activity. Just because it is obvious doesn't make it any less valuable. When taking pictures you see things differently than you would if you weren't trying to get the perfect shot. You notice more, learn to ask questions, and go to greater lengths (such as climbing this hill just a little bit higher) to get that perfect shot. Students would experience the trip from a unique perspective. Try landscape photography, wildlife photography, environmental portraits, etc.
10. Create a trip inspired playlist -
This is more of a trip reflection as it encourages students to look back on the trip and connect music to meaningful experiences had on the trip. Click here for a free travel reflection.
11. Creative writing -
Students could write a book of poetry, a short story, a children's book, a graphic novel, a song(s), a comic, etc. inspired by trip experiences.
12. Make postcards -
Students can make their own postcards of stops along the way with any number of art mediums such as photography, drawing, painting, charcoal, etc. They can then send their postcards to friends and family as they travel.
13. Social media documentation -
The great thing about technology today is that students can share their experiences in real time. Students can document their trips as they are on them and post updates for friends and family to follow along on their journey. I had my students do this on school trips with me. We published a blog post at the end of each day of the trip. My students have mostly blogged in the past, but they could have also vlogged, made a podcast, a documentary, or simply provided updates on their own social media sites. I took students on a bio trip to Costa Rica a few years ago and we blogged about the experience right here on Experiential Learning Depot - check it out.
14. Volunteering/community involvement -
Before students take the trip, ask them to contact organizations along the route that reflects their interests. For example, students interested in environmental science or nature may be interested in cleaning up road litter along the way or plastics washed up along beaches.
15. History projects -
Have students do PBL projects on the history of places they stop on their trip. They might want to know how the infrastructure of towns has changed over the past 100 years, the history of the people and changing demographics, the history of specific monuments located in each town they stop, or even the history of particular buildings such as lighthouses, factories, schools, or abandoned buildings.
16. Economics projects -
Have students explore certain aspects of the economy along the route. One example is to investigate the unemployment rates in different towns along the way and mapping the rates. Another option is exploring major markets or industries in the cities that they visit such as tech startups, logging companies, hospitality, tourism, etc. They could visit some of these companies, tour factories, interview employees, etc.
17. Art portfolio -
Students can create a portfolio of art pieces inspired by trip experiences such as drawings, watercolor paintings, a collage, etc. The portfolio could be art pieces based around a theme such as landscapes, water towers, lighthouses, bridges, barns, etc. or the portfolio could just represent the trip in general. One of my students created an adult coloring book, her coloring pages inspired by experiences or things she saw on her trip.
18. Journalism -
Interview people along way on any number of topics and write a "news article". I took some of my students to the Big Island of Hawaii last year, and as we circumnavigated the island over the course of the week, several of my students interviewed locals, farmers, business owners, and more on whether they've felt any impacts of climate change or expect to in the foreseeable future. The students then wrote an article summarizing their findings. Again, this is just one example. I am a science teacher, so many of my examples will be science related. It doesn't mean they have to be. Let your students get creative!
19. Collecting and analyzing artifacts -
Have students collect and catalogue any number of artifacts they find during their travels such as insects, leaves, shells, soil, rocks, flower petals, etc. They can even map their findings and examine how environmental factors might play a role in what artifacts were found where. For example, they may find very different rocks at one stop than they do at another. Students can research and analyze why this might be.
20. Maker projects/ STEM -
Have students observe a problem associated with car travel, such sore backs from sitting too long, and design and create a solution to the problem. I saw a video on Pinterest a while back of students games that could fit in the side pocket of their backpack to bring on an airplane. The pieces had to be small, they had to have three games in one, and the whole game needed to fit in an Altoids tin. The final products were astounding. This is an example of a product engineered to make travel easier.
Thanks for stopping by! Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education. Check out my TpT store - Experiential Learning Depot - for student-directed resources. Most of the educational travel resources are free.
Again, follow up if your students have done any of these learning activities on road trips or if you have any learning activity ideas. Feel free to contact me through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Parents and students, if spring or summer travel is unrealistic because of time, money, or any other obstacle, check out some of these creative ways to get your kids traveling this summer!
Happy road tripping!
