I spend a significant portion of this post talking about the purpose and advantages of learner-led assessments. If you are already determined to add learner-led assessments to your routine and already know how awesome this approach is, scroll down to get directly to student-directed assessment strategies.
I have two wonderful children, a two-year-old daughter, and a 4-year-old son. When I was pregnant with my daughter, my second child, I thought she would be effortless. I’ve done this child-raising thing before after-all, I thought. I’d already been through the infancy experience, the teething, the tantrums, the separation anxiety phase. I’d been there, done that, and thought my second child would fall right in line. I would know exactly how to respond when similar challenges, questions about life, and milestones inevitably arose.
I’m not sure why this was my thinking. As a teacher at a school that is personalized in nature, I am very aware of the importance of individuality. Children vary in their interests, learning styles, backgrounds, skills, and abilities. My children couldn’t be more opposite from each other. I came to the realization that each one of my children, just like my students, will have to be raised differently, with some distinctive approaches and expectations. Putting an umbrella over my children, asking them to perform the same activities, master the same competencies, in the same way, and under the same time-frame would be disastrous. This goes for children in school learning environments as well.
How then can we provide a learning environment for our children where individualism is not only recognized but celebrated? We can accommodate for student differences by setting the stage for student-directed learning. Students take ownership of their education in a student-directed learning environment (back track to posts from my student-directed learning series).
In a student-directed learning environment, learning is active rather than passive. The instructor acts as a guide and facilitator of learning. Students initiate and design projects that are based on interest and relevance. Learners write their own goals and methods of accomplishing those goals. Learners create their own assessments based on their goals for the future, competencies needing growth, skill level, pace, learning styles, and more. They self-assess often and reflect on their work. They go back and revise and improve. They lead evaluation meetings with their teachers and an evaluation committee, and conduct parent/teacher conferences using a student-created conference assessment.
Self-assessments are key components to student-directed learning. Not only do students create their own assessments, but they also evaluate their progress using said assessment throughout the course of the learning activity. The student-created assessments that I implement in my classroom are typically project-based learning rubrics. I provide a blank rubric template to be produced by each student according to their project goals. I include word banks with categories and levels of mastery to assist students with the process as they become more confident student-directed learners. That rubric template is available in my store. Scroll down for the link.
Student-generated rubrics allow students to improve in areas specific to their needs in addition to content knowledge. Some students may want to work on organization, others may have already mastered that skill. Some may want to practice and improve on presentation skills, others may not find that relevant. Categories can be across the board from content to social-emotional skills, to career and life skills. Not only are student-created rubrics personalized, they also give learners the chance to have some authority over their education. Some may not see that as a good thing. I see it as imperative for success in a rapidly evolving society. One size does not fit all. This is true now more than ever before, so we shouldn’t be assessing in such a way.
There are a variety of advantages to child-led assessments. The greatest advantage is the intrinsic motivation to learn. When you give student’s choice and voice, they organically invest in the outcome. Learners develop a strong self-concept, intrapersonal intelligence, the skills to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and the wherewithal to grow and adapt. That in itself invaluable for lifelong learners.
Another result in favor of student-directed assessments is the development of competencies that are relevant to life outside of the classroom. A traditional assessment, whether it be a multiple choice test or a teacher-created rubric, doesn’t always address critical life skills, emotional and social awareness, or technical abilities, for example. They are generally intended to assess content knowledge only. Learning important subject concepts isn’t a bad thing. The trouble comes when the assessment ONLY targets content knowledge, and it’s the instructor determining the measurements for all students, not individuals.
Student-generated assessments along with consistent self-reflection and meetings with the facilitator/teacher throughout the learning process gives students indispensable feedback. Students go back and revise and improve their work. That in itself, the motivation to improve, is a skill often lost in teacher-centered classrooms with teacher-created assessments. The result of creating one’s own assessment, having voice and choice in one’s learning and outcomes, and aiming to improve, is passionate, life-long learners. Putting personal opinions about education aside, isn’t that a solid accomplishment and desire of all educators?
I use the following assessments strategies with my project-based learners. If it seems like a bit much, try a few things at a time or attempt to introduce some of the ideas gradually. At some point in your journey to a project-based learning environment you will be able to implement all of these strategies seamlessly because they are building blocks. They work off of each other. Good luck!
Project-Based Learning Assessment Strategies
At the beginning of a session or project have students write personal and academic goals. You are setting students up to be able to design their own assessments based on their vision, needs, and learning goals. Each of my students has a personal learning plan (PLP) that they create with me at the beginning of the school year. This is where they record their strengths, interests, and short and long-term goals. They return to their PLP periodically throughout the course of the year to reflect and adjust their plans. You may also consider asking students to write goals specific to a given project. They can create a few goals before they start.
I use PLP's for goal-making, I have students make project goals before each project, and I also have students do my "goals maker PBL challenge" at the beginning of the year. I guide students in the goal-making process. There is no specific system . Do what works well for you.
2. Student-Generated Assessments :
PBL projects are typically assessed using rubrics. I use a generic rubric for my beginner project-based learners. Eventually students can begin to create their own rubrics where they determine criteria to be evaluated. Criteria might relate to goals, strengths that they would like to build on, interests, skill level, and even the nature of the project. This idea could apply to any assessment style, not just rubrics. You could even have students design formative assessments throughout the course of the project.
For example, if your students are doing a neurology project and they're learning about neurotransmission, allow students to decide how they will demonstrate their understanding of that concept. They might create a moving model, an animation, a poem, etc. The list goes on. Check out my previous post on 100 Ways to Demonstrate Learning.
PBL Formative Assessments
Generic Project-Based Learning Rubric
Student-Generated Rubric with Word Banks
An important life skill is the ability to reflect on one's work, identify areas that could use improvement, and make adjustments. Teachers have to do this every day - reflect and adapt. Ask students to self-evaluate periodically throughout the course of the project and again before their final project evaluation with you (facilitator/teacher). My students fill in their generic or self-generated rubrics as their self-assessments. We often have work days where students work on their projects while I meet with students one-on-one to take a peek at their progress and go over their self-assessments.
A critical element of project-based learning is feedback, and another important life skill is the ability to accept constructive feedback and make improvements. This isn't a skill that everyone innately has. Students often revolt when asked to pump up the quality of a project or go back and try this or that. Establishing high standards of student work starts with feedback and the chance, and expectation, to improve. The end goal is for students to want to improve, or get excited about the prospect.
Foster as many opportunities for feedback as possible. One way to do this is through peer-evaluations. Have students share their work with each other, offer suggestions, and the chance to go back and make improvements. You can ask them to develop partnerships for a specific project - a project buddy. You can have them do project circles where students get together every so often to share their progress with the group. Students can then ask questions, give suggestions, and offer insightful feedback.
5. Community Expert Evaluations
The same idea applies here as with peer-evaluations except community experts have an authentic perspective. In project-based learning students connect with community experts (look back a couple weeks for a post on this concept). If learners are doing a project on puma habitat, for example, they might connect with a local zoologist, conservationist, or ecologist. If their final product is creating a documentary they might bring in a film-maker from the community to help with formatting and editing. Students can maintain consistent communication with these community members throughout the project process and ask that those experts evaluate their progress as they go. These community experts can also attend final presentations and play a role in final evaluations.
