Several years ago I showed a Vice News episode to my advisory/PBL students about the Syrian refugee crisis. A student of mine approached me after the activity to express her interest in this topic. The conflict in Syria was something she knew little about, and she wanted to know more. She decided to do a project on Syria. The driving question for her project, which she chose, would be how the conflict in Syria began. She would demonstrate learning by organizing the series of events that led to the conflict into a digital timeline. Again, her choice. With my guidance the student wrote project goals and created her own project rubric.
My student dove deep into research and quickly came to the conclusion that she wanted to do something to help or contribute in addition to her original timeline project. She organized a holiday pie fundraiser in the community. She turned the fundraiser into a group effort by recruiting students from our advisory. They made and distributed marketing materials, made order forms, and made their own "take-and-bake" apple pies to sell. The student still completed her original project and used her timeline as a marketing strategy to sell pies. She shared her timeline to various social media pages along with an ad for her pie fundraiser. The visual helped connect potential pie buyers with the cause.
What is Student-Directed Learning?
This project is the epitome of a student-directed learning experience. This student called all the shots from the beginning to the end. I provided guidance but the learning experience as a whole was entirely directed by the student. Student-directed learning by definition involves student choice at every step.
Without student choice you do not have student-directed learning.
1. Students choose what they want to learn.
2. Students write their learning goals and determine their own learning objectives.
3. Students choose how they will gather information.
4. Students partner up with community members of their choosing for expertise and collaboration.
5. Students choose how they will demonstrate learning.
6. Students determine an authentic audience and choose a method of reaching that audience.
7. Students establish a method of assessment and criteria for evaluation.
Ways to implement student-directed learning:
Student-directed activities: some teachers may throw in a student-directed activity once in a while into an otherwise teacher-centered curriculum.
Student-directed curriculum with teacher-directed objectives: other teachers will design a learning environment that is dominantly student-directed but will themselves lay down a framework around specific objectives. I see this as the most common form of student-directed learning as teachers have the unfortunate task of meeting standards. Imagine how wonderful teaching would be if students didn't have standards. Students could learn about whatever they want to learn whenever they want to learn it. Genius hour for more than an hour! Anyway, this is the type of student-directed teaching you'd likely see going on in my class at any given time.
Authentic student-directed learning: the final way of operating a student-directed learning environment is to give students full control of their learning from start to finish. Teachers do not place any parameters on the learning experience. The project conducted by my student on Syria is an example of authentic student-directed learning. Some would say it is not student-directed learning at all if every step above isn't directed by the student. I would tend to agree, but understand that it is much easier to implement in theory than in reality. There are obstacles to consider such as state standards, district philosophy and mission, class sizes, class structure, and district/staff/parent/community support.
I worked in a very progressive school for most of my teaching career. I didn't face many of the obstacles just mentioned, yet I still found myself choosing learning objectives for my students here and there. I did this for a couple of reasons. One was because progressive or not, we still needed to follow the same state standards as everyone else. I also learned that students need input. They need "sparks" as Wayne Jennings would say. The Vice News episode in the project example above was such a "spark" for this student. It was the introduction of a topic that sparked interest and questions. It is okay to plant the seed even in a student-directed learning environment. I showed a Vice episode to my advisory every single Monday morning to start off the week. I did this because they loved it. Every time I showed an episode of Vice at least one student turned the episode topic into a student-directed PBL project. I have Vice News episode guides and student-centered extension activities in my TpT store. This is a bundle I used with my students, the episode about Syria included in the "War and Peace" bundle - Vice News Series Bundle.
Benefits of student-directed learning:
The student mentioned in the Syria example not only learned the details of an important and current global issue, but gained numerous critical 21st-century competencies as well by learning how to learn. When students direct their own learning they take ownership. They are invested in the process and the outcome. An intrinsic motivation to learn emerges. The motivation for some, a passion for learning, has been buried deeply in students that have spent much of their academic careers in a teacher-centered learning environment. Allowing students choice, autonomy, room to fail, and opportunities to construct knowledge through experience sets the stage for lifelong learning. The alternative is a teacher-directed environment where information is given, answers are right or wrong, learning is passive, 21st-century skills are glossed over, facts are memorized and forgotten weeks later. There is little meaning or relevance, therefore, learning is shallow.
I'm elated to say that I don't see a lot of teachers running classrooms anymore that are completely teacher-centered. There are so many amazing student-centered learning activities that I see educators implementing such as STEM, maker education, inquiry, experiential learning, project-based learning, problem-based learning. There are so many cool ideas out there. You can teach in a traditional environment and still implement student-directed teaching activities. Start small. If your curriculum is largely teacher-directed right now, consider adding a few student-directed learning activities in here and there. See how they go. If that goes well do more until your entire curriculum is student-directed! You won't regret it.