I'm so excited to introduce Eliot Kersgaard from Myra Makes as my guest blogger this week! I've been interested in STEAM for a long time, but do not feel at all equipped at this point to write about it. I'm lucky to have connected with Eliot, a STEAM rockstar, who was kind enough to share his thoughts and expertise with us.
Eliot Kersgaard is the cofounder and director of Myra Makes. He was born and raised in Colorado and has a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Colorado. He has experience in nonprofit management, urban agriculture, STEAM education, physics, metaphysics, design thinking, permaculture and multimedia art.
5 Ways STEAM Can Improve Learning Outcomes
STEAM is one of the new buzzwords on the block in the experiential education movement. But what does it mean, and why should we care?
In most circles, STEAM education is a modification to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), which includes the A for the Arts. Some organizations, like Maker Bolder in Colorado, switch out a couple of the STEM letters and call STEAM Science, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Arts and Making. To avoid confusion, we’ll think about STEAM in this article as the traditional STEM subjects plus the Arts.
The idea behind STEM and STEAM is not merely that these subjects are important, but that they are best taught together, as complementary subjects. And while STEM might conjure a picture of kids making robots or learning to code, the aim isn’t about getting more kids to build robots and make video games. And adding the “A” isn’t about making those robots prettier. The inclusion of Arts in the mix is a recognition that creative, divergent, and aesthetic thinking are key ingredients to success, innovation, and communication in STEM and life in general. The fundamental objective of STEAM in my mind is to help create a more technically literate society that better understands how science works and is able to think creatively to adapt to these changes and leverage them for the best.
STEAM is part of a growing movement of integrated education, and most in the STEAM movement also recognize the importance of other educational philosophies and tools into their approaches. These include problem-based learning, making, experiential learning, nature-based education, and social-emotional learning. Just as STEAM subjects are strengthened when considered together, these lenses and tools are strengthened when combined.
A collaborative brainstorming session focused on generating ideas to make a difference in our communities.
STEAM education is one way to frame learning during an impact-oriented project.
STEAM, along with other educational philosophies in the dialogue today, can seem intimidating to teachers, kids, and parents because it seems to demand more of everyone involved. This uncertainty and fear is valid, and the STEAM approach is fundamentally different from the educational system that has been developed in the West since the mid 1800’s. However, before that time, STEAM, Making, and problem-based learning, while not called by these names, were the standard for learning and learning environments. Prior to the industrial revolution, it was common for thought leaders in many disciplines to cross disciplinary bridges. Think Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, and Hypatia. In many ways, the STEAM and aligned movements are a rekindling of how education has been conducted for most of human civilization.
OK, but what does STEAM education actually look like? I’ll explain through an example of a STEAM project. Imagine that a homeschool family has decided to construct a small greenhouse and outdoor garden. They decide to use this project as a STEAM learning opportunity. The project is broken into five different elements, one for each of the STEAM letters. Note that while the project described is a lengthy project, STEAM learning can take place over shorter times and with less planning as well. See Myra Makes (and a future post here!) for some ideas of quick STEAM activities to do at home.
A garden project, real or imagined, can introduce STEAM topics (pictured: Journey to Cloud City by Myra Makes)
For science, the students will study garden and greenhouse ecology to decide what species to include and what they will need to thrive. For technology, the students will create automated systems of light, heat and water to ensure everything runs smoothly and to reduce the workload during operation. For engineering, the students will design and build the infrastructure needed. For art, the students will design the overall arrangement of all of the elements, create a mural on the side of the garden beds to represent their visions for the project, and write a summary of the project so others can learn from the experience. Finally, for math, the students will create a budget for the project and decide on the various purchases needed. The key factor that makes this project a STEAM project is that learning in one of the areas is connected to learning in all of the other areas. The technology element draws from biology to determine the appropriate light and water requirements for the plants. The engineering element must consider the technology that will be included as well as the ecology. The artistic element brings all of the other elements together to determine how to represent the project to the outside world and create an overarching design.
