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.
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".
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.
Click here for full article: Government to Hold School Debate on Climate Change
Student Activism on Climate Change - Students Get Vocal
I came across this article this morning and haven't been able to stop thinking about it, so I'm going to write about it! I'm so inspired, and want to spread that feeling.
Over 100 schools across Uganda will convene this upcoming Monday to debate on climate change. This event was organized by the government with the intention of "inculcating patriotic values and norms in order to develop resourceful, responsible, disciplined, and resilient citizens, who are committed to protecting the country’s resources."
I know now from 9 years of experience working with teenagers that they often have the best ideas and the most unique and creative solutions. They blow me away on a regular basis. My children and my students are growing up in a very different world than I did, with unique perspectives, resources, and skills. This event in Uganda not only gives student's the chance to speak on the issue, but to proffer solutions, and to propose initiatives that can be adopted nationwide. Ideally, globally. Uganda is setting a great example for the rest of the world, which is not only to pay attention to climate change, but to utilize the ideas that come from the most underutilized minds - those of our students!
I took a course on teaching climate change with the National Museum of Natural History. It was a really great class that I highly recommend for those of you interested in teaching climate change. I'm going to get some project-based learning climate change curriculum up in my store at some point, but that'll take some time. Climate change is also not really the point of writing this post. My point is more about the ways in which students can AND should get involved in important global issues. The debate event in Uganda is a great example.
I recommend checking out my "community action project" lesson at Experiential Learning Depot. Students use the templates to create a project around any issue, climate change if you wish. They can do this by raising awareness, advocating for legislation, organizing fundraisers, donating their time, or any other creative mode of action they would like to undertake. These projects can be done independently, in small groups, or as a large group project. My students have done community action projects on climate change. Check out these examples:
Climate Change Community Action Project Ideas:
1) Create an awareness campaign - each student created a promotional video or poster that educated the public on climate change, specifically communities most heavily impacted by climate change. They then shared their work on social media.
2) Interview businesses in the community on the impacts of climate change - I traveled with students to the Big Island of Hawaii in 2017. We toured the island interviewing business owners, those in agriculture, landowners, citizens, etc., on how they saw climate change impacting their livelihoods in the future or how they might already be feeling the effects of climate change. The interviews were eye-opening. We may not have coffee in 20 years! You do not need to go to Hawaii to do this project! I live and teach in Minnesota, and according to stats, Minnesota is one of the most vulnerable states in the U.S. to the impacts of climate change.
3) Organize a drive or fundraiser for climate refugees - this could be a group project or an independent project.
4) Host a school event such as a speaker series - invite climate scientists, business owners, aid organizations, students, renewable resource companies, ecologists, and more to come speak on their perspective.
5) Finally, host a debate! It is reasonable to do this with your own class. If you're ambitious, host a state-wide event.
To see more on the trip to Hawaii and the climate change project, check out The Jennings Experience. This was a student travel blog I kept when I was teaching.
Thanks for stopping by on this Friday afternoon. Have a fantastic weekend everyone!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Learning Lab: A Project-Based Learning Case Study
I came across this article today and wanted to share. It's such a great example of project-based learning. which is something I talk about a lot on this blog. Project-based learning is one element of experiential learning. It promotes observation, asking questions and exploring the world around you.
Plainfield Schools in Indiana recently launched their "Imagination Lab", which is a project-based learning environment for students of all ages. Learners build, create, problem-solve, experiment and inquire.
Whenever I broach the subject of project-based learning I'm hyper-focused on the way PBL fosters a passion for learning. That is very important to me because I know you need a love for learning before other skills and competencies can be achieved, such as motivation and productivity.
Friends of mine, family members, community members, and even some of my students' parents often had concerns about project-based learning. Is PBL preparing my child for the real-world? College classes are typically lecture-based. How will my child transition from a student-directed learning environment to a teacher-centered one? My answer to that is that project-based learning gives students the skills and competencies they need to adapt to any environment they land in. Learning Lab is a fantastic demonstration of this point. Check out the article for more on PBL and one school district's success story.
"In Plainfield schools you'll find fun, slime, and the joy of learning"
4 Reasons to Integrate Current Events into your Curriculum
Ok, so you're not a social studies teacher. Current events don't apply to you or what you're doing with your students. Or do they? You don't have to be a social studies teacher to fuse current events into your curriculum. All subjects can incorporate current affairs into the curriculum.
