I'm several posts into my student-directed learning series now, and I'm finding that I may never reach an end. There is so much to say about it. Generally speaking, when learning activities are truly student-directed, classrooms are transformed as are students. Student-directed learning, in short, gives students choice, voice, and autonomy. This approach to learning provides students with opportunities to develop important 21st-century skills, grow in knowledge, and develop the tools for lifelong learning. These learning experiences can also be done just about anywhere: trapped at home on a rainy day, out in the backyard or school yard, on the road, or traveling around the world. The options are limitless because the experiences are designed and led by the students themselves.
The three learning tools of focus on this post do not necessarily have to be student-directed. They can all fall under teacher-directed if the teacher is making most of the decisions and directing the experiences. Guiding is much different than directing (check out my post to see what teachers do in a student-directed learning environment.) I chose the three learning activities that I did, not because they have to be student-directed in order to work, but because they have the framework in place to make student-directed learning possible and easy to implement. The following activities are great ways to start if you are looking to transform your classroom (and students) by way of student-directed learning.
I have tool kits for all of my go-to self-directed learning experiences including project-based learning, problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, maker projects, and community action projects (PBL + service learning). I have compiled several of these into a bundle, or they can be found independently at my TPT store. Each tool kit provides all of the materials to help guide students through student-led learning experiences, and helps parents and educators facilitate them. Click on the photo below to get to the resource.
3 Transformational Student-Directed Learning Tools
1. Project-Based Learning (PBL):
I have written a lot of posts about project-based learning because it has been my dominant teaching tool for the past 11 years. Project-based learning is when students investigate a topic or driving question, create an end product to demonstrate learning, and present the final product. What distinguishes project-based learning from other pedagogies or projects in general is that the community plays a large role in the research process, end products must be innovative, and presentations must be authentic, meaning the information gathered or the product itself should meet and impact a relevant audience. Self and peer-assessment is also important. For details on how to start student-directed project-based learning and for PBL examples, refer back to some of my other posts on PBL.
So then how do you make PBL student-directed? Give students choice in as many ways as you can. Students can choose their own topic and learning objectives if you have the flexibility to allow that. If you are restricted to teaching specific topics, then choose the topic and allow student choice in other aspects of the project process. Students can choose how they will gather information, which community experts they will use and how they will utilize their expertise. Students can choose how they will demonstrate learning such as creating a comic or building a website. Students can and should choose their authentic audience. Students can even choose their own grading criteria by writing their own rubric or designing their own formative assessment.
Teacher-directed project-based learning would mean you would be doing all of that work for your students. Not only is that a lot on you, but learners are then robbed of the opportunity to develop those important skills themselves such as networking, communication, and collaboration.
Most of my TpT store is filled with various project-based learning resources. Many of my PBL resources start with a specific topic but give students choice in every other way. I also have a project-based learning toolkit that provides all of the guiding materials necessary for student-directed PBL that can be personalized to any topic.
The photo on the left is one part of the end product of a large and ongoing student business project. The picture is of skate decks for his skateboard company, all designs done by students. The photo on the right is of a student taking photos as a way of demonstrating learning. Photography was a passion of his, so taking photos to document his project was his choice.
2. Problem-Based Learning (PrBL):
I love problem-based learning for so many reasons, but one is the creative solutions that students come up with. Kids come into this activity with a fresh lens! Problem-based learning is when students examine real-world problems. They investigate the problem, research existing solutions, develop novel solutions, and propose a comprehensive plan to mitigate or eliminate the problem completely.
Again, problem-based learning has the bones to be student-directed as long as students direct the experience through a series of choices. I often introduce a problem and then have students choose how they will examine the issue, who they will talk to, resources they will utilize, collaborators, etc. They can also choose how they propose their plan.
True student-directed problem-based learning would be allowing students to choose the real-world problem they want to investigate and solve. This route is so interesting because even the act of choosing their own problem to investigate requires certain skills such as making observations about the world around them or recognizing when there is a problem at all. Students will get better at these skills the more opportunities they have to build on them.
I just started a problem-based learning product line on my TpT site. I have a problem-based learning toolkit that provides the framework and guiding materials to do student-directed problem-based learning from start to finish.
I do a lot of problem-based learning activities on environmental science because I am a science teacher. I give them a water pollution problem about fertilizers (available in my store), and organized a field trip to a nearby organic farm to talk with the farmer about how she grows crops sustainably.