The results are improved learning outcomes across the board, beginning with:
Number Five: Increasing content relevance
In work, entrepreneurial, or home contexts, the STEAM fields rarely live in isolation from one another. The construction of a garden and greenhouse is one example of how they are likely to be found together. By teaching these subjects together, we are able to more closely mimic how students are likely to encounter them later in life. This strengthens the mental pathways that connect these subjects so that students will be better equipped to understand, analyze and design in situations they will encounter later in life. This increased relevance is the foundation for the other improvements in learning outcomes coming later on this list.
Number Four: Engaging a greater diversity of learners
In the normalized academic structure of having each subject taught separately, students can easily become alienated from specific subjects. Students can lose interest in a class and have a difficult time becoming engaged again as the content grows more difficult and they struggle to play catch-up. If a student is disengaged in math, it is unlikely that more difficult math in the context of another math class will be a gateway to interest. On the other hand, teaching multiple subjects together provides more avenues for learners to become interested in the material. If math is taught alongside art or biology, there are now routes for students interested in art or biology to become interested in math as well.
Number Three: Building creative, problem-solving and design skills
While it is true that careers in science and technology are becoming more plentiful, the most sought-after skills in the workforce are more abstract: problem-solving and creativity. These skills are fundamentally a blend between artistic thinking and scientific thinking. Artistic thinking is divergent, on-the-fly thinking, identifying many approaches to a problem, and connecting disparate elements together. Scientific thinking emphasizes analysis, optimization, and experimentation. As a simplification, the arts are the beginning, highly creative stages of a design process, while the sciences are later stages of analysis and optimization. By teaching them together, problem solving and design are embedded throughout the curriculum.
Problem-solving games can encourage kids to draw on their knowledge of STEAM subjects
to bring their imaginations to life (pictured: Inventure by Myra Makes (prototype))
Number Two: Increasing learner agency
As discussed in our Number Four, STEAM education increases the number of pathways to learning subject material. By mixing and matching subject matter, there are many entry points to the material and there are many ways of thinking about it. Just as this allows STEAM to engage a more diverse array of learners, it allows learners to explore their own personal learning style, connect the subject matter with their interests, and find new learning approaches that work best for them. These combine to increase the agency, or freedom, of a learner. This deepened agency is key to fostering lifelong learning, one of the fundamental aims of integrated education.
Number One: Improving content mastery
While each element on this list is valuable in itself, they also work together to increase students’ content mastery. In other words, their testable outcomes will improve. This is an emergent, almost accidental result of engaging more learners, increasing content relevance, and increasing learner agency.
About Myra Makes:
Myra Makes is a grassroots startup based in Colorado. We believe that every person has the innate capacity to contribute to a brighter future for all while meeting their needs and developing their passions. Our mission is to create a more playful and just society by enriching the lives of kids, teachers and families. To achieve this, we create books, games, and programs to engage the whole child in creative pursuits.
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If you are an avid follower of my blog, you know by now that content isn't something that I talk about often, if ever. It's not because I don't believe content is important. Students should be able to add fractions, know what a plant requires for growth and survival, and be able to locate China on a map. These things come up in real-life. But all a 21st-century student has to do to find out where China is located is pull out their phone and look it up. They don't need me for that.
What students need from teachers, in my experience, is guidance in developing 21st-century skills. I am an experiential learning and project-based learning educator. These approaches to learning are built around the idea that you acquire content knowledge by using these important 21st-century skills. It is the process of acquiring content knowledge that makes an impact, not the content itself. You learn about plant physiology by making observations, asking questions, problem-solving, making mistakes, trying again, accepting feedback and reflecting. Students discover the content by communicating and collaborating with community members, creating, and sharing using the latest technology, etc.
Applying this philosophy of learning to math is where I have always struggled. Let's put it out there right now. I'm not a math teacher. I have had to teach math because I'm a PBL advisor. It's part of the job description. Math is so content heavy and much of what we're required to teach, I feel, is irrelevant to the real-world. Not long ago a vlog series on Instagram caught my eye. A high school math teacher was posting videos on all of the ways he considers 21st-century learners in his classroom. He is hugely talented at incorporating the latest technology into his curriculum, and his students seem to love it. Math!!! Right?! Who knew. So, I tracked him down and asked him to give us some pointers. Check out his thoughts below and head to his Instagram page (@geraciedu) for more videos and insights from a 21st-century math teacher.