6. Student-Led Final Evaluations with Instructor and/or Evaluation Committee
After students have presented their final products to the class/teacher AND their authentic audience (see last weeks post on authentic presentations) I meet with them one-on-one to go over their rubrics (generic and/or self-created). They bring a self-assessed rubric to this meeting. The student justifies their self-evaluation, I give them my feedback, determine credit, we talk about future goals, and move onto the next project.
This process can - and should if you can make it work - be done using an evaluation committee. An evaluation committee is a small group put together to evaluate student projects. The group might consist of another staff member, students, community experts relevant to the project, and you, the instructor. This limits subjectivity when assigning a final grade or credit and offers students feedback from a variety of perspectives.
If you're interested in implementing any or all of these strategies, consider checking out Getting Started with Project-Based Learning Package from my store that includes 20 integrated PBL projects, an implementation manual, and all of the templates necessary for seamless execution of PBL, such as a personal learning plan.
Students from all backgrounds, skill levels, age groups, and instructional environments can take an active role in their education by simply having the chance to create and manage their own measurements of success. Every student is able to create their own assessments, and they will take pride and ownership in the outcome.
"Authentic" is a buzzword in the project-based learning world. Authenticity is the foundation of PBL and plays a role in every step of the process from project design to final evaluation. That is one feature that separates project-based learning from other teaching methods. The learning experiences, final product, resources, presentation, assessment, reflection, etc. should all be authentic - they should be relevant, real, have meaning and purpose in the lives of learners.
For example, an authentic learning experience would be one in which a student interviews an oncologist vs. reads about cancer on Wikipedia. An authentic final product might be a mini-documentary that follows the experience of a cancer survivor vs. a poster board with tidbits of information about cancer. An authentic presentation would be hosting a community screening of the mini-documentary vs. a presentation to the class.
This post is specifically about that authentic presentations.
Backtrack a few weeks to posts from my project-based learning series for more details on PBL.
What is an authentic presentation?
An authentic presentation is the demonstration of new skills and knowledge to a relevant audience in the community. The idea is that the information or the final product reaches an audience that could use the final product or benefit from the material in some way, where the learner can experience and visualize their new understanding of a concept or skill at play in real life. A presentation that is not authentic would be one given to the class followed by the final product getting tossed in the trash, never to be thought of again. An authentic presentation would leave a mark on the community, and depending on the nature of the presentation, possibly make a profound long-term impact (check out my community action projects, a type of project-based learning that leaves a lasting impact on the local or global community).
Why bother with authentic presentations?
One reason to incorporate authentic presentations is quality. When students know their final product will be seen by more than the teacher they up their game a bit. Other benefits include encouraging community collaboration, building communication and networking skills, promoting citizenship, enhancing students' worldview, understanding their local and gobal communities, and more. The result is deeper learning, learning that goes beyond content knowledge. This is true because learners construct meaning through real-life experiences. They see relevance and purpose as it relates to their lives.
Authentic Presentation Ideas
Reaching a relevant audience and making an impact on the community doesn't mean your students have to do public speeches everyday. Speaking to a community audience, such as performing an original skit on bullying to a local elementary assembly, is one way to deliver new skills and knowledge in an authentic way. There are other ways for those educators and learners that are confined to the classroom. Other options include publishing work on digital media such as a blog, submitting work to an online publication or contest, displaying student work in the community, and even bringing the audience to you.
One way of bringing an authentic audience to your students is to host exhibition or presentation events at the school or at your home (if you are a home educator). This gives students the chance to showcase their work to the community. Invite relevant community members, family members, friends, and experts utilized in student projects. The cover photo is of one such exhibition night that my school hosts quarterly.
Check out the graphic organizer below for more authentic presentation ideas. My students use this organizer when designing their projects. Feel free to do the same with your students. A free printable version can be found at Experiential Learning Depot.
Example of an Authentic Presentation in Project-Based Learning:
You assign a PBL project to your life science class. They are to do a project on symbiotic relationships. Each student designs their own project around this topic. Each student chooses how they will find the information, which experts to connect with, how they would like to demonstrate learning, how they would like to present it and who will be their audience (other than the teacher and class). This is what the PBL process looks like in my seminars. I give the topic and the learners direct the learning experience (with my guidance). I will be doing a post in the near future on the steps involved in student-directed project-based learning. Stay-tuned for that. In the meantime, I highly recommend reading Passion for Learning by Ronald Newell.
One student decides to create an infographic on the different types of symbiotic relationships (authentic final product). She collaborates with an ecology professor from a nearby university and a graphic designer in the area (authentic learning experiences). They work together to create a professional quality infographic with solid, accurate information. The student then needs to determine how she will share her learning experience with a relevant audience that will benefit from the information and/or the final product itself (authentic presentation).
Examples of Authentic Presentation Options for this Project Using the Graphic Organizer Above:
1) Distribute Final Product to a Relevant Audience in the Community:
2) Display Final Product to a Relevant Audience in the Community:
3) Present Final Product to a Relevant Audience in the Community:
4) Publish the Final Product:
5) Share your Final Product Digitally:
Good luck! If you're overwhelmed by the possibilities, utilize some of the organizational templates provided in my store, including the one above. Many of them are free. Implementing authentic experiences in your curriculum does not have to be chaotic. Even student-directed learning can have structure and SHOULD be teacher facilitated. I am a firm advocate for authentic learning and love to talk about it. If you have questions or are seeking out advice or tips, please reach out. I would be ecstatic to help out!
My TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, is filled with PBL learning resources. Check them out if you think project-based learning is something you might love to try with your students.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education.
A couple weeks ago I took my two young children to the zoo. On our way home my four-year-old said "did you know that jellyfish can grow their bodies back when they get chopped up?" In other words, they can regenerate when, say, they have a close call with a sea turtle. My son learned this from chattin' it up with a zoo volunteer. He practiced communication skills, asked questions, took a social risk, and gathered information from an expert on a topic of interest.
I often talk about project-based learning on this blog because it's what I know and use in teaching. An overarching theme of project-based learning is community, from generating projects ideas to the final assessment. Students use community experts to gather information on their project topics, create innovative final products that impact the community, and present their projects to an authentic audience, one that is relevant and often public. All of the PBL components just mentioned involve the community in some way or another.
Before I get into any details on specific ways to use the community as a resource in project-based learning, let's first talk about why you would do this in the first place? Sounds like a lot of work, an extra task or thing to organize, or time away from teaching content. It can be an extra task if you let it. But you could also put some of the responsibility on your students. They can certainly and should be tracking down their own community experts and authentic audience. Community experts also deliver much of the content you would have to otherwise. It also doesn't mean you have to leave the building. As an experiential learning educator I strongly advocate for doing so, but that is not an option for everyone. If it's not an option in your situation, then bring the community to you! And your students can do the same. I'll get to some options soon, but first, why bother to use the community as a resource?
Benefits of Utilizing the Community in Project-Based Learning:
1) Development of 21st-century Skills - students learn a variety of important life skills such as resourcefulness, communication, and collaboration.
2) Real-world application of content - students make meaningful connections when they can see and experience concepts first-hand. For example, shadowing a genetics counselor would allow students to experience genetics concepts in the context of real-life.
3) Building a professional and personal network - students develop a hefty network that could lead to future references, job offers, lifelong mentorships and even friendships.
4) Strengthening the community - community collaboration puts students in a position to actively work at breaking down walls between students and community members that may have developed due to misunderstandings or stereotypes. There is so much to be learned from others, and not just from their expertise, but from their stories.