I'm a life-science teacher, and I incorporate science news into my classes regularly. All teachers can and should include current events to some degree in their classroom, and this is why:
1) Bring current events in class, and 21st C. content will follow:
It's important as teachers that we stay up-to-date. The world is changing, and it's changing quickly. If we want our students to have a shot at a decent life in the 21st. century we have to prepare them for the 21st. century. Part of helping them prepare for that world is giving them ample opportunities to know what's going on in it. Raise your hand if you've had a teacher that has clearly been delivering the same lesson for 30 years. You know the one. Don't let that be you. Our students deserve better.
2) Awareness of local and global issues help students build important life skills:
A deeper understanding of current topics in the news expand students' world view. This alone helps student develop essential competencies for a happy, healthy and productive future. Insight on what's happening in the world engenders empathy and compassion. It fosters responsible and active citizenship, a curiosity about the world outside of one-self, and an educated viewpoint. Education is a catalyst for change in the world. Student can and should be a part of that.
3) Incorporating current events is low-prep:
What educator doesn't want low-prep? We can be great, caring educators and still want to be smart with our time. The content is already there when it comes to current events. The only thing you need is an idea of how you want to implement it, what structure you'll apply, when and how often you'll work current events into your class, and what resources you'll utilize.
4) Current, relevant pedagogy nurtures intrinsic motivation to learn:
It shouldn't be surprising to any educator that students learn more when they can connect with the material. The material should be relevant, compelling, and important to the students. Providing student choice is a plus. News is interesting, especially if you're hitting up the best resources. You know your audience. Try a few different approaches with your students to see what works. If you're an art teacher, for example, try assigning a project on "art and activism."
Current Events Resources for all Subjects:
Vice News Series Worksheets and Extension Activities:
Vice News is super gritty, which students, especially teenagers love. They cover a wide range of topics, which is why it's great for a variety of subjects, not just social studies. The link above will bring you to a "bundle", 22 episodes, but you can pick and choose episodes in my store as well. I show a Vice episode every Monday in class to start off the week. My students love "Vice days".
Project-Based Learning - Current Events:
This is a good one for a variety of subjects as well because it's a generic template. If you want your students to focus on a specific discipline, ask that they're current event for this project relate to that concept.
Community Action Projects:
This is my latest resource. I like this one because it gives students an opportunity to act on a local or global issue. If you're an environmental science teacher, ask your students to focus their action plan on an environmental issue that's hot in the news. If you're a health instructor, ask that students act on a community health issue, and so on. This project gives student choice and provides all of the those life competencies that I mentioned above.
Experiential Learning Depot cyber sale ends today, so check out these resources before midnight tonight! Get those kids reading the paper! Good luck!
Student Activism with Community Action Projects
My entire teaching career was at one school, Jennings Community School. The philosophy is written right there in the name. Wayne Jennings started the school with "community" as the foundation for learning. In nine years teaching there I developed a deep appreciation for student involvement in the community.
Students have the capacity to make massive waves of change because they are young, technologically savvy, and many injustices happening in the world today are happening to them, impacting them directly. What they need from us are the tools, skills, and knowledge to have their voices heard. They have opinions, they have ideas. They just need a nudge and some guidance.
I designed a project that gives students the tools, skills and knowledge they need for a lifetime of community activism. Check out Community Action Projects at Experiential Learning Depot. Community Action Projects teach many important social-emotional skills such as empathy and self-reliance. They help students develop essential life and career skills such as networking and responsible citizenship. Most importantly, action in the community gives students the tools to make a positive impact long after they have completed the project, finished the class, or graduated from school.
There are many ways students can take action in the community! Here are four such ways:
1) Giving Time/Volunteering/Community Service:
Service learning is one way students can be active in the community. Encourage students to give thanks this holiday season by giving back! Help them organize a community involvement club, have a weekly community clean-up day, regular visits to a food shelf and so on. Inspire students to identify community issues that matter to them, and give their time to that cause.
Students love fundraising! Encourage them to direct that spirit toward a cause that is meaningful or relevant in their lives. Many people don't have the means to donate money from their own pockets, especially students. They can plan and host a fundraiser for a specific cause and donate money to a worthy cause that way.