3. Inquiry-Based Learning:
I use student-directed inquiry-based learning quite often because I am a science teacher. It's very fitting for science concepts, as one method of investigation is experimentation. Inquiry-based learning, however, is multidisciplinary. It can be used in any learning environment, for any subject, and any unit (if that's what you're looking for.) Inquiry is simply asking a question and investigating it through whatever means available and effective.
Again, inquiry-based learning is not defined by giving students choice. It falls on a spectrum, as I said in my last post. Feel free to go back one week to see my post on student-directed inquiry-based learning for details on how to guide inquiry activities. If the teacher asks the question, designs the investigation, and directs everything in between, then it is teacher-directed inquiry. Open inquiry is the opposite end of the spectrum where students observe the world around them, ask their own questions, and direct their own investigations. Guided inquiry lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
I have a few scientific open inquiry activities in my TpT store. I also have an inquiry-based learning toolkit with the guiding materials needed for student-directed open inquiry.
Of course there are other activities that can be student-directed, but these specific approaches to learning have worked well for me. Project-based learning, in my opinion, is the best place to start.
I would love to hear about any student-directed learning activities that you do with your students, or how your PBL, PrBL, and inquiry-based learning activities are working out for your students.
Misconceptions about Experiential Learning
I talk about experiential learning a lot in my life. It's in the name of my blog and my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. I consider "experiential educator" to be my job title and path of focus. "Experiential learning" is strongly built into my daily lexicon and philosophy of education. I get a lot of inquiries about experiential learning and how it can be worked into curriculum, especially in a traditional learning environment. The good news is that it's a great learning tool for people of all learning environments, backgrounds, skill levels, and interests, and it's fairly easy to implement if you know the essential components. There isn't really any bad news other than there are some misunderstandings floating around about what it is and who can benefit from it.
The Instagram hashtag, #experientiallearning, is loaded with photos of company team- building retreats, groups hiking, traveling, or digging around in the dirt. One common misconception is that experiential learning has to happen outdoors. Experiential learning activities can be outdoors, but certainly don't have to be. Taking students outside on a sunny spring day for lecture and worksheets is not experiential learning. An indoor open inquiry activity would be more experiential than passive learning activities taken outdoors.
I worked at an experiential high school for almost 10 years. Although we had a travel program and provided daily authentic experiences for students, 90% of my time was spent in the building, in my classroom. Don't use the fact that you're confined to your classroom as an excuse for not providing experiential learning opportunities to your learners. If you're a homeschooler, you have no excuses! ;)
I very recently discovered that a common use of the term experiential learning is in association with corporate team building activities. Experiential learning in the world of education is not this. Any educator, from any learning environment can do experiential learning with students.
So let's iron out experiential learning, what it is exactly, and how your students can do experiential learning starting today, beyond the walls of a classroom AND within a classroom.
Components of Experiential Learning
1. Students are actively involved:
Students should be actively, not passively, learning throughout the activity at hand. Experiential learning IS NOT lecture. It is NOT prescribed worksheets or even prescribed activities such as a science lab that includes a recipe to follow. Just because the activity gets learners out of their chairs or even out of the building doesn't mean they are involved in the concepts.
Getting involved requires inquiry on the part of the student, that learners ask questions that challenge prior thinking or explain unexpected results, develop solutions to real-world issues, and embrace failure and enthusiastically go back to the drawing board. Learning activities should be authentic and largely, if not entirely, student-led.
2. Students have the freedom and support to make mistakes, and outright fail at times:
Part of learning through experience is gaining skills and knowledge throughout the entire process. Allowing students to feel they can fail, revise, and try again takes off some pressure and encourages learners to strive to improve. This is an important competency for lifelong learners. STEM, STEAM, and maker education, among others, are experiential learning activities that support this line of thinking. All of these activities can be implemented in any learning environment, inside and out, home or in a classroom, in a traditional setting and alternative setting.
Check out some of my PBL maker challenges for an experiential learning resource that welcomes mistakes, failure, and trial and error.
3. The experience is personalized:
An activity is experiential when it's meaningful to each individual student. The activity should meet the diverse need, backgrounds, interests, goals, and skill levels of each student.
Student-led project-based learning encompasses every element of experiential learning when implemented correctly, but it's also the easiest way to make learning personalized in my opinion. Check out past posts on project-based learning here if you missed them. If you want to incorporate experiential learning into your curriculum, especially if you are confined to a classroom, project-based learning is a great place to start. Check out some of my PBL resources here.
If you're just starting out, I recommend my PBL Bundle and Implementation guide. If you're ready to dive right into student-directed PBL, I would recommend my PBL Tool Kit.