5) Access to resources you may not be able to offer - I took a graduate class with the biotechnology department at the University of Minnesota several years ago. They offer up their equipment to educators and their students, which I have taken advantage of many times. There have been a variety of scenarios where my students have needed a resource that our school couldn't provide, from actual materials to expertise or skill.
How to Use the Community as a Resource in Project-Based Learning:
The following are ideas or ways that I have personally used or have seen coworkers use the community as an element of learning experiences. You do not have to be doing project-based learning to include community resources in your curriculum. Use some of the suggestions below and adapt them in a way that works for you and your learners.
These are only a few options of many. When planning community involvement in your curriculum, consider the topic of study. Take constraints such as time, your own skills, equipment and space into account. Think about your needs and how a community member might be able to fill that role or provide that resource. It may seem like an additional task to an already demanding load. But if you plan well and put some of the responsibility on your students, it may actually feel like you're saving time, and the end result is worth it. The benefits are worth it.
What are some ways you currently use the community your curriculum? I would love to hear more examples. If you don't currently, what is keeping you? What obstacles do you face and how could you work around them or work through them?
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Project-Based Learning End Products to Demonstrate Learning
I have seen students produce some pretty outstanding projects in my 11 years as a project-based educator, but those projects typically came from experienced project-based learners. There is a learning curve with PBL, and it requires breaking some pretty strong habits that have formed from prior training in more traditional learning environments.
The biggest challenge for me has been getting students to think more creatively and authentically about how they will demonstrate learning and share new skills and knowledge with a relevant audience. Based on habit and ease, students naturally gravitate toward poster boards and slideshow presentations - even veteran project-based learners.
Students also default to poster boards and slideshows because they know they'll have to present their project at some point. These tools are practical ways to present information, but may rob students of deep, meaningful learning. Limiting end products to poster boards and presentation slideshows also takes choice away from students, which is essential in project-based learning. There are many avenues for student choice in project-based learning, and one of those is choice in end product. There are plenty of options to choose from. It's just a matter of getting students in the habit of thinking outside of the box. Scroll down for a list of 100 alternatives to poster boards!
Check out these previous posts for details on the general framework of PBL if you haven't seen them already: What is Project-Based Learning Anyway? and Key Components of Project-Based Learning. My next post will be on authentic presentations, which goes hand-in-hand with innovative final products. I will get into community experts and PBL assessments as we move into July. Stay-tuned!
Note: Summer is a great time to start looking into project-based learning if you're interested in starting it with students in the fall. I will continue to post throughout the summer on PBL, so check back frequently. You can also head to my TpT store where most of my resources are project-based.
Poster Board Alternatives
1) Create a magazine
2) Write trivia (Kahoot is a great online trivia game program)
3) Make an interactive exhibit
4) Make a board game
5) Engineer a moving model (ex: demonstrating synaptic transmission)
6) Write a song on a project topic
7) Write a poetry book
8) Create a photo journal
9) Make a scrapbook
10) Write and illustrate a comic
11) Paint a mural
12) Create a gallery (ex: photography, paintings, drawings, sculptures)
13) Hand-make a craft/artifact
14) Design a lesson plan
15) Make a video tutorial
16) Start a Vlog
17) Write a blog
18) Make a website
19) Produce a podcast
20) Write a screen play
21) Create a storyboard
22) Choreograph an interpretive dance
23) Organize a debate
24) Work with local legislators to write a bill
25) Make a calendar
26) Organize a mock trial
27) Make a 3D model
28) Make a documentary
29) Write a newsletter
30) Write a news article
31) Write a lab report
32) Artistically perform (dance, song, etc.)
33) Craft Showcase (Ex: handmade bags, scarves, DIY projects, wood working)
34) Make a video promotion
35) Put together a career portfolio (resume, work experience, reference letters, evidence pages)
36) Create a piece of artwork that illustrates the project topic
37) Slideshow (works well for volunteer experiences, field trips, school travel, etc.)
38) Make a quiz
39) Write a book (biography, short story, novel, etc.)
40) Create an awareness campaign poster for an issue important to you
41) Create a Facebook page (works well for characters in books, business page, or group)
42) Create a spreadsheet portfolio (appropriate for event planning for example)
43) Make charts and graphs (to illustrate survey results for example)
44) Design a t-shirt (school shirt, shirt that raises awareness on an issue, etc.)
45) Make a "Bloom Ball" (check out this fun example and bloom ball template)
46) Create a map
47) Make a puzzle
48) Design an escape room (Lock Paper Scissors Co. has a "how to" guide at the bottom of this webpage. This website offers kits for purchase, but you don't need to, and wouldn't want to in purchase one in this ase, because CREATING one is the final product for the student project.)
49) Design a travel brochure
50) Make a business card (Ex: for a character in a book, for a business, for volunteering, etc.)
51) Make a flier
52) Write a journal or diary (on a personal experience such as a health plan)
53) Write an instruction manual
54) Create a theme poster
55) Make a blueprint (floor plan for the setting in a book, one's dream school, interior design) - Google Sketchup is a great, free program for this.
56) Write a petition
57) Write a persuasive speech
58) Write a business plan
59) Record an interview and publish it using the free Storycorps app
60) Create an online portfolio (for showcasing creative and/or professional work, or student could create a portfolio page for a person they are studying - Crevado is a free efolio maker)
61) Create a billboard style advertisement
62) Write and illustrate a children's book
63) Make a concept map
64) Write and perform a monologue
65) Make a simulation (digital, written or performance)
66) Make an animation
67) Create a timeline
68) Make a diorama
69) Make a diagram
70) Write an informative speech
71) Make a fortune teller (I had a student that created over 100 fortune tellers with information on teen pregnancy. A fortune teller is a kids game made out of paper. She decided rather than put numbers inside, which is normally what you do, each triangle would have statistics on teen pregnancy. She randomly placed them all over the city, in bathrooms, on the city bus, etc. It was a great way to raise awareness). Click here to learn how to make a fortune teller.
72) Make a graphic organizer
73) Make a postcard
74) Compile a book of interviews
75) Organize and host a game show
76) Produce a news segment
77) Put together a time capsule
78) Make a collage
79) Put together learning stations
80) Design a set and give "visitors" a "tour" (would be good for a book project)
82) Organize an event in the community
83) Create a professional quality infographic
84) Make a music video
85) Put together a handbook
87) Learning activity
88) Child-friendly translation of a convoluted concept
89) Design and make a usable product - Ex: If the topic is on natural disasters, the student might design and build a life-saving device.
90) Write a jingle
91) Make a puzzle
92) Design an art installation
93) Create a brand
94) Write a proposal
95) Host a school event
96) Organize a speaker series
97) A "_____ week/month" program/schedule (Ex: three week meal plan or theme book club schedule)
98) Host a fundraiser event
99) Create a Pinterest profile and add boards and pins directly related to your topic. Could do the same for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Create a page that IS NOT personal. You might create a Facebook page for a character in a book or an Instagram page for healthy recipes, for example.
100) Write an editorial
Thanks for stopping by! Feel free to share your stories of project-based learning successes. I'd love to hear about some final products your students have used that weren't listed here! My eyes and ears are always open for new and exciting ideas. Thanks for reading!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest & Instagram, for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
There are a few elements that are important to consider in project-based learning, otherwise your students are just doing projects. I vaguely talked about this in a post published last week, "What is Project-Based Learning Anyway" and now I'm back with details on specific elements of PBL that make it what it is. That post includes several examples of project-based learning in action.