3) Advocating for Legislation:
This is a really important learning experience for students to have in my opinion. In many cases it is the most effective course of action one could take. The Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs (MAAP) coordinates an annual "Legislative Day", where students from across the state come to the capital to speak with their legislators. This is a powerful way for students to be heard. This type of action also teaches students important citizenship concepts, among other things. I had a student who personally contacted her legislator, who traveled all the way to Jennings to meet with this student. They met one-on-one to discuss a bill that would help ex-convicts get jobs, an important and personal issue to this particular student.
4) Education/Raising Awareness:
Education is the most effective course of action in making long-term change. Say what you will about social media, but in this case it is a huge ally. Information travels fast, far and wide when shared on social media platforms. Students are especially competent with technology. A simple awareness campaign poster posted on social media will reach more people in 5 minutes than a flier would in weeks, for example. Encourage your students to utilize these 21st C. communication skills to their benefit and the benefit of the community.
There are so many ways students can be active members of their communities. They don't even have to get radical if you're not up for that. What seems like a small and simple gesture may not be small and simple for some. I had a student who wanted to get a crosswalk put into a high traffic area near the school. Getting a crosswalk put in may not bring world peace, but it's something, and an important something to that student and her community.
Change the world one project at a time! Have a great school week everyone.
Get your students exploring business ideas as a classroom activity, and maybe even see those ideas through...
My 4 year old son, Charlie, has been requesting, more like demanding, that we buy him toys. Not just every time we leave the house, but now toys can be purchased right from our couch. He has discovered Amazon. My attempt to explain greed, materialism, poverty, waste, the difference between needs and wants to a 4 year old has been unsuccessful.
And anyway, does my 4 year old need to know about human suffering this early in his life? Maybe, maybe not. We can save that discussion for another day. Regardless, he wasn't getting it. That approach didn't work.
So I tried something else. I told him he could earn money and save it for "wants". We discussed how a four year old boy might go about doing that. He observed that some kids make money with lemonade stands. We determined that it was too cold for that. I asked him what kinds of things we eat and drink in the fall? He said hot chocolate. We didn't have ingredients for hot chocolate. He reminded me that we had two gallons of apple juice left over from his sister's birthday party the week before. That is how "Hot Apple Cider Central" got it's start.
Charlie designed a sign (what it should say), and I wrote it out. He decided where the sale would be, and what extra treats he could give away to lure in customers. I showed him how to post an advertisement to our online neighborhood forum. He had to brainstorm and engineer a way to keep the apple cider hot outside. I introduced to him the Crockpot. He even chased neighbors down the street shouting "apple cider for sale!" We then had a conversation about appropriate sales tactics.
Charlie made $4 his first day out. He charged his customers "5 monies" for a cup of apple cider. Considering he has no concept of money, I'd say $4 was a success! But the bigger success was the knowledge and skills gained in the process, and the pride he took in his work.
All of us are entrepreneurs at heart. Check out this free graphic organizer from my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. It is a guide for brainstorming business ideas, geared toward all ages and skill levels. It would be a fun activity to incorporate into your class, or could be treated as the starting-off-point to something bigger, like writing an actual business plan and hosting an exhibition night to show them off.
If you use the graphic organizer with your students or own children, I'd love to hear about some of their business ideas! Thanks for reading.
Follow me on Pinterest (Experiential Learning Depot) , Instagram and TpT for more education resources and ideas!
Experiential Learning Travel Mishaps and the Lessons Learned
I like this quote from John Dewey. Although there have been trip-ups on every travel experience I have ever taken, with students and without, there are lessons to be learned from all of them. Struggle and failure, albeit annoying, are catalysts for learning, especially when combined with purposeful reflection. The intention of these posts is to tell stories of hardship, complication, unexpected obstacles, defeat and downright failure. But most importantly it's to encourage persistence. Along with calamity comes new knowledge, change in current thinking, and self-growth. Not just with travel blunders, but with mishaps in life! Failure isn't a set-back, it's progress.
Check out this free school trip reflection on my TpT page. It can be used for a field trip or something more elaborate like a camping trip or travel experience abroad.
Alright, upward and onward! I'm back with part 2 - another story of adventure and mishaps on school travel experiences.