Student-directed learning resources:
A great student-directed learning activity to start with is project-based learning. There are so many amazing PBL resources out there. My TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot is dominated by PBL projects right now. Feel free to check those out. I have a project-based learning bundle that includes a manual on how to get started with project-based learning in your classroom. This product is designed to move your classroom from teacher-directed to student-directed. If you are a beginner to project-based teaching or student-directed learning this may be a good resource for you. You can also go back to any number of my previous blog posts on project-based learning. Start here with "What is Project-Based Learning, Anyway?" I also like the Buck Institute. They work hard at spreading PBL love and have great tips and resources for using project-based learning in a more traditional learning environment.
Coming up in the student-directed learning series:
Stay-tuned for more from my student-directed learning series. Expect to see some future blog posts on the following, among others.
1. What does a student-directed learning environment look like?
2. What does the teacher do in a student-directed learning environment?
3. Student-directed assessments. I'm really excited about this one. I submitted an article to be to the Reformer, an education magazine through ASCD. I was accepted from a pool of over 500 submissions! My article on student-generated rubrics will be published in February. I will add a condensed version of it here.
4. Student-directed parent/teacher conferences.
5. List of student-directed learning activities.
6. What teachers are doing in their student-directed classrooms.
If you have questions about student-directed learning or would like me to write a blog post on a specific aspect of student-directed learning that I haven't mentioned, please reach out.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
I recently posted part 1 of my student-directed learning series, which broke down the meaning of student-directed learning: What is Student Directed Learning Anyway? Now that you know what student-directed learning means, what do you do with that? What does a student-directed learning environment even look like? Where should you start?
Whatever learning space you are working with, it must nurture student choice. That's the bottom line. If at this point you know nothing about student-directed learning, just know that student choice is mandatory. Students direct their learning through a series of choices from learning objectives to designing their own assessments. The role of the teacher changes to facilitator.
It may be tricky to even imagine what that might look like. What does the "facilitator" do? Sounds like the kids are teaching themselves. In some respects they are, and I'd argue that that's essential in raising lifelong learners. My next post will be on the role of the teacher in a student-directed learning environment. For now, I'm going to share with you the first and most important steps to take to shift from a teacher-directed classroom to a student-directed classroom.
4 Steps to a Student-Directed Learning Environment
1. Modify Your Learning Space to Allow for Student-Choice:
Shifting the layout of your room can make a dramatic impact on the success of student-directed learning in your classroom. The foundation of student-directed learning is choice, so a variety of micro-spaces should be available for students to utilize. The room should accommodate for creating, group cooperation and collaboration, technology, movement, a quiet and peaceful area for reading or independent work. Student-directed learning means that students use their unique learning styles, skills, and interests to guide their educational journey. At any given time students may be working on something different than their peers. It would make little sense to have a room with 30 forward facing desks in that case. That layout screams lecture. Student-directed learning is the opposite of lecture-based instruction.
My Learning Space:
- A large round table in the center of my room for whole-group collaboration. This is a great space to gather for class discussion, meetings, group projects, and presentations.
- Workstations line the perimeter of my classroom. My workstations are desks, each with a desktop computer. We recently started transitioning away from desktop computers and are moving toward Chromebooks for each student. These workstations are great for independent projects and cooperative learning.
- Next door is a workshop or makerspace. That room is free for students to use during independent work time. There is usually a teacher in that room to assist and I can also see into the workshop from my classroom. A creative workspace is essential.
- I have a quiet corner set aside for those that want to work quietly and independently. It has a large shelf filled with books, art materials, a large cozy chair, and pillows. It's a good space for reading and relaxing. Yes. I let my high-schoolers rest when they
Student-Directed Learning Design Projects:
Many of the design aspects of my classroom were achieved through student-directed projects. A small group of students painted each panel of my ceiling. Another student designed and painted my large group table. Students built their own desks. Our reading corner was designed by a student using Google Sketchup. The small square table was an old piece of literal garbage that a student stripped and refinished. If this is something that interests you, check out my PBL Maker Challenge project - Upcycled Lounge Area.
2. Move Beyond the Walls of the Classroom:
Utilize the Community to Your Advantage:
Some of the most profound learning experiences happen outside of the classroom. A large chunk of our student learning activities take place outside of the room whether that be on a school trip across the globe, in the park near our school, or even right outside my classroom door in the commons area. For students to be successful at directing their own learning experiences they need input that is relevant to the real-world. Sparks incite interest and provide exposure to new ideas. Community collaboration, locally or globally, is essential. Using the world as the classroom brings student-directed learning to another level. If you can't leave your classroom, bring the community to you.
Using the World as the Classroom:
In the Community:
- Field trips (history centers, science labs, local businesses, community events, etc.