Key Components of Project-Based Learning:
1. Innovative Final Product -
Students conduct research or gather information on a topic of their choosing. Students then assemble that information into a final product that will demonstrate learning. Students are quick to settle on poster boards or a slideshow presentation because it's easy. An innovative final product moves away from the cut and paste approach. Deeper learning results. Examples include timelines, business plans, video promotions, skits, etc.
2. Community Experts -
This is a critical component of project-based learning. The idea is that students learn about their project topic by communicating and collaborating with primary sources - real people specifically. Students might conduct an interview, shadow, intern, volunteer, or work directly on a project with a community expert on their topic. The community member might assist with student projects by providing materials, a work space, or knowledge. This element of project-based learning helps students build communication skills, develop a community network, and gather authentic information and experiences.
3. Authentic Presentations -
An authentic presentation is one where the end product of a PBL project is shared with an authentic, relevant audience often outside of the boundaries of the classroom. The purpose is to motivate quality work and make an impact on the community. One of my students did a project on grieving the loss of a parent. She created a blog as a resource for those in a familiar situation. It would have been unfortunate if she only presented that project to her teacher and classmates, as she wouldn't have directly reached an appropriate audience. In addition to presenting to the class then, this student published a blog and marketed via social media so that her blog could meet those in need of resources and support during their time of grief.
4. Assessments and Consistent Feedback -
Project-based learning doesn't often have cut and dry, right or wrong answers, which can make some students uncomfortable. Providing regular feedback is critical, giving students security and validation.
To give you a loose framework, this is my PBL assessment process: I have my students self and peer-assess periodically throughout the project process using my Generic PBL Rubric, or a Student-Generated Rubric created by the student and approved by me before they began their project. I meet with students one-on-one to go over their self-assessment several times over the course of the project experience. I provide feedback at that time and allow the students to go back and revise and improve their work. When they have completed their projects they present to the class AND their authentic audience. After that point I arrange for a one-on-one final evaluation meeting with each student. We go over a rubric and their final project reflection together. It is a great idea to include project community experts in any or all of these steps.
I have a project-based learning bundle that also acts as a PBL implementation manual. It's great for beginner project-based teachers. It includes 20 projects as well as implementation instructions, rubrics, project proposals, topic research templates, personal learning plans, a project reflection, and more. This resource requires zero prep on your part because a project-based teacher is a facilitator, not a deliverer of information. Check out my blog posts on student-directed learning to get a feel for the duties of a PBL educator.
5. Project Reflection -
This piece is so important. When a student's project is complete they should always look back on the experience. The ability to reflect, adjust, and improve is an important life skill. The ability to take constructive feedback and go back and improve is a skill that many adults haven't mastered, me included! Don't skip this part!
My students use this checklist when designing their projects to make sure they've covered all their PBL bases.
Great PBL Example:
I want to give you a quick idea of project-based learning by telling you about one of my all-time favorite student projects. Keep in mind, this was a senior project. Not all projects have to be this elaborate. My student worked on this project over the course of a year. But it's a great example because it really hits on all of the reasons project-based learning is GOLD.
One of my students was interested in botany. Around this time I was taking a course on teaching biotechnology. One day we were talking about it, and he told me about an article he read on algae farms, and how algae was being harvested for fuel. This is how his senior project came to be, from a simple conversation about his interests.
My student's final product, he decided, would be harvesting algae and processing it into biofuel. He started volunteering at the University of Minnesota greenhouse. He contacted Brett Barney from the U of M Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering. My student worked alongside Dr. Barney in his lab to gather information on how to start his own crop. Dr. Barney even GAVE my student algae and materials to get him started.
The Algae Biofuels Summit just happened to be taking place in Minneapolis around that time. My student got in touch with Advanced Biofuels USA to negotiate a deal on a ticket to the conference. They offered to donate my student entrance to the conference free of charge as long as he agreed to write an article for their newsletter on his experience.
Read the rest of his article here.
The bottom line is that this student discovered an interest, asked questions, gathered information using a variety of world-class experts on the topic, created an innovative final product (harvesting and processing his own algae), and shared his work with an authentic, public audience. I don't think he even realizes today, seven years later, the immense impact this project had on his life. Only this experience could have resulted in the skills and knowledge that he gained. Completing a poster board on algae as a biofuel wouldn't have had the same results.
If you're interested in executing project-based learning, but aren't in need of specific project topics, check out my student-directed, project-based learning toolkit. This resource has all of the templates you and your students would need to implement student-led/interest-led PBL, much like "passion projects".
What are some cool projects your students have done? What do they gain from the experience in addition to content knowledge? There are so many amazing ideas and cool projects going on out there. I see them everyday. Brag about yours students!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest & Instagram, for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
There is one critical teacher question to ask students consistently:
"How can you find out?" This is one of my favorite answers to student questions. Resourcefulness is an important skill for children to have heading into adulthood in the 21st-century. I often have students that don't know how to answer this question when I ask it. They don't know where to go to get information.
A parent in my neighborhood recently shared with me that he himself reached out and networked in the community to secure a summer internship for his son, a requirement for his son to earn his college degree. His son is in his 20's. This parent wanted to be helpful. He wanted his son to graduate. The problem is not really with the parent. It's not even with the son. The problem is that his son up to this point had rarely needed to inquire, ask questions, find information, collaborate with community members, or create his own learning opportunities. He had been given answers, given resources, given teacher-directed lessons. He didn't know how to get an internship, a real-life learning experience, because he had never been asked to do anything like that before.
I have noticed since starting this blog and connecting with so many amazing educators from around the world on social media, that there is a huge push toward pedagogy that teaches skills like this - knowing how to find information and opportunity. I do think that things are changing drastically. Educators are doing some amazing things. Project-based learning, problem-based learning, STEM/STEAM, and Inquiry-based learning are a few examples. Inquiry-based learning is a powerful method of setting the stage for development of the very important life skill of resourcefulness; the ability to answer the question "How can you find out?"
Note: A while ago I published two posts, both of which include details on inquiry-based learning that I won't get into here - "Getting Started with Inquiry-Based Learning" and "3 Transformational Approaches to Student-Directed Teaching" . Check out these posts for details on inquiry and great guiding questions to ask students throughout the process if it's a route you choose to try.
"How can you find out" in action:
My children and I recently spent a few days at my parents home, which is on a lake. There is a wetland, which we call "the lagoon", behind their home where my children spend a lot of time. Wetlands are full of life, and they really come to life when you stop and observe. My children noticed hundreds of green balls floating in the water that they had never seen before. My two-year-old daughter thought they were balloons. My 5-year-old thought they were fish eggs. I thought they looked like the tapioca pearls that you'd see in bubble tea, which of course they were not. My kids asked the question, "What are those?" My answer: "Great question. How could we find out?"
We started by scooping a pan full of these mysterious balls and making observations. My kids noticed that they could pop the balls, so the balls were in fact filled with gas. This opened the door to a conversation about gases/solids/liquids. I used a balloon as an analogy. They then made the observation that the balls were green. I asked them what other natural feature is green. They said trees. They were then able to determine that the bubble shape was probably created by a plant. This discovery segued to plant anatomy.
I asked my son where he could learn more about plants, how he could find out why plants are green, and he said with books. So we headed to the library. We looked at several kids books on plant anatomy and water plants.