"You'll have to wait here for an hour. You can't drive in your condition" - Big Island, Hawaii
I took several girls to Hawaii in 2012 on a marine biology trip, entirely planned by a student. Check out How to Plan a School Trip - Student Led Project (free) at my TpT store if you're interested in assigning a theoretical or real project. Hawaii is an awesome place to travel with students because the best learning experiences are free. Everything you want to see is outside, so aside from spendy excursions, money spent on activities really doesn't exist. This particular student probably spent 100 hours of her life fundraising for this trip, so I told her she could choose one excursion for the group to go on. She chose night diving with manta rays. I was nervous about it from the start. I wasn't sure about swimming at night. I'm from the Midwest, no ocean in either direction for over a thousand miles, so my perception of the ocean is essentially what I've seen on TV, which comes dominantly from Shark Week. Shark Week has led me to believe that under no circumstances should anyone be swimming in the ocean at night! The biologist in me knew this was probably irrational thinking, and that's what this student wanted to do, so I went ahead and booked it.
I scheduled our dive with the manta rays for the evening of our second day on the trip. The girls were so excited to do this. The excursion required a 45 minutes boat ride to get to where the manta rays hang out. Some of the students had never been on a boat before, and few of them had never seen the ocean. The captain of the boat allowed the girls to go to the top deck where they could see better. I think the students would have been satisfied if we had only done a boat ride. It was that amazing. The view of the coastline was gorgeous at dusk, the ride was a little bumpy and wild, but what teenager doesn't like that? When they went to the upper deck they looked out to see schools of dolphins surfing the wake. It was an unbelievable experience for the students, one they will never forget.
We finally arrived at our snorkeling site, and began to get geared up. I noticed one of the students in a daze. I asked her if she was OK and she didn't respond. She was sweaty and clammy and her face was turning a scary green color. I leaned in a bit closer to ask again, thinking maybe she didn't hear me, and in that exact moment she sprayed vomit across the entire boat. That probably that dramatic, but it's how my brain has shaped this particular memory. Her instinct understandably was to find the edge of the boat and vomit into the ocean as to avoid puking in the boat or all over herself. The boat crew in unison dove at her with buckets to stop her from vomiting in the water. At this point the boat was parked in the water and we were still sitting on it. There wasn't a dock or slip to pull our boat into so the kids could get out onto dry land. We had to sit on the boat, and at this point it was rocking on 5 foot waves. The crew encouraged the student to get in the water to relieve some of the discomfort associated with her sea sickness.
We got in the water and proceeded to observe one of the most spectacular sights I've ever seen. Manta rays are massive creatures and they're not afraid of people. These weren't anyway. So they swam right next to our bodies. We put our faces in the water, and looked down, and they glided and danced all around us. Some even swam right up next to our bodies, like we were lying on a manta ray bed. It was wild and exhilarating. Thankfully in the water the sick student felt a little better, but at some point we had to get back in the boat to take the same ride home. So we did. Within minutes she was vomiting again, only now ALL of the students were sick too. Every single student on this trip was sick and vomiting in unison. I have never seen anyone sick like that in my life. They weren't just nauseous. They were delirious. One student didn't speak at all for the entire duration of the boat ride. Another was saying things that didn't make any sense. I felt like another was going in and out of consciousness. At one point I looked around and it was just a pure vomit bath. The boat ride was so wild that some of my students were getting thrown around the boat, buckets in hand, vomit everywhere. Again, a little dramatized perhaps, but this is how my brain has preserved this memory.
I thought I was in the clear. We were SO close to home, when suddenly I felt nauseous myself. This deep, pit in my stomach persisted no matter what I did - stood up, sat down, closed my eyes, put my head in my lap - I couldn't make it go away. My body started to ache like I had the flu, I got a headache, I was completely disoriented. And then we arrived. The girls got to dry land as fast as their legs could carry them, which wasn't fast considering they were all violently ill. I stumbled off the boat, in shock that I never actually threw up myself.
If you've ever been sea sick you know that you aren't immediately fine as soon as you reach dry ground. My students were definitely not fine. I was not fine. We got all of our things loaded into the car, I turned the key to the ignition, started to drive out of the parking lot and had to stop. I could't drive. It felt like our car was in the water, bouncing up and down on waves. I felt drunk. I stopped the car, got out and sat on the curb. A crew member from the boat came over and said I should wait it out for at least an hour. I never even threw up, but the boat ride was enough to make me feel like I was intoxicated.