Tony Geraci Bio: I am a fifth-year high school math teacher. I work at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, CT. I currently teach 3 sections of Algebra 2 Honors, one section of Foundations of Geometry, and one section of Foundations of Algebra. While finishing my degree and getting certified to teach, I worked in elementary schools as a paraprofessional and a substitute teacher. Until this year, I also coached baseball for 5 years and girls’ basketball for 10 years at the high school level.
Disclaimer: My perspective is as a secondary education teacher. The elementary and middle school classes, I think, are moving in the right direction. By nature, they deal with the whole child and not just the academic version. For some reason when they get to high school, teachers tend to turn to ranking students rather than developing human beings. I do not want to do the dirty work for colleges. I want to improve the child sitting in front of me. If that is not your cup of tea, then that is also ok. I just want everyone to reflect, and make sure that they feel what they are doing is what is best for their students.
What can you do as a math teacher to BEST serve 21st-century learners?
1. Don’t hide behind your content.
Teachers used to be the sole gatekeepers of all information. Before the internet, if a student did not pay attention in class they would have to deal with the natural consequences of their choices.
Fortunately, that is not the case anymore. The advancements in technology has made information readily available and at our fingertips. It is not fair to judge students solely on their retention of facts and procedures. As teachers, we get upset when students don’t ‘get’ what we are teaching, when in fact, it could be the least interesting thing happening in their lives. Whether we like it or not, there are many more things happening in their lives now than ever before. If the only value that you are bringing your students is your content knowledge do not be surprised if they tune you out. Only students who are compliant will be the ones that engage. I would rather have students who are empowered than compliant.
What I do:
On day 1 of the school year I tell my students two things that usually grabs their attention. One, I don’t care about the math I am teaching. Two, I don’t care about their grades. Heads that are down looking at cell phones or staring out the window usually perk up fast. Now that I have their attention, and hopefully yours, let me explain. I tell them that I am not naive, and I have checked my ego at the door. I understand the reality is that 95% of the students I teach Algebra II will never use what I teach other than in an academic setting. It is just a fact. I am not sure how many jobs require students to use the quadratic formula to find imaginary numbers. Be transparent with your students. They see through the bullshit and your ‘real world’ problems. By being upfront they respect you much more.
2. Create lessons and activities with the human in mind, not content objectives.
As recently as 5 years ago, I saw curriculum stored in binders in the math office. When I asked what I will be teaching they gave me a binder and said follow the worksheets. If you were lucky to have enough textbooks, then teachers would follow textbook content in the order they found most effective. Then teachers would focus on how to best teach the kids content. When test time rolls around, students perform poorly and teachers say, “They should know this. I taught them how to do it."
It is more of the same. Content standards have become the big focus. They have given teachers a macro outlook on what students will be taught and when. “I can” statements or lesson objectives have also been the flavor of the time. Everything is focused on the content and not the student. There are “lessons” online that teachers can borrow or pay for, and many of these lessons focus on teaching the content, not the human that is learning the content.
What I do:
Conceptually, I try to think of how I can engage the students by changing the focus of the activity from the content to the skill. I take traditional, unengaging class time and flip it on its head. Rather than practice mathematical skills with a partner all the time I have a couple of go to activities.
Don’t try to be like anyone else, just be yourself. I am not saying don’t borrow ideas from other teachers, but everything should have your own flair added to it. It should be based on what your kids need and what they enjoy. These ideas are meant to give you a framework. Tailor them to your content, but don't forget about the needs of your students!
3. Be in the present but keep your eye on the future.
It is well known that school was designed to produce factory workers. Listening to the teacher translated into listening to a boss. Following directions and being compliant in school translated into being compliant on the job. It was great for what it was designed for. Unfortunately, the world has changed exponentially, and education hasn't followed suit.
While changes and improvements have been made, it is still not enough. The world is changing too fast. We are at a crucial transition period. There is a younger generation of teachers that have new, fresh ideas that engage students in different ways, but there are still many veteran teachers that don’t want to let go of the power or change the way things have always been done. Additionally, the overall structure of education focuses too much on test scores. We test on material that is irrelevant to the success of students as people. The SAT does not test work ethic, creativity, collaboration skills, or most skills that are needed in the workforce.