Then I asked my son who might know a lot about plants. He said a "plant doctor" so I brought him to the DNR building in town, the next best thing! He looked through brochures and showed a picture of the balls to a DNR employee. She gave my son a business card for their wetland ecologist. We later contacted her and she clarified that the balls were in fact algal blooms.
This is inquiry.
My child had a simple question. "What is this?" He was able to find out the answer by asking around. He investigated by making observations, asking experts questions, rifling through informative books that he located (with the help of the librarian), and drawing his own conclusions. He constructed his own knowledge by actively seeking out information. He led this learning experience. Of course I had a role to play and that was facilitator. That is the job of a student-directed educator.
The lessons learned here are appropriate for a 5-year-old. He learned the difference between solids, liquids, and gases. He learned how to differentiate between plants, animals, insects, etc. based on physical features. He learned how to observe using all of his senses. He even learned that plants, including algae, make their own food. Most importantly, in my opinion, he practiced locating resources to find the answer to his question, a need that will come up in his life over and over again.
If this same observation were to be made by an older student you could launch into exploring photosynthesis with them, wetland ecology, ecological health, water pollution from fertilizers and more. I had dozens of questions when I saw these balls floating around. Not "What is it?" I knew what they were. My high school students, particularly my environmental science students, would likely know what they were. My questions were more along the lines of why those algal blooms were there at all, if they were impacting ecological and/or human health, recreational fishing, or the economy, and if so, what could be done about it?
Each of those questions could be turned into inquiry-based learning opportunities for students by conducting scientific inquiry experiments (check out my inquiry-based learning toolkit, geared toward middle and secondary students); contacting community experts; visiting sites; inviting speakers to the school; digging for publications; interviewing people from varying perspectives such as the DNR, other conservation groups, farmers, city planners, scientists, golf course managers, and more. When asked "how could you find out?", those are some ways, and our students need to have this skill. They need to know HOW to learn.
Take a peek at these other inquiry-based learning and student-directed learning resources for middle and high school students at Experiential Learning Depot:
- Student-Directed Learning Toolkit Bundle (Inquiry, PBL and PrBL)
- Student-Directed Scientific Inquiry - Water Pollution Bundle
- Water Pollution Unit: Student-Directed Learning Bundle
- Water Pollution Community Action Project
What is project-based learning anyway?
This post was published when I first started my blog about one year ago. This is an updated version. I will be updating other earlier posts on project-based learning throughout June. Stay-tuned.
For several years now, since seeing the documentary "Half the Sky" (if you haven't seen it or read the book I HIGHLY recommend it), I have been doing a women's studies seminar with my students. Part of the seminar is for students to take one topic related to women's history or women's issues and do a project on it.
Several years ago I had a student who chose to do her project on domestic violence. She chose this topic because it was relevant in her life at the time. She connected with the Sojourner Project, a domestic violence non-profit and shelter in the Twin Cities, to ask an educator from the organization to come to the school to speak with her and her classmates about the issue of domestic abuse. This student also contacted a self-defense instructor from the community to come into the school to teach her and her classmates effective self-defense strategies. The photo on the cover of this blog post captures that experience. I still have students talking about what they gained from that class today. It was memorable and meaningful to my students for many reasons, one of which was its relevance to their lives.
This student assembled all of the information she gathered into a presentation and created a brochure that included signs of domestic abuse, community resources for victims, tips for friends and family of abuse survivors and more. She placed hundreds of brochures around the community from health clinics to bus stops to school counseling offices, as well as up on all of her social media sites to spread awareness. She also organized a clothing and food drive for Sojourner Project's shelter.
This student didn't gather statistics and info from a few websites online, copy and paste them into a Powerpoint presentation and regurgitate the information from her slideshow to her classmates. She collaborated with the community, reached out to experts in the field, made an impact on the community by playing an active role in making change, and shared her new knowledge and insight to a relevant audience that could benefit from the information. That is project-based learning.
My experience and philosophy of teaching is all about project-based learning (PBL). I have been a project-based teacher for 11 years. I talk a lot about PBL right here on my blog and my various social media pages. Almost all of my TpT resources are PBL in nature. Since starting this blog a little less than one year ago, I have discovered that there are a few misconceptions around project-based learning that I hope to clarify in this post. The most common is that it's the same as a project. As you can see from my example above, they are very different things. The result of project-based learning is a deep, meaningful learning experience. Generic projects don't always have the same impact.
So what is project-based learning?
In short, PBL is learning through projects that are innovative, relevant, and are shared with an authentic audience. Students gather information on a topic or problem through questioning, learning activities, and community collaboration. They share their new skills and knowledge beyond classroom walls in such a way that their final product and presentation make an impact on the local and/or global community.
Passion for Learning by Ronald J. Newell is a great book about project-based learning, which puts a spotlight on MN New Country School, an authentic project-based learning school in rural Minnesota. This book is informative and inspiring for those interested in moving into project-based teaching. Ronald J Newell describes project-based learning as follows:
It might feel like a lot, and it can feel overwhelming at first. But with the right resources, and by allowing learning to be driven by students, it all tends to fall into place. Not without hard work, mistakes, going back to the drawing board, trying new things, etc. but that is teaching. It's what we do. Changing up our teaching methods based on the evolving needs of our students is not only important, but THAT is our job.
Examples of Project-Based Learning:
I had a few students a couple of years ago who were interested in skateboarding. They could have easily done some research on a famous skateboarder, copied and pasted information into a Powerpoint presentation, presented it to the class, and called it a day. That is a project, not project-based learning. That wouldn't fly in my class, so...
This is what they did instead:
The students decided to create their own skateboard clothing brand. They named their company (Abstract Skate Co.), designed a logo, and met with a local screen printing company who taught them how to screen print AND build and set-up their own screen printing workshop at the school on a budget.
The students met with a local business, JAMF Software, for business tips. JAMF was so inspired by their project that the company ended up giving the students a grant to set up their own screen printing studio at the school and all merchandise needed to start their business. The students met with marketing professionals from JAMF for tips on branding their product. They printed shirts and skate decks, "hired" out another student to write their business plan, created a website, and planned and hosted a launch party for their brand. Now that's authentic project-based learning! Check out the photos below to get an idea of the process.
Benefits of PBL:
Although the brand never really took off (students graduated and went on their way), the lessons learned and skills developed from this one project are profound. If they decide to take another crack at it in the future, they will have the skills to do so successfully.
There are a lot of benefits to project-based learning, but in my opinion the most important is
1) the development of skills essential for success in the 21st century, 2) intrinsic motivation to learn, and 3) a lifelong passion for learning. A poster board project on Tony Hawk would not have produced the same authentic and powerful learning experience.
Take a look at this handy visual that I put together below that compares a standard project with project-based learning and check back next week for specifics on each element of PBL.
If you're interested in project-based learning, continue following this blog throughout the summer and check out my PBL bundle below or any variety of other project-based learning resources in my TpT store, many of which are free (Experiential Learning Depot.)
My PBL resources require little to no prep and train students to critically think and have their own ideas! The result is student-directed learning. Win! Right now is a great time to start thinking about project-based learning for next year or use it as an entire summer school course. Check out the preview for the bundle below or head to my store for individual PBL resources.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education. You can also find me on LinkedIn.
One last example! Check out this three minute video.
I came across a children's book about sea turtles at the library, and grabbed it for my kids. By the second page I discovered that the book is a beautiful illustration of project-based learning at it's finest. Check it out...