The lesson learned from this experience was simple. Be prepared for anything. I was so consumed by the irrational potential for sharks that I didn't bother to think that someone could get sea sick. Motion sickness is very common. Shark attacks are not. The experience was so magnificent. It's a little sad to think that one student was so sick that she vaguely remembers being there. She missed it, and may never have the chance to do it again. From that point on I have been sure to cover every possible angle. That's hard since you can't plan for everything. Next weeks story of adventure and mishap is case in point. Stay tuned....
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School Travel Program Blunders and the Lessons Learned
Last night I was lying in bed recovering from a minor stomach bug. I was reminded of the time I thought I had rabies on a school travel experience to Costa Rica. That's how this post came to be! This article will be the launching point for a grander series of posts on student travel.
Most of you know this already, so I'll keep it brief. When I was teaching (I am now temporarily home with my children), I coordinated a lot of school trips, from nearby camping overnights, to elaborate travel experiences abroad. In my nine years teaching there, I planned, coordinated and chaperoned dozens of trips. Take a look at at my school travel blog to check out some of our travels. The first trip I ever took with students was a service learning experience to Texas after Hurricane Ike tore through cities like Galveston. I took that trip as a first year teacher. It was a tough one in many ways, but upon reflection, I realized just how dramatically the lives of students were forever changed (for the better). From that point on I was committed to providing as many of these life-changing-experiences with my students as possible.
Traveling did not come without a lot of trial and error! As I said, there were some mishaps on the Texas trip......and the Costa Rica trip, and California, Florida, Colorado, Hawaii. Pretty much all of them. I look back on those experiences now and laugh, because everyone got home safely, some of the mishaps were comical, and ultimately, each obstacle we faced was a learning experience. These adventures and mishaps bonded us (many of us for life). They presented opportunities to problem-solve in real-life situations, resolve conflict effectively, push through even the harshest of conditions. We all came out on the other side as stronger individuals for having endured and overcome these blunders.
1) "Awe, your friends came to welcome you home!" - Texas
The mishaps (a nice way to put it) on this trip were humdingers, to say the least. I have it listed as the first story strictly because it happened first chronologically. But it probably should be saved as the grand finale. I was a first year teacher, so hadn't planned any school trips up to this point. A colleague of mine at the time organized the trip, and I just tagged along as a chaperone, which even that I was ill-equipped to do at the time. Together we packed 10 kids in a van, hitched a trailer for our things, and trekked across the country from Minnesota to Galveston, Texas, which took about 3 days.
On the way to Texas there was an under-the-radar feud developing between two students. My colleague and I were for the most part completely oblivious to this fact. When we got to Texas, minor altercations started to surface here and there. We'd see conversations between students elevate a little, we'd quietly calm them down and move on with our work. About half way through the trip, a couple students sneaked into another students room in the middle of the night, took all of his things, and threw them in the hallway. My colleague and I dealt with that the best way we knew how at the time. We got mad, pulled the "I'm disappointed" card, had a mediation circle. The works. They all agreed they could tolerate each other for the rest of the trip, which they did as far as I was aware. We thought we were in the clear.
On the drive home everyone was joyful, happy, friends. We sang songs, played road-trip games, laughed, reminisced about the trip and the important work we did and the people we helped. When we pulled into the school parking lot I saw a large group of people congregating around their cars. I thought, "Oh wow, how nice. The students friends and families have come to welcome them home".
We all stepped out of the van, and before I could even open my mouth to say hello to the visitors, a full-blown riot erupted in our parking lot. Students, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends of our student travelers all felt the need to get involved. People throwing punches, tackling, taking each others shoes. Yes that happened. Turned out that our two rival students had planned this before we left, and were texting away, recruiting their people on the road trip home. Right. Under. Our. Noses. The only thing I knew to do was call the police. They arrived and everyone scattered. The rest is history.
The aftermath involved standard school protocol for such an event. There were some suspensions, some expulsions, some restorative circles. The usual. I will remember that trip forever, for one because I couldn't have in my wildest dreams expected what happened to happen. I learned a lot about myself as a person and as an educator. Students did as well. One of the kids involved in the the altercation graduated that year, and has since stayed in touch. That was nine years ago. He successfully started his own business, and is a kind individual. This is an example of how our past mistakes don't have to define us. I try to remember this with each new student I encounter. Who they were before they came to me is irrelevant. They start clean in that moment.