- School travel
- Mentorship program
- Service learning projects
- Community experts (independent PBL projects, maker projects, assessment panel, speakers)
On School Grounds:
- Live webinars with global experts
- Video conference with community experts
- School yard activities
- Bring experts to you - students can and should arrange for many these meetings in a student-directed learning environment, especially when the expert is unique to one student's project. . You guide and offer suggestions when needed. You could also invite guests from the community that offer exposure to a new topic or are relevant to an overarching theme or standard.
- Get creative with your space - ex: using the commons area for physics experiments.
- Attempt to implement an open-door policy - I know this sounds radical, but what I mean by this is allowing students access to makerspaces, tech rooms, the library, a music room, a quiet conference room. The logistics of this will depend on your situation. Do some brainstorming and find a system that works.
3. Organize Student-Directed Learning Activities:
Implementing student-directed learning activities seems pretty obvious, but what is a student-directed learning activity? Again, student-directed learning involves choice, so the activity needs to provide students with flexibility and the freedom to lead the experience. Project-based learning is a great way to do that. PBL doesn't have to be student-directed, however, which I really just recently discovered.
As a quick reminder, project-based learning is the active exploration of a particular topic where students are fully engaged with the community. Students demonstrate learning with an innovative final product, and share their outcome with a public, authentic audience. For more on PBL see previous posts - What is Project-Based Learning Anyway? and Key Components of Project-Based Learning. All of that in theory could be arranged by the instructor with little to no choice or input from students. However, as a project-based learning teacher who also taught at an experiential high school for 9 years, I can tell you that project-based learning is the perfect canvas for student-directed learning. It's just a matter of proper execution. I have a PBL bundle in my store that gradually transitions students (and teachers) from a teacher-directed classroom to a student-directed classroom using project-based learning. If you're unsure how to make this transition, this may be a great place to start - Project-Based Learning Bundle: 20 Integrative Projects.
Other Activities with Student-Directed Learning Potential:
- Passion Projects
- Genius Hour (although I would argue you do this all of the time instead of for an hour!)
- Learning committees or clubs run by students
- Maker projects
Again, any activity has promise to be student-directed, you just need to let students do the directing!
4. Shift Your Role:
Teacher's Role in Teacher-Directed Learning Environment:
Obviously the activity going on in your classroom at any given time would look very different in a student-directed learning environment than a teacher-centered one. Imagine observing a teacher-directed classroom. What would that look like? You'd likely find students sitting in their desks with pen in hand jotting down notes while the teacher lectures from the front of the room. The teacher may walk the room a bit, reminding students with eye-contact and body language to pay-attention. You may walk into the classroom one day to find students working together on a hands-on activity, but upon closer inspection discover that they are following a prescribed recipe.
Teacher's Role in a Student-Directed Learning Environment:
Now imagine walking into a student-directed classroom. There isn't a typical "scene". There is always activity, but students are pouring into every corner of the room engaged in a different enterprise than their neighbor. One student might be working in the makerspace on their final product. There might be a pair of students in another corner of the room deeply absorbed in a brainstorming session. Another student may be at their desk engrossed in a phone interview with a community expert. And let's be honest. There will of course be the kid who is wandering around looking for someone to banter with, or the kid sleeping in the reading chair. Even student-directed learning classrooms have their challenges. But that's for another day.
Now, where is the teacher in all of this? The role of the teacher changes to facilitator. The teacher is guiding and assisting. You may find the teacher sitting with the pair of students brainstorming, asking questions that challenge their thinking. You may find the teacher in discussion with the student who will be giving the interview. The teacher may be proofing the interview questions or offering suggestions before giving the student the go ahead to make the call. The teacher may be redirecting the wanderer. The teacher works the room offering assistance and inspiration.
What Role do you Play?
My guess is that most of us are probably trying to find a balance between the two roles, especially if you're a high school teacher. There are limitations, rules, time constraints, the pressures of testing. Sometimes whole group instruction is necessary. Full disclosure: sometimes I lecture. I keep it as brief as possible and it's always in connection with student-directed projects. If you find yourself lecturing most of the time, I get it. I have been this teacher. What I do know though, is that if you want your students to be truly engaged, to practice deeper thinking, to have a passion for learning, the internal motivation to thrive and improve, then a great start is shifting your role to allow for more student-directed learning.
How to Start the Shift:
Start small. You don't need to flip your classroom upside-down in one day. If you decide to start doing student-directed project-based learning for example, start by taking one concept that you'd typically teach through lecture, such as climate drivers, and replace it with a PBL project. Once you're comfortable with that, try another one, until you've replaced lecture-based instruction (for the most part.) My PBL bundle and manual that I mentioned above starts with more teacher-centered projects and gradually moves to projects that are entirely student-directed. Play around with your options and ultimately do what feels right and is working well for your students.
I am a huge advocate (clearly) for student-directed learning. I love to talk about it. If you have any questions, need advice, or even want to challenge me, I invite it! Please reach out. Stay-tuned for more from my student-directed learning series.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education. Check out my student-directed curriculum in my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot.
Project-Based Learning End Products to Demonstrate Learning
I have seen students produce some pretty outstanding projects in my 11 years as a project-based educator, but those projects typically came from experienced project-based learners. There is a learning curve with PBL, and it requires breaking some pretty strong habits that have formed from prior training in more traditional learning environments.
The biggest challenge for me has been getting students to think more creatively and authentically about how they will demonstrate learning and share new skills and knowledge with a relevant audience. Based on habit and ease, students naturally gravitate toward poster boards and slideshow presentations - even veteran project-based learners.
Students also default to poster boards and slideshows because they know they'll have to present their project at some point. These tools are practical ways to present information, but may rob students of deep, meaningful learning. Limiting end products to poster boards and presentation slideshows also takes choice away from students, which is essential in project-based learning. There are many avenues for student choice in project-based learning, and one of those is choice in end product. There are plenty of options to choose from. It's just a matter of getting students in the habit of thinking outside of the box. Scroll down for a list of 100 alternatives to poster boards!
Check out these previous posts for details on the general framework of PBL if you haven't seen them already: What is Project-Based Learning Anyway? and Key Components of Project-Based Learning. My next post will be on authentic presentations, which goes hand-in-hand with innovative final products. I will get into community experts and PBL assessments as we move into July. Stay-tuned!
Note: Summer is a great time to start looking into project-based learning if you're interested in starting it with students in the fall. I will continue to post throughout the summer on PBL, so check back frequently. You can also head to my TpT store where most of my resources are project-based.
Poster Board Alternatives
1) Create a magazine
2) Write trivia (Kahoot is a great online trivia game program)
3) Make an interactive exhibit
4) Make a board game
5) Engineer a moving model (ex: demonstrating synaptic transmission)
6) Write a song on a project topic
7) Write a poetry book
8) Create a photo journal
9) Make a scrapbook
10) Write and illustrate a comic
11) Paint a mural
12) Create a gallery (ex: photography, paintings, drawings, sculptures)
13) Hand-make a craft/artifact
14) Design a lesson plan
15) Make a video tutorial
16) Start a Vlog
17) Write a blog
18) Make a website
19) Produce a podcast
20) Write a screen play
21) Create a storyboard
22) Choreograph an interpretive dance
23) Organize a debate
24) Work with local legislators to write a bill
25) Make a calendar
26) Organize a mock trial
27) Make a 3D model
28) Make a documentary
29) Write a newsletter
30) Write a news article
31) Write a lab report
32) Artistically perform (dance, song, etc.)
33) Craft Showcase (Ex: handmade bags, scarves, DIY projects, wood working)
34) Make a video promotion
35) Put together a career portfolio (resume, work experience, reference letters, evidence pages)
36) Create a piece of artwork that illustrates the project topic
37) Slideshow (works well for volunteer experiences, field trips, school travel, etc.)
38) Make a quiz
39) Write a book (biography, short story, novel, etc.)
40) Create an awareness campaign poster for an issue important to you
41) Create a Facebook page (works well for characters in books, business page, or group)
42) Create a spreadsheet portfolio (appropriate for event planning for example)
43) Make charts and graphs (to illustrate survey results for example)
44) Design a t-shirt (school shirt, shirt that raises awareness on an issue, etc.)
45) Make a "Bloom Ball" (check out this fun example and bloom ball template)
46) Create a map
47) Make a puzzle
48) Design an escape room (Lock Paper Scissors Co. has a "how to" guide at the bottom of this webpage. This website offers kits for purchase, but you don't need to, and wouldn't want to in purchase one in this ase, because CREATING one is the final product for the student project.)
49) Design a travel brochure
50) Make a business card (Ex: for a character in a book, for a business, for volunteering, etc.)
51) Make a flier
52) Write a journal or diary (on a personal experience such as a health plan)
53) Write an instruction manual
54) Create a theme poster
55) Make a blueprint (floor plan for the setting in a book, one's dream school, interior design) - Google Sketchup is a great, free program for this.
56) Write a petition
57) Write a persuasive speech
58) Write a business plan
59) Record an interview and publish it using the free Storycorps app
60) Create an online portfolio (for showcasing creative and/or professional work, or student could create a portfolio page for a person they are studying - Crevado is a free efolio maker)
61) Create a billboard style advertisement
62) Write and illustrate a children's book
63) Make a concept map
64) Write and perform a monologue
65) Make a simulation (digital, written or performance)
66) Make an animation
67) Create a timeline
68) Make a diorama
69) Make a diagram
70) Write an informative speech
71) Make a fortune teller (I had a student that created over 100 fortune tellers with information on teen pregnancy. A fortune teller is a kids game made out