What I do:
Be aware of what is happening in the world. We are in the prime of a technology revolution, very similar to the industrial revolution that education was designed for so many years ago. Technology is making our lives more convenient. Convenience is KING/QUEEN!! It is going to be a race to make our lives as convenient as possible through technology. Things we don’t even know we need will be created and introduced in our lives, just like current technology. Who knew we needed apps where you can order almost anything and get it in two days. Rather than focus on teaching students academic skills that will never be applied to their actually lives (example: factoring quadratics), change that focus to life and personal skills that can be applied to all aspects of life.
4. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
If you try something and it flops, then it flops. If you can reflect at the end of the day and feel comfortable with your effort and execution, then you should be proud of yourself. I have tried many activities to try to engage my students that they thought was terrible. It is what it is. Do not let anyone judge what you are trying to do. The only people that matter are the students in front of you. A couple times a year I give my students a survey to get a feel for what they like and don’t like about my teaching style. They are brutally honest. Those surveys remind me that I work for them, they don’t work for me. I need to keep them happy and engaged if I want my message to be delivered effectively.
5. Do things that aren’t in the curriculum that you know are important.
Regardless of the class I am teaching, I always find time to fit in financial lessons. With my Algebra II students it is usually during our exponential growth unit. We talk about saving money with compound interest vs. saving, mortgage interest rates, car depreciation rates, the stock market, taxes and anything else they ask about. At times, the concepts are well above their heads, but they appreciate that fact that I am teaching them something ‘real’.
I hope this post makes you reflect on your practices. Please don’t think I am here trying to tell you what to do. This is what works for me, my personality, and my students. If you can ask yourself a couple questions to get this reflection process going, ask: Why am I a teacher? What do I want students to take away from my class? If I saw a student ten years after they were in my class, what is one thing I would want them to say they learned from my class? I wouldn’t want them to say, “Yah Mr. Geraci, I never forgot how you taught me how to find the vertex of a quadratic”. I don’t think many of you would want responses to involve your content. Don’t we all want to have a lasting impact on the person? Then why don’t we teach like it?
Thank for reading! Check out @geraciedu on Instagram, and @GMath_LSM on Twitter. Click on any of the links below go directly to Tony's videos on Twitter and Instagram.
Video: Probability that we can hit the shapes on the board.
Video: Student Input
Video: Why I started vlogging
What do you do to serve 21st-century students in your math classes?
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Teachers and parents of the 21st-century have a challenge to face and the responsibility to confront that challenge. Technology is a prominent and permanent part of modern society. It is a blessing and a curse, particularly when it comes to social media and children.
We have all been faced with the need to make important decisions for our children when it comes to technology; at what age to allow them to have their first cell phone, whether to let them use social media as a research or presentation tool in class for school projects, how much time to allow them on social media each day if at all, whether to install child monitoring software to home or school computers.
These are all legitimate decisions to make as parents and educators. We want children to be able to utilize all of the amazing learning tools that technology has to offer, but also want them to be safe. Technology is evolving rapidly. Generation Z is all over it. They know the latest trends the moment they start trending. My four-year-old knows how to use a photo editing app on my phone better than I do.
It is illogical to think that I will always know what my children and students are doing on social media at any given time. Therefore, rather than obsessing over how to control it, Cory A. Jones, author of "Followed", contends that we should embrace it and help students learn how to navigate it. He does so through realistic storytelling. Cory wrote "Followed" as a teaching tool for young people, parents and educators to help navigate the social media scene responsibly and safely.
Cory Alexander is an educator, author, serial dreamer, and entrepreneur. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Deviant Behavior & Social Control from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a Masters Degree in Education: School Counseling from Liberty University. Now, Cory is a high school guidance counselor as well as the founder of Harlem Press, LLC. and Rise Career Academy, an on-demand career mentoring program. He is also the author of Followed: Who's Following YOU? A compelling story of a group of typical, modern-day teens navigating their way through social channels and personal emotions.