2) "There's a bat in the room" - Costa Rica
My sister, a volunteer chaperone, and I took a small group of female students to Costa Rica in 2014. Anyone who has been to Costa Rica knows it's a wild place, hence the reason we went. I am a biology teacher with a background in ecology and conservation, so the purpose was to study tropical biology. We got what we asked for. There was tropical life EVERYWHERE - beetles the size of cell phones barreling into our foreheads at max speed during dinner, howler monkeys providing our daily morning wake-up calls, poisonous frogs, "bullet" ants (just imagine what that means), some of the most dangerous snakes in the world, invisible stinging insects, and bats. At times it felt like a scene out of Jumanji or Avatar. Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places I've been by the way. I don't mean to make it sound bad.
One of the hotels that we stayed at had an open ceiling sort of concept. There was technically a roof, but the walls didn't go from floor to ceiling, so anything that flies could be in your room at any given moment. One evening my sister and I were winding down from a full day hangin' in the rain forest. We were lying in our beds, watching a Spanish version of Frozen on TV. Something was telling me to look up. My eyes slowly directed their gaze toward the ceiling like a scene from a scary movie, and low and behold, right above the bed on the ceiling was a bat. Now normally a bat is not something I would be afraid of. I'm a biologist after all. But the hypochondriac that my sister is felt the need to dive to the floor like a bat outta hell (ha, good one, right?) She was literally shaking in fear. She proceeded to explain to me, as I'm still laying in bed with a bat hanging over my head, that sometimes people get bit by bats and don't know they were bit. They die from rabies within hours. Parts of that are true. I've heard stories. Just a little dramatic. I got out of the bed to go get a hotel staff member to remove the bat from our room, when suddenly the bat started flying around our room and took a dive right at me. I dove to the floor, army crawled to the corner of the room behind a small desk, and proceeded to lay there in fetal position for the next ten minutes. Finally a couple of our students came knocking, walked in to see my sister and I both curled up in corners while a bat continued to fly around the room. Surprisingly the students were cool as cucumbers, and went to get a manager for us (because my sister and I were afraid to get off the floor).
A manager came into the room and basically laughed. By that point the bat had crawled into some small space in the ceiling. Not only do I think the hotel manager didn't believe us, but he walked into a room with two grown women shaking and screaming on the floor, while two young students saved the day. Tourists at their finest. We ended up going to bed and crawling deep down under the covers to avoid any bat attacks in the middle of the night.
Around 2 a.m. I awoke, drenched in my own sweat, but shivering. My muscles were weak, my bones were sore. I was cold and weak. I was so lethargic that I had to drag my body across the floor to the bathroom where I attempted to take a warm shower. It was cold and there was only a trickle. My sister rolled my suitcase in the bathroom where I proceeded to put on every item of clothing that I brought, crawled back into bed, and didn't sleep a wink because I was CERTAIN that I had rabies. How could I not? The next morning I was still in a bad way. Still weak, still freezing, but sweating profusely. But we had plans, I was their instructor, I had to pull through. We had plans to go white water rafting that day, and it was absolutely the most miserable experience of my life. Nothing like getting drenched in frigid water when you have rabies. Ok, turns out I didn't have rabies, obviously. But it's pretty crazy that I just happened to get a 24 hour flu the same night we slept with a bat flying around our room. Things happen on all school trips that you don't anticipate. That's a great lesson in life - for all of us.
3) "Uh, my pack broke. Do we have another one?"
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
"Ummmmmmm, no!?" I believe was my answer to that question, along with something like, "Are you kidding me right now? You're kidding, right? Right? RIGHT!!??", in a tone somewhere between frustration and utter and complete panic.
Approximately three hours prior to this conversation, a group of students and I set off on our 5 day trek along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It is a stunning hike along Lake Superior, with a mix of pine forest, rock cliffs, and sand dunes. It's one of the most beautiful places I have been. We arrived after a seven hour drive from Minnesota to our trail head, excited to get started. Now let me give you some background information before I continue. The school at which I worked serves inner-city, at-risk students, many homeless, almost all under the poverty line. They are not rolling in the best backpacking equipment. And anyone who has ever done serious backpacking knows that you can't bring a 20 lb tent, a huge camping stove, a pillow, a drawstring bag for your pack! Everything you're going to eat, cook with, sleep with, dress with ends up on your back, which is carried with you for the entirety of the trip.