Follow the Moon Home by Deborah Hopkinson and Phillipe Cousteau Jr.
Note: I mention "Classroom Unbound" in this video. That was the name of my blog when I first started. I changed it to Experiential Learning Depot a few months ago to streamline my brand. So to clarify, "Classroom Unbound" is the same as "Experiential Learning Depot".
Update: This post was recently published in TIE Online, a journal about international education. The online publication is free! Check it out for more resources and great information on educational travel. Click here.
I have been traveling with students to some capacity for 11 years. I have a background in ecology and environmental science. Before I became a teacher I was working on various endangered species projects around the country. I knew from that time in the field that the deepest learning experiences in my own life happened when I got up close and personal with my environment, not when I was reading about biology concepts in textbooks.
I knew when I became an educator that I wanted to work at an experiential learning school where students directed their learning and could use the world as their classroom. That is how I came to be heavily involved in the travel program at Jennings Community School, where I advised at-risk teenagers, taught using project-based learning, and took educational travel excursions with students over the course of a decade.
Traveling with students isn't easy, but the outcome is why I have dedicated so much of my teaching career to providing these travel opportunities for my students. I know the impact it can make on someone's life. Learning spans the entire experience from trip planning, to fundraising, to packing, to relationship building, goal-setting, and sharing and reflecting on the experience. Not many students get the chance to participate in something that encompasses all of these critical learning opportunities in one. There is value in traveling that cannot be gained through other means. Traveling is a unique and special learning opportunity.
Teacher and homeschoolers, if you are interested in incorporating educational travel into your curriculum, start here. Learn the benefits first, listed below, then make your next move. Check out my top reasons for traveling with students, and scroll to the bottom for tips on getting started.
Click here for more posts about student travel.
6 Reasons to Include Travel in Your Curriculum
1. Increase Cultural and Global Awareness:
Children, particularly teenagers, tend to be self-involved. They're not culpable. It's just the nature of their brains. Removing students from their "bubbles" and shaking up their lives a bit by pushing them beyond their comfort zones can have drastic and beautiful results. It is difficult for students to understand others and the world around them when they are not directly impacted. The teenage brain needs to connect concepts with real-life experience. When students view the world from a different angle, their worldview is altered. Literally. Traveling puts them in that environment.
2. Gain Content Knowledge:
Yes, content knowledge. I am a project-based teacher. One of the first projects I assign to students is planning a hypothetical trip around the world. I do this because of all of the skills and knowledge they gain from the experience. They learn how to budget and find deals. They learn how to read a map and plan routes. They learn about the environment, topography, culture, arts, religion, politics and more while exploring the places they hope to "visit".
When I travel with students, we travel with purpose. Because I am a biology teacher, my purpose is usually environmental in nature, but traveling naturally integrates subjects. Students that travel with me on school trips go through seminars and complete several student-directed PBL projects pertinent to the designated "purpose" prior to the trip. They also work on projects while ON the trip - group and independent - relevant to the trip purpose. Upon return, each student reflects and shares their work with a public audience. The amount of content absorbed is astounding, and it's all because the concepts are right in front of them. They are involved. They are actively learning through experience.
Try my Project-Based Learning Toolkit to get students started on student-led PBL experiences on any topic of interest.
3. Develop a Healthy Self-Concept:
I know it's cliche, but it's true, and anyone who travels knows it to be true. The phrase "I'm traveling to find myself" would generally trigger my upchuck reflex, but when it comes to children, "finding oneself" is often times a matter of life and death, quite literally, unfortunately.
Teenagers deal with a lot. Getting through the teenage years in one piece requires a strong, healthy self-concept that can be acquired by traveling. By getting away from the daily pressures of life, students can ask themselves who they really are. This I've seen time and time again. A student travels on a school trip and comes back a changed person with a renewed spirit and ultimate confidence. They had the unique opportunity to learn about themselves, discover their skills, dreams, talents, and hopes through a fresh lens.
4. Develop Critical 21st Century Skills:
Content is important to a degree, but at the rate society is evolving, what's more important is having the skills to navigate those changes. Careers will look very different 20 years from now. Technology is changing everything. Traveling puts students in a position to work at those life skills. As part of the trip planning process they practice organization, locating credible resources, goal-setting, and managing their time. While on trips they encounter situations where they need to problem-solve, think critically, work as a team and get creative.
If you've ever read my posts on "travel adventures and mishaps", you know these scenarios are inevitable. All mishaps (mostly minor) provide opportunities to build on these 21st century skills.
5. Build Lifelong Friendships:
The feeling of belonging is a basic need. It is something that many people spend a lifetime trying to attain with little luck. Feelings of loneliness are rampant in young people as well as adults. Everyone is a bit vulnerable when they are traveling. They are away from their homes, their friends, family and comfort zones. In group travel, everyone is in the same boat. My students cast aside their differences on trips and create bonds that last a lifetime because they are experiencing something new and profound together. Only they can understand what the other is feeling in that moment.
6. The Ability to Envision a Bright Future:
This is something that educators that work with high-risk populations will see in their students as an outcome of travel. Having a student travel program at a school with underrepresented students is powerful because students living in poverty do not have easy access to travel experiences. It's not an option for most. Many of my students don't look further than the moment. They don't consider their future career. Many of them don't even expect to finish high school. When traveling they gain a new perspective on the future. For the first time they can look ahead and envision something positive. They may not know what yet, but for the first time they are open to the possibilities. They see opportunity for a good life.
Well, now what?
Now that you know WHY incorporating educational travel into your curriculum is important and impactful (homeschoolers or educators), what do you do with that?
Homeschoolers have more flexibility to travel, one of the beautiful things about homeschooling! Home educators, if you're short on time, finances, or travel resources, consider starting small and encouraging your children to play a role. You don't need to sell your home, pack up your kids, and travel the world (as cool as that would be). Even an annual weekend camping trip away from the monotony of everyday life gets children excited. You can also ask that your children help plan the travel experience (FREE student travel planning resources in my store) and that they fundraise for trips.
Educators, especially those working in a traditional school environment, you have a challenge ahead of you. If travel is something that is important to you and you want that for your students, consider meeting with other educators at your school, parents of students, community members, and more, and put together a proposal for a school travel program. By creating a committee you'll have more ideas and a bigger voice. This is especially true if parents are involved. Principals and directors, if you're interested but unsure, try connecting with schools that DO have a travel program and pick their brains on how they make it work and the impact it has had on learning and school culture. You won't regret it!
I hope this has been useful. If you are a teacher that travels with students, I'd love you to share your stories and travel tips.
Thanks for reading. Happy Monday!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education. You can also follow me on LinkedIn and Experiential Learning Depot on TpT for student-directed, hands-on resources.
Summer is a great time for high school students to bolster their resumes for colleges and careers. It's even good for younger students to think about, not necessarily in terms of college and career readiness, but for developing life skills such as work ethic, team work, and responsible citizenship. Summer is a great time to do this simply because there is more time and there tends to be more opportunities available for young people, as it is assumed they aren't in school over the summer. This is obviously not the case for everyone. It doesn't have to be summer, nor do students have to be on break to work on personal growth and bulking up their resumes.
There are the obvious ways to build a high school resume such as gainful employment, volunteering, and a decent GPA or academic narrative, but there are many less obvious ways. I think it's really important for students to branch away from the typical or expected points on a resume for a couple reasons: 1) They will want to stand out amongst other applicants and
2) The skills desired in an employee have drastically changed from even 20 years ago.