Using Storytelling to Talk to Kids About Safe and Responsible Social Media Use: Start the Conversation
1. You’ve written a book called “Followed”. What is the premise of the book?
The book's objectives are three-fold: 1) To encourage young people to think before they post, take a moment of pause, and proceed through a set of standards. Post with a purpose. 2) Be aware that their social media expressionism creates a digital footprint, a resume, and paints a picture about them whether they like it or not. 3) Be wary of strangers. Things aren’t always what they seem. There is a staggering amount of fake accounts and people with bad intentions trying to connect for the sole purpose of taking advantage of you.
2. What inspired the book?
Being a guidance counselor I wanted to really help young ladies. Overall, I have a sense of fairness and I don’t like people being bullied and taken advantage of. I’ve experienced girls finding themselves in compromising positions due to poor judgment in sending a nude pic or saying things online that cause massive disagreements, which lead to physical fights and ruined relationships. I also notice the self-esteem issues. I know it’s difficult growing up, finding your way, and trying to navigate friendships and family obligations. Social media adds a level of complexity to an overall complex time in their lives. Those middle and high years are rough on many levels. Helping young people and sharing a story that they can relate to with the hope of encouraging them to pick us some tips from the story is what inspired me to write Followed.
3. As a school counselor, you have likely seen social media risks at play. What can you say about those experiences? Was your plot line or were your characters based on true events?
As a school counselor, my heart has broken more than a few times. I’ve witnessed shame and stress caused by sexting and arguments escalate to physical altercations because of social media comments and post. Embarrassingly, fights are first videoed before anyone considers breaking them up. Still an act that I just can’t get used to. The characters in the book without question share traits with many of my students. The plot, not so much. Some of the behavior in the plot is general to any high school in the world. That’s why the book works. It’s real life and extremely relatable.
4. Your solution has been to teach kids about responsible use of social media through realistic storytelling. What inspired this avenue for educating students?
I’m such a respecter of persons regardless of age. I grew up in a single family household and I had to independently make decisions on my own so often. Because of this, I don’t look down on younger people like their trials and stresses are less than. With that, I wanted to “share” a story on what could happen to them or loved ones if they're not careful on social media, I want to do more than just state facts that they may or may not remember. I’m of the opinion that we learn in story form. Books, movies, and music are very good storytelling vehicles. I’ve read things that have stuck with me because of how it was presented. I’ve learned from movies because of how it was presented and I’ve gotten some of my best advice from observing what happened to someone else.
5. Does the book include resources for teachers and parents such as curriculum or discussion guides?
I so much believe that the advance in society as a collective starts when we dialog amongst each other, so I created end-of-chapter questions that a teacher or parent can use to help kids share what they’ve experienced online. This is best in group settings so that we can share and learn that we’re not alone in dealing with social media anxieties and an unhealthy attachment to tech in general. I recently did a group talk with my students titled, “Social Media & Cell Phone Over-Usage”. It was great how students shared what hurt about social media, what they would like to see changed, and what part they want to play in that change.
6. If you could give parents a tip to help them navigate the world of teens and social media, what would it be?
If I had just one tip I would say talk. Share stories you’ve heard, both good (i.e. someone raised money using social media), and bad (i.e. someone got hurt because…) Create an environment where you share what you’ve learned and ask them about the trends they're noticing. Interestingly enough, when you get kids talking, they really share (probably more than they planned).
7. If you could give teachers one tip to help them navigate social media when it comes to their students, what would it be?
One tip for teachers/educators is to get involved. No longer can we be passive on social media. We need to talk about it, help them navigate their way on it. It’s not going away. We have to embrace it. Our parents had to embrace the change in language and sexuality on T.V. and cable. Their parents had to embrace the change in music, etc. Every generation has challenges and new norms. By embracing social media, we can make effective change and common sense behavior for our students.
For resources and more information on Followed, visit Followedthebook.com
Check out these free chapters: Chapter 7 and Chapter 8
Take a look at these supplemental worksheets.
The book can be found for purchase on Amazon.
If you have read the book "Followed" and want to support the author, vote his book for a 2019 Author Academy Award! Click the link and find the YA category. Good luck, Cory!
What have been your experiences with teens and social media? What works in the classroom? What doesn't? Parents, what works for you and your children? Any resources, tips, suggestions are welcome!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education. Check out student-directed curriculum in my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot.