4. Students see a connection between content and the real world:
Connecting an activity with real-world context helps students find meaning and purpose in what they're doing. The brain needs real-life connections to retain information. They need to see how what their learning applies to life. That doesn't mean students need to swim with sharks to learn about shark conservation, but they might get involved in the real-world issue of overexploitation and poaching of sharks by working with marine scientists to develop solutions. These are authentic experiences that not only help students learn about sharks as they relate to real-world issues, but they help learners develop the skills that are pertinent to life in the 21st-century.
Problem-based learning is a fantastic experiential learning activity that fosters real-world connections, critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving and more. It can also be done beyond the walls of the classroom, in the community, or right in the classroom. Check out some of my problem-based learning resources for more info.
5. Students can see purpose in the activity:
Students should know why they're doing what they're doing. If students see their final score or grade as the sole purpose of the activity then something is missing. With purpose comes intrinsic motivation to learn. This element of experiential learning ties in well with the others. Personalization and involvement as already mentioned, along with student-directed learning and reflection mentioned below, organically engender purpose and meaning.
6. The experience is student-directed:
Students should have control and investment in their learning. Any experiential learning activity should be student-driven or at a minimum, student-centered. Student-directed learning gives students choice in topic, process, and outcome. Check out my student-directed learning series for more info.
All of the resources in my TpT store are student-directed. Most of them are project-based, but there are also inquiry-based learning activities, maker projects, problem-based learning, and loads of freebies.
John Dewey said, "We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience." Without reflection, everything said up to this point is moot. Students need ample opportunity to look back at their successes and failures, which there will be a lot of in experiential learning. They should analyze their work, not just the final outcome, but the entire learning process. It encourages acceptance of constructive feedback and continuous self-improvement throughout life.
Bonus: Use the community as a resource:
Community outreach is a huge plus when it comes to experiential learning. It might mean bringing students out of the classroom to utilize a community resource, or inviting community experts into your classroom. You could bring community members in as speakers, helpers, or teachers. Utilizing community experts in an important part of project-based learning, making the experience authentic, but I think it enhances ANY learning experience and shouldn't be limited to PBL.
Experiential Learning in the Classroom and Beyond
Now take a hands-on activity that you like to do with your students. Do the above elements fit in with the experience? If they don't it's not exactly experiential learning, and you may not be getting the outcome or understanding of the content that you're hoping for.
Go through the checklist with a favorite activity to see if it's experiential. If it's not, consider modifying the lesson to make it experiential. The outcome is learners that have a lifelong passion for learning and actually understand and absorb the content.
I hope a solid takeaway from this post is that experiential learning is not exclusive to outdoor education programs. I'm a huge advocate for outdoor learning experiences. Getting out and getting involved in the local community, removing oneself from the conveniences of urban living and experiencing the natural world, traveling to places outside of one's comfort zone, are all powerful learning experiences. But if you are teaching in an environment that deems those experiences unlikely or even impossible (I know there are many of you), you can and should still grant experiential learning opportunities to your learners.
Start with any student-directed learning activity. All of my resources are child-led and are designed in a way that makes implementation seamless. Personalization, authentic/real-world connections, purpose, student choice, and reflections are all a part of each experience.
Good luck to you as you launch into the new school year!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on project-based learning and experiential education.
Teachers and parents of the 21st-century have a challenge to face and the responsibility to confront that challenge. Technology is a prominent and permanent part of modern society. It is a blessing and a curse, particularly when it comes to social media and children.
We have all been faced with the need to make important decisions for our children when it comes to technology; at what age to allow them to have their first cell phone, whether to let them use social media as a research or presentation tool in class for school projects, how much time to allow them on social media each day if at all, whether to install child monitoring software to home or school computers.
These are all legitimate decisions to make as parents and educators. We want children to be able to utilize all of the amazing learning tools that technology has to offer, but also want them to be safe. Technology is evolving rapidly. Generation Z is all over it. They know the latest trends the moment they start trending. My four-year-old knows how to use a photo editing app on my phone better than I do.
It is illogical to think that I will always know what my children and students are doing on social media at any given time. Therefore, rather than obsessing over how to control it, Cory A. Jones, author of "Followed", contends that we should embrace it and help students learn how to navigate it. He does so through realistic storytelling. Cory wrote "Followed" as a teaching tool for young people, parents and educators to help navigate the social media scene responsibly and safely.
Cory Alexander is an educator, author, serial dreamer, and entrepreneur. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Deviant Behavior & Social Control from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a Masters Degree in Education: School Counseling from Liberty University. Now, Cory is a high school guidance counselor as well as the founder of Harlem Press, LLC. and Rise Career Academy, an on-demand career mentoring program. He is also the author of Followed: Who's Following YOU? A compelling story of a group of typical, modern-day teens navigating their way through social channels and personal emotions.