Knowing that my students didn't have all of this equipment sitting around, I gathered what the school already had, got a few donations, and thought we were good to go. My students and I spent a significant amount of time before the trip planning for it, talking logistics like what to pack. I unloaded all of our equipment in front of them offering each one of them great packs. Each student except one insisted that they had their own stuff. I remember thinking it was a little strange, but trusted that if they said they had it covered, then they had it covered.
We arranged to meet at the school before our departure to get the school van and pack up our stuff. When students pulled in, got out of their cars, and walked toward me with little to no gear, I started to get concerned. I asked one student where all of his stuff was. He turned around to show me his bag - a small, black, draw-string bag, no bigger than 18 inches long, with fraying seams and wearing ropes. I never swear in front of students, but there were no other words at the time. They just tumbled out of me under my state of complete shock. "Holy shit!" I believe were my exact and only words. I think I was truly waiting for him to say "gotcha!" and run back to his car to grab a legitimate pack. He did not. You'd think I would have marched right into the school to grab one of our bags. I didn't, and I don't remember why now. It was either because I couldn't get in the school, or it was sheer stupidity on my part. Likely the latter. None of the other kids had drawstring bags, but their arrangements were not much better. Somehow we managed to stuff everything we needed into all of our bags. I do remember having to hang a lot of things off of their bags with bungee chords. I think we even put a bunch of food in a plastic shopping bag and tied it in a knot around his drawstrings! Ha. Ah, it's so crazy to think about now. I'm not sure how we survived it.
Flash forward, we start our hike. It's gorgeous! We're admiring the view, telling stories, laughing, blah blah blah. We had been hiking for hours, and about 5 miles in I see a good photo op, and let the kids walk ahead a bit. Once I got my picture I sped up to catch up with the group, and from a distance saw them all crouched down on the ground. They must be checking out an insect or a toad, I thought to myself. As I got closer I noticed one of the students was fiddling with his bag. When I approached he gently let me know his bag was broken. There was nothing we could do. We couldn't turn back, we didn't have an extra. We reallocated some of our things, and because I had the best equipment, I ended up carrying most of our gear. Within the first hour of this arrangement, I was pretty sure I was going to be crippled for the rest of my life. But we pushed on. To top the cake, it started down-pouring about five minutes before we needed to set up camp. All of our gear hanging off of our packs (because there was no room inside them), including our tents and sleeping bags, were soaking wet within seconds. We arrived to our site, set up camp in the rain, and slept in puddles all night. The students didn't complain. Not once.
The rest of the trip was a series of this type of mishap. All of us were tested that week, and we all came out of it stronger and better for having experienced it. At times I thought we might die out there. I realize now that that is hyperbole and irrational. But it's how I felt at the time because we were so unprepared for the physical and mental rigor of this trip. My students were rock stars, and to this day, I would hire any of them for a job that requires working under harsh conditions, because they will get it done, they'll push through, and they'll probably enjoy every second of it. My students taught me that week to be positive, and regardless of the circumstances, see the beauty in front of me, because if I allow myself to get bogged down in pain, hardship, frustration, then I will miss it completely. I think about that when I think about raising my own children. There are so many pieces of life where this philosophy holds true.
Many lessons were learned on this trip. The biggest takeaway though, for me anyway, was to go with my gut. I knew my student's backpack would give out. I knew it, yet I let him bring it. Your gut is probably right most of the time. I have learned that the hard way, and after too many times. Thankfully we all survived it and learned a great deal from the experience.
4) "What if he has to get his foot amputated on my watch?"
- Hawaii, 2017
I took a group of students to Hawaii in 2017 to study environmental science. Earlier the year before, a student of mine did a project on Hawaiian monk seals. It spiraled into a variety of other interests like the Pacific Plastics Patch and climate change, both heavily impacting Hawaii. This student decided she wanted to help coordinate a trip to the Big Island, and so we did (a lot of fundraising and detailed planning later). I lived and worked in Hawaii a decade ago for the endangered palila project with USGS. The organization arranged within the first week of my arrival a mandatory seminar on the dangers of Hawaii. I was 22 at the time, frontal lobe not entirely developed yet, and of course thought I was immune to any significant danger. Turns out at the time I was immune. Thankfully nothing dire happened to me while I lived there, but looking back I realize I made a lot of reckless choices. Anytime I bring students to Hawaii I think of that seminar I had to go to - shark attacks, getting caught in the rip tide, falling through lava rock, stubbing your toe or falling on lava rock, getting sucked into an underwater lava tube, severe sun burn, drowning, falling through the cone of a volcano. Yes. He talked about that. The Big Island of Hawaii at the time had, and still does have an active volcano, so hiking to one of many pu'u's (volcanic cones) to take a look at the action is not unheard of. In fact, some of my colleagues at the time did hike right up to the cones of Pu'u O'o. I opted out. It was a life-changing experience for them I'm sure, but not a safe one.