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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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!
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.
I have only been out of the classroom for a little over a year. Not long ago I started this blog and was quickly blown away by how much I seem to have missed in only one year out of the education scene. I questioned if I had been completely aloof for a decade, or if educational trends have just emerged that rapidly. I'd like to go with the latter, as my entire educational career has been in a progressive learning environment. It was literally my job to keep up with what was working for students a what wasn't, and to adjust my practice in response.
I have spent the last four months completely immersed in education. I have read dozens of books and hundreds of articles on education. I have participated in professional development courses and conferences. I have been completely in over my head, drowning to be blunt, in social media as it relates to education. Pinterest is littered with the trendiest of trends when it comes to learning, and everything else for that matter. The list of top educational trends of 2018 listed below was created strictly out of observation and experience. I have not run any fancy analytics programs or produced any actual data. So do with that what you will. You can take is as a grain of salt, or you can see for yourself.
Many of these trends aren't new. We implemented several of the trends listed here with full force where I taught (others I have never heard of until recently). They have made such a strong presence in the educational scene within the last couple of years because we know they work for 21st century students. So many of these emerging trends are based on the rapidly evolving world we find ourselves in. What used to make sense or what we used to do just doesn’t make sense anymore. With the world changing as quickly as it is, we are forced to really consider these ideas. Social media and other forms of technology have completely altered the way we communicate and learn. Notice patterns as you read the list. A few themes that I have identified include: student-centered learning; hands-on learning; inquiry-based learning; connecting content with the real-world; student choice and voice; technology and innovation. The overarching theme is a student-centered model necessary to develop the skills needed in the 21st century. Therefore, I don't see these trends going anywhere.
Up until now there has been a lot of buzz and a lot of talk about these concepts. Turn these trends into practice in your classroom if you haven't already. If you've just been playing around with these ideas with your students here and there, try to start implementing it as if it's the norm, because these trends are likely here to stay. There is a reason they are trending. Go with that!
Top 20 Educational Trends of 2018
1) Social-Emotional Learning -
"Social emotional skills" is a buzz phrase in education now because those are the skills students need in the workforce today more than content. Content information they can find in seconds anytime, anywhere.
2) STEM/STEAM -
Stem and steam are hot right now. No pun intended! Both strengthen many 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and more.
3) Maker Education -
Maker education is a new one for me. I have used "maker" principles with my students without realizing that what I was doing had a name. Students identify a problem and then make something as a solution to the problem. There are a lot of free webinars on edweb.net on maker education. I highly encourage checking those out.
4) Differentiated Learning -
Differentiated learning is providing variety to fit student's individual needs. A lot of teachers are using strategies like "choice time" and "task cards" to provide a differentiated learning environment. Direct-instruction or passive learning can still dominate a differentiated learning environment, however. As an experiential learning educator that is not preferred in my opinion. Check out "personalized learning" below to see another option for meeting student's unique needs.
5) Flexible Seating -
Flexible seating is having a variety of seating options in any given learning environment. It might mean couches or bean bag chairs in a reading corner. A high-top table with stools for projects or activities that require sudden movement, a large community table for cooperative learning activities, etc.
6) College and Career Readiness -
Having a 4.0 GPA just doesn't cut it anymore as far as college and career readiness is concerned. There are competencies students must have to survive and thrive in the 21st century workforce. Just because a student got straight A's doesn't mean they are ready for what comes after graduation.
7) Blended Learning -
From my understanding, blended learning is a combination of classic schooling with online learning. I'm realizing, however, that it's not that simple. I think people that practice true blended learning have a precise understanding of a much more complex picture than just a mix of tech and teacher. I think there is a little personalized learning thrown in there as well, among other principles that are still a bit of an enigma to me. I'd like to learn more about blended learning. If there is anyone reading this that has significant experience with blended learning, please private message me. It would be wonderful to have you guest post about it on this blog.
8) 21st Century Skills -
This one is highly interconnected to the others. The other trends listed here provide learning opportunities to develop the essential skills needed in the 21st century.
9) Project-Based Learning -
My pride and joy. My entire career has been dedicated to project-based learning. Check out some other blog posts I've done on PBL.