Using Storytelling to Talk to Kids About Safe and Responsible Social Media Use: Start the Conversation
1. You’ve written a book called “Followed”. What is the premise of the book?
The book's objectives are three-fold: 1) To encourage young people to think before they post, take a moment of pause, and proceed through a set of standards. Post with a purpose. 2) Be aware that their social media expressionism creates a digital footprint, a resume, and paints a picture about them whether they like it or not. 3) Be wary of strangers. Things aren’t always what they seem. There is a staggering amount of fake accounts and people with bad intentions trying to connect for the sole purpose of taking advantage of you.
2. What inspired the book?
Being a guidance counselor I wanted to really help young ladies. Overall, I have a sense of fairness and I don’t like people being bullied and taken advantage of. I’ve experienced girls finding themselves in compromising positions due to poor judgment in sending a nude pic or saying things online that cause massive disagreements, which lead to physical fights and ruined relationships. I also notice the self-esteem issues. I know it’s difficult growing up, finding your way, and trying to navigate friendships and family obligations. Social media adds a level of complexity to an overall complex time in their lives. Those middle and high years are rough on many levels. Helping young people and sharing a story that they can relate to with the hope of encouraging them to pick us some tips from the story is what inspired me to write Followed.
3. As a school counselor, you have likely seen social media risks at play. What can you say about those experiences? Was your plot line or were your characters based on true events?
As a school counselor, my heart has broken more than a few times. I’ve witnessed shame and stress caused by sexting and arguments escalate to physical altercations because of social media comments and post. Embarrassingly, fights are first videoed before anyone considers breaking them up. Still an act that I just can’t get used to. The characters in the book without question share traits with many of my students. The plot, not so much. Some of the behavior in the plot is general to any high school in the world. That’s why the book works. It’s real life and extremely relatable.
4. Your solution has been to teach kids about responsible use of social media through realistic storytelling. What inspired this avenue for educating students?
I’m such a respecter of persons regardless of age. I grew up in a single family household and I had to independently make decisions on my own so often. Because of this, I don’t look down on younger people like their trials and stresses are less than. With that, I wanted to “share” a story on what could happen to them or loved ones if they're not careful on social media, I want to do more than just state facts that they may or may not remember. I’m of the opinion that we learn in story form. Books, movies, and music are very good storytelling vehicles. I’ve read things that have stuck with me because of how it was presented. I’ve learned from movies because of how it was presented and I’ve gotten some of my best advice from observing what happened to someone else.
5. Does the book include resources for teachers and parents such as curriculum or discussion guides?
I so much believe that the advance in society as a collective starts when we dialog amongst each other, so I created end-of-chapter questions that a teacher or parent can use to help kids share what they’ve experienced online. This is best in group settings so that we can share and learn that we’re not alone in dealing with social media anxieties and an unhealthy attachment to tech in general. I recently did a group talk with my students titled, “Social Media & Cell Phone Over-Usage”. It was great how students shared what hurt about social media, what they would like to see changed, and what part they want to play in that change.
6. If you could give parents a tip to help them navigate the world of teens and social media, what would it be?
If I had just one tip I would say talk. Share stories you’ve heard, both good (i.e. someone raised money using social media), and bad (i.e. someone got hurt because…) Create an environment where you share what you’ve learned and ask them about the trends they're noticing. Interestingly enough, when you get kids talking, they really share (probably more than they planned).
7. If you could give teachers one tip to help them navigate social media when it comes to their students, what would it be?
One tip for teachers/educators is to get involved. No longer can we be passive on social media. We need to talk about it, help them navigate their way on it. It’s not going away. We have to embrace it. Our parents had to embrace the change in language and sexuality on T.V. and cable. Their parents had to embrace the change in music, etc. Every generation has challenges and new norms. By embracing social media, we can make effective change and common sense behavior for our students.
For resources and more information on Followed, visit Followedthebook.com
Check out these free chapters: Chapter 7 and Chapter 8
Take a look at these supplemental worksheets.
The book can be found for purchase on Amazon.
If you have read the book "Followed" and want to support the author, vote his book for a 2019 Author Academy Award! Click the link and find the YA category. Good luck, Cory!
What have been your experiences with teens and social media? What works in the classroom? What doesn't? Parents, what works for you and your children? Any resources, tips, suggestions are welcome!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education. Check out student-directed curriculum in my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot.
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"
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.