I've listed resume building activities for students to do over the summer and added resources that might go well with each. All of the suggestions are student-directed and experiential.
Have a great summer! Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education. You can also check out my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, for more student-directed learning resources.
10 Summer Resume Builders for Students
1. Building 21st-Century Skills:
As I said above, having something to show for yourself other than the fact that you can get a decent GPA is critical. A GPA demonstrates limited capabilities, and isn't always accurate of intelligence or performance potential. Employers of today are looking for employees that can problem-solve, work well with others, work independently, navigate technology that is constantly changing, and more.
I recently created a project-based learning resource called "21st-Century Skills Portfolio" - this is a great student-directed, summer learning activity and resume builder. The idea behind it is that students essentially assemble evidence of skill building through skill-building activities. All of the following suggested resume builders could be added to this portfolio, which in theory could be shared with potential employers, college admissions, or even as a senior project.
2. Community Action Projects:
Community Action Projects are PBL projects where students explore community issues (locally or globally) that they find important. They research the issue, make an action plan, and take action. It is not as simple as a community service activity or volunteer experience. It requires research, commitment to the issue, and making long-term change in the community. Raising money, advocating for legislation, giving time, and raising awareness are some ways to go about this. What is cool about this resume builder is that it is student-directd. The student leads the project from start to finish.
Check out my Community Action Projects on TpT.
3. Online Courses:
There are so many free courses online today, many of them from highly reputable colleges. Not only does this resume builder increase content knowledge, but shows that the student has the skills to self-direct, and has interest in tech literacy, an important 21st-century skill.
Udemy, Coursera, and edX are some options. There are many others. Have students do a Google search before you let them out for the summer to find an organization and specific courses in line with their interests.
4. Start a Business:
This doesn't have to be elaborate. It could be as simple as a lawn mowing or dog walking business, or as elaborate as starting a skateboard clothing brand. I have had students do both. There is so much to be gained from starting a business. Students will learn about marketing, how to balance a budget, use spreadsheets, write a business plan, etc. Check out my FREE template for getting started with a business.
5. Service Learning/Volunteering:
Yes, I have suggested that this is an obvious choice. It is, but is no less important because it's obvious. Get students rolling on self-directed service learning experiences this summer through project-based learning. Going through the experience using project-based learning principles will help students with structure and organization, as well as expanding the experience beyond simply putting in clock hours. Elements of project-based learning includes working with community experts, demonstrating learning with an innovative final product, and presenting the experience to an authentic, public audience. Check out my project-based learning toolkit that includes templates for getting started on any PBL experience.
This is such a great opportunity for students to develop career skills in their line of interest. Not only that, it gives students a clear understanding of whether their "career path" is really what they want. I thought I wanted to be a doctor my entire young life. I even went through several years of pre-med while I was an undergrad, just to discover later that I was not only uninterested in the field, but extremely uncomfortable with many of the tasks that would have been required of me - working with blood for instance. I could have saved myself a lot of time, energy, and resources if I had volunteered in a hospital in high school or shadowed a nurse or doctor before commiting to a career that made me queasy.
Check out a couple of these resources as potential student projects for summer, both of which require shadowing a community expert - Hometown Behind the Scenes: Local Business, and Hometown Behind the Scenes: Community Event. You could also check out my Career Exploration PBL project, which would help students reduce the chance of getting into a career that isn't right for them.
7. Gainful Employment:
Again, another one that I pointed out as obvious above, but nevertheless, it's an important experience for students to have. I had some older students that came to my school often after years of struggling in the traditional school system. Most of them, some 20 years old, had never had a real job. That is not a great way to head into life after school. Employment helps students practice teamwork, punctuality, work ethic, personal finance, and other life skills. Not only that, it gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride.
8. Start a Blog or a Podcast:
Have students identify something that interests them such as art, music, history, social issues, education, etc. and start a relevant blog or podcast about that topic. In theory, the topic should be relevant to their future. For example, if they are interested in music production as a potential career, starting a blog about the local music scene would make sense. Creating a blog or podcast is an experience in itself. There's a huge learning curve. I know from experience. It's also multi-disciplinary and helps build 21st-century skills. Another cool thing about doing this is that it could be referred to later on by employers or clients to demonstrate skills and knowledge on the topic. It would also illuminate personal character, which is a priority to many employers.
Students can get involved in community issues by attending town hall meetings, voting, meeting with legislators, participating in walks or protests, etc. Students can even search around for student government opportunities. Model UN is the first one to come to mind, but community education programs and YMCA's also offer options for students.
Getting involved in community issues through government experiences is one action plan option for community action projects mentioned above.
10. Start a Club
This is one of my favorites! Coordinating and maintaining a club would look outstanding on a resume. It takes organizational skills, follow-through, commitment, creativity, leadership skills, time management skills and more. Summer reading groups, a community clean-up group, a wildlife club, a skateboard club are all great examples. Check out my project-based learning resource, Start a Club, which includes a guide and all of the templates needed to get started.
I have a college and career readiness PBL bundle in my TpT store that includes most of the resources mentioned in this blog post. You can save a lot of money by choosing the bundle vs. each product individually.
Thanks for checking out 10 resume builders for students to do this summer break! There are of course many other options. I would love to hear your ideas and comments. Thanks for stopping by!
Building 21st-Century Skills Through Travel
The 6C's of education, developed by Michael Fullan, include creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, citizenship, and character. These competencies are essential for today's learners to be successful in the 21st-century. It is more important (in my opinion) for educators of today to provide opportunities for students to practice these skills than it is to teach content matter. It's great to have both, but ignoring 21st-century skill building doesn't do anyone any favors.
There are many ways to facilitate the development of these competencies in the classroom, which I will post on in the near future. However, opportunities for skill development exist beyond the walls of the classroom. Those learning experiences are profound in a way that classroom activities just aren't. Travel is one very powerful avenue for competency development, particularly the 6C's.
Whether it be abroad, a weekend camping trip, or even a day trip to a local park, traveling offers an opportunity to building these skills by nature. By removing children from familiarity, by changing up their day-to-day, they get exposure to input that inspires curiosity, exploration, and inquiry. They meet new people, have novel experiences, and make observations that challenge prior thinking.
Parents and educators, as summer approaches think about how you can utilize the world to help your children and/or students develop or amplify the 6C's. Travel presents these opportunities organically, but you can deepen the learning experience by adding input through new layers, added expectations or challenges. When I was teaching, I was highly involved in our school travel program. I took a group of students to Costa Rica, and rather than just hanging out like I might do on a family vacation, I added purpose, in this case, tropical biology studies. I facilitated student-directed project-based learning, open-inquiry, and problem-based learning activities, before, during, and after the trip.
Below I have detailed how traveling innately helps students build these competencies in addition to suggestions for how to add another element to strengthen the impact of the learning experience.
How to Incorporate the 6C's of Education into Travel
How it Comes Naturally:
Getting away from the same old exposes students to other creative avenues that they may never have seen or experienced before. Art, music, dance, design, architecture, infrastructure, and so on, vary from region to region and culture to culture. If students are observing and experiencing more of the same day-after-day, they're limiting their creative potential. Exposure to different cultures and ways of doing things inspires new ideas with new ways of thinking.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
One way to do this is to ensure exposure to diverse experiences, especially if you have something specific in mind. For example, you might plan a trip around a specific cultural event, such as the Merrie Monarch festival in Hawaii where students would be immersed in an authentic Hawaiian experience. Hawaii is an incredible learning lab by nature, but including a cultural experience like the Merrie Monarch festival would bring learning to another level. Provide input that ensures exposure to a variety of creative displays.