10) Genius Hour/Passion Projects -
I hear these two words constantly. They possess the same elements as project-based learning, but are brief, temporary assignments in passing, as supplements to curriculum. Authentic project-based learning is more substantial or tends to be the curriculum itself. For those that assign passion projects in class and have genius hours, is that statement true? I have heard about teachers creating entire courses on passion projects. To me that's the same as project-based learning. Feel free to correct me if that's offbase.
11) Brain-Based Learning -
The point of brain-based learning is to teach or provide a learning environment that takes the brain and how it works into consideration.
12) Trauma Informed Practices -
This is really interesting to me, but I don't know very much about it unfortunately. I worked with high-risk students for almost ten years. Every one of them had experienced one trauma or another. If you're interested in this, ACES is a great place to start. Other than that, I have little to offer. Because of that, I will be having a school counselor guest post about this in the near future. Stay-tuned!
13) Alternative Grading Systems -
This concept is simple. Some schools are starting to move away from strict A-F grading systems. Many combine letter grades with portfolios. Others have eliminated grades all together and complete narratives for each student instead. The purpose is to reduce academic related stressors.
14) Personalized Learning -
As compared with "differentiated instruction" listed above, personalized learning doesn't stop at arranging your classroom or modifying lessons to fit various needs and skill levels. Differentiated learning is great if it's your only option. Personalized learning on the other hand addresses student needs and skill levels in addition to backgrounds, homelife, learning styles, intelligences, and most importantly in my opinion, interests. Students direct their own learning in a personalized learning environment. Lessons aren't modified by the teacher. Students are designing their own educational journey with teachers there to facilitate. I'll do a blog post on this concept in the future.
15) Problem-Based Learning -
PrBL is a cool tool that I wish I was much better at. Rather than students receiving a lecture with numbers and stats on a real-world issue, students learn about said real-world issue by making their own observations, asking questions, exploring the issue, brainstorming solutions and acting on those solutions.
16) Gamification -
I'm going to be completely honest. I know nothing about this. But it's a serious buzzword floating around out there. It does make sense to incorporate gaming into schools. I say that only because technology is here and it's here to stay. These games are only getting better and better. My reservation about it is the hold it has on students - the addictive nature of it. I'm sure there is someone out there to defend both angles. I don't know. What do you think?
17) Lifelong Learning -
Lifelong learning encompasses all of the trends listed here in one. It is having the tools to learn long after "schooling" is over.
18) Growth Mindset -
There is a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. A growth mindset acknowledges that skills can come through hard work and determination, vs. fixed mindset which is the opposite. Promoting and encouraging a growth mindset with students is a major trend right now.
19) Self-Assessments -
This is when students take an active role in a learning outcome. Students grow by periodically self-assessing. They learn how to fail, pick themselves back up, go back to the drawing board, modify and try again. To take it a step further, students can even create their own assessments. I have my students create their own project rubrics. That rubric template is available in my TpT store. Check it out here - Student-Generated Project Rubric.
20) Authentic Presentations -
Finally, my favorite part! I am a huge advocate for project-based learning, and an authentic presentation is an important component to PBL. An authentic presentation is one where students share their work and their acquired knowledge with an authentic audience, one that is relevant and public. There are so many advantages to doing authentic presentations. I wrote a blog article on this concept a while ago. Feel free to check it out for more information - How to Incorporate Authentic Presentations into your Curriculum.
None of these trends are used independently from the others. They are all interconnected. Just because you're focusing on lifelong learning doesn't mean you should put social-emotional learning or college and career readiness on the backburner, for example. They all share common themes. They all consider the needs of 21st century learners.
For resources on many of these trends, as most of them fall under "experiential learning", feel free to check out my TpT store. As of right now project-based learning dominates the store. But with project-based learning comes authentic presentations, lifelong learning, gamification if you wish, self-assessments, personalized learning, and more from the list of trends above. This is the last day of a winter sale on my high school PBL bundle and "how to" guide. Check out Experiential Learning Depot to get to this resource and others. I'm working on some maker and stem resources and will have those posted soon.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on TpT, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
Happy New Year, Everyone!
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.