Back to the students. So when I decided I would take students to Hawaii, I had all of these risks in mind. Hawaii has this beauty and power over me that I haven't experienced anywhere else in the world. I knew that a trip like this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of my students, and life-changing for all of them. I also had matured since I'd last been there, knew the island well, as I lived there, and would take every precaution I could to keep students safe, without taking away the experience. Generally, that all worked out. Everyone is alive. But one student in particular experienced or came close to experiencing almost every hazard mentioned above.
Let's start from the top. We went kayaking the very first day. This student proceeded to get the worst sun burn I have ever seen, on any individual, my entire life - the worst of it was on his feet. Note, Hawaii is all outdoor activity. You don't spend time inside, and when you are out, you need to be able to walk to see anything cool. The best sites are those off the beaten path. At first his feet were just red. Peeling a little here and there. Slowly but surely his feet started to swell, a little more every hour it seemed. He continued to keep up with the group, and I kid you not, didn't complain once. So I really thought he was fine. He could just put some aloe on it, and the swelling would slowly go down.
I mentioned earlier that lava rock is brutal. It's like millions of teeny tiny shards of glass clumped together. If you fall on a rock in Minnesota, you get a scrape on your knee. If you fall on lava rock your knee is pretty much gone, especially if you were wearing shorts! We went swimming in a river one day, and this same student cut his foot on a lava rock in the water. When he got out of the water, I looked at the cut on the bottom of his foot, and it, in combination with his sun burn was crazy gnarly looking. It was a long gash, but not that deep so I thought we could just bandage it up and move on. We did that. He didn't complain, and continued to quietly participate in whatever plans we had the rest of the day.
When we got back to the house where we were staying, I pulled out some aloe and fresh bandages for his foot. He pulled off his sock, and I just about passed out right there. Not only was his foot still bright red and swollen from the sunburn, but it was now starting to turn purplish/blackish/bluish/greenish - every color that your foot is not supposed to be - and the colors were in tracks. It looked like a splatter painting of the most grotesque colors of the rainbow. My stomach already turning, I asked him to take the band aid off the cut he got earlier from the lava rock. As he peeled the band aid back, a huge patch of skin came with it. The gash it turned out was long, not deep, but it was also much wider than I thought. This lava rock basically took a silver dollar sized chunk out of his foot. I turned to my sister and said, "We need to get him to a hospital. I think he has gang green." I was certain that there was going to be an amputation before we left Hawaii.
He didn't have gang green. He didn't have anything amputated. Again, totally irrational thinking, but when children are under your care, and parents are expecting to get their kids home with all of their limbs, your mind goes places. I'm not sure what the lesson was here truthfully. It still amazes me that this particular student got home all in one piece. He is accident prone, but again, minor injuries are part of life in Hawaii. What really blows my mind is that this student still had a great time. He still learned a lot. He didn't complain, and loved every second of it. He was a total mess, but was determined to get everything he could out of a trip he may never have a chance at again. Maybe that's the lesson? Carpe diem. It's so cliche and I'm not always certain that it's great advice. But that this student made it through this trip AND took advantage of every opportunity to grow and learn, is really inspiring. It was to me and I think it was inspiring to the other students on the trip as well.
I think that'll be all for now. I have many more stories on student travel mishaps. I'll share them next week in part 2!
If I haven't scared you away from school travel experiences, check out this template for planning a school trip. It's free, and makes a good PBL project for students - How to Plan a School Travel Experience: Student-Directed PBL Project.
You can also take a look at Project-Based Learning: Plan a Trip Around the World - a hypothetical plan for a trip around the world.
Follow me on Pinterest (Experiential Learning Depot) for more education resources.
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.