How it Comes Naturally:
Traveling never goes according to plan, not exactly anyway. I have been challenged in some way on every trip I've ever taken, school trips included. Take a look at some of those mishaps in my travel blunders series. Sometimes you just have figure it out. There's no option. If you get lost in a mountain valley and your phone doesn't have a signal, you have to figure it out (happened to me). If one of the campgrounds you reserve for a school trip has patrons offering your students moonshine, you have to figure it out (happened to me).
Another great thing about school travel is that you're stuck with a group of people, whether you like them or not. Group travel always presents opportunities for team-building, conflict resolution, problem-solving. In other words, critical thinking is a must while traveling. You as the educator can help facilitate opportunities for critical thinking.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
I love problem-based learning and project-based learning activities to help students build critical thinking skills. There are many ways to do this. One would be to have travelers problem-solve hypothetical scenarios, as they may turn out to be a reality. Getting lost without access to a GPS could have been prevented by simply having a physical map on hand. This is an example of a hypothetical problem that students could problem-solve solutions for before they take off on their trip.
What I often do is ask that students research their travel destination beforehand and design a student-led project around some aspect of that destination, particularly pertaining to local issues. For example, I assign community action projects to all of my student travelers, regardless of destination and purpose. This project requires that students identify a problem that exists at their travel destination, make an action plan to solve the problem, and then they take action. This is a great project to practice critical thinking because they are addressing real-world problems. Check out community action projects in my TpT store. Take a look at these earlier blog posts on community action projects for guidance - "10 Community Action Project Ideas to Wrap up the School Year" and "Four Ways Students Can Take Action Today".
How it Comes Naturally:
Communication happens organically while traveling, and a lot in the planning process as well. If your students are part of the planning process, they will likely be communicating with travel agents, friends and family for tips and advice, travel bloggers for ideas. They may have to communicate with home owners to reserve an Air B and B or tour guides to plan excursions. There is also a lot of communication that naturally takes place while traveling as well. My students tend to talk to locals for recommendations, directions, or even just to chat. Communication is another skill that is magnified on group trips. I need to communicate with my students when we will start the day, where we will meet back and at what time, and they need to listen and follow directions.
Team-building activities, such as kayaking with a partner, really tests one's patience, strength, and communication skills.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
If your students are not involved in the planning process, find ways to include them. This is a great option for homeschoolers and for student-directed project-based teachers. Check out this free educational travel planning checklist for guidance.
I highly recommend project-based learning in general to help students work on their communication skills while traveling. Working with community experts is an important part of project-based learning, among other things. Go back to any number of my posts on PBL for details if you're not sure what project-based learning is. My students are required to use three community experts on every project, travel related or not.
For example, one of my Costa Rica students did her community action project on primate electrocution. She researched experts on the issue and came across the Sibu Sanctuary, a primate reserve and rehabilitation center in Costa Rica. My student connected with Vicki, who started the organization, planned a tour of the sanctuary while on our trip, she interviewed Vicki while we were there, and utilized Vicki's expertise in her final action plan. The communication skills at play here are vast and comprehensive. Consider using my PBL toolkit to get students rolling on student-directed project-based learning today. Summer travel is a great place to start!
How it Comes Naturally:
Collaboration doesn't happen as organically while traveling as some of the other "C's". Collaboration while traveling or at home for that matter takes effort, planning, networking and organization. One could easily travel to an all-inclusive resort, lock themselves in their hotel for a week, and not talk to a single person. Collaboration can happen naturally on a trip, but open-mindedness is key. I have so many examples of this on school trips, where collaborations weren't necessarily sought out, but students made themselves available to the possibility by simply asking questions and inquiring.
For example, I took students to Florida to study marine biology several years ago. We stayed at a campground that had a little hut by the entrance where a man made decorative fish out of coconuts to sell to tourists. My students, for whatever reason, were so intrigued by this. They started off by drilling the poor guy with question after question. By the end of the week a couple of my students were sitting in his hut learning how to make coconut fish decorations. It mind sound like a meaningless experience, but my students not only practiced collaboration skills (without even realizing it), but they enriched their travel experience overall.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
There are a lot of great ways to promote collaboration while traveling. One way is to ask that students collaborate with their community experts for their PBL projects. Technically students do not need to collaborate with their community experts. They just need to use their expertise in their final product or authentic presentation. One of my students did a her community action project for Costa Rica on the issue of endangered sea turtles. She created a "tips for tourists" brochure and collaborated with hotels around the country to have those brochures placed in hotel lobbies and on hotel websites around the country (Costa Rica).
You or your students might also organize learning activities on the trip such as volunteering at an event, attending a cooking class, service learning experiences, and more. You might even consider collaborating with another youth organization where an "exchange" might take place. We often had exchanges with other schools where our students traveled to other alternative education schools in the state and spent the day as a "student" in their school, and vica versa.
These photos are from service learning trips where students not only helped the community but became immersed in it. The far left photo is a student playing in a community baseball game.
How it Comes Naturally:
It seems as if traveling to build citizenship would be contradictory, as you'd be removing students from the society in which they should be active in making a difference. The great thing about traveling when it comes to citizenship is that students see a variety of ways of life. Students gain a broader and more robust worldview. By having exposure to different people, different customs, and issues on a global scale, students are more apt to have an informed and comprehensive perspective, to then be more responsible citizens in their own societies.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
Again, problem-based learning and project-based learning are great ways to do this. Whatever you decide to do, facilitate a learning experience that incorporates a variety of perspectives. You can ask that students interview locals, organize storytelling experiences, connect students with penpals before the trip and meet with them when they arrive. Organize learning experiences on the trip that aren't excluded to touristy spots or expensive excursions. Plan a trip that requires students to see the destination as it truly is - the authentic version of their travel location.
How it Comes Naturally:
When I think of "character" in this context I think of traits like integrity, morality, responsibility, honesty, bravery. You know, admirable traits. Character building comes naturally in travel, again, because students develop empathy. They see more and experience more outside of themselves. Outside of their own bubbles. When they're out of their element, when there is discomfort, when their actions reflect the group and where they come from, when they open their minds to other perspectives and ideas, they can better understand and develop their own goals, priorities, values, and moral compass. Traveling puts students in the position to have to open their minds, reflect on who they are, modify, and continue forward as a better person.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
I think the 5C's already listed play a role in the development of character. Communicating and collaborating with others, exposure to new and different ideas and ways of life, access to new and interesting creative outlets, problem-solving, conflict resolution, etc. all shape someone's character. So try all of the things already mentioned with your students while traveling - project-based learning, inquiry, problem-based learning, student activism, service learning, cultural exchanges and more would all add significantly to character development while traveling.
I would love to hear about your travel plans for the summer, and if they're educational in nature. Worldschoolers, I'd love to hear your thoughts! How do you enrich the travel experience, or do you just let it happen naturally? Thanks for stopping by! Happy summer travels!
For more educational travel resource, stop by my TpT store, where you can find a variety of free student travel resources. You can also look back to previous posts on student travel.
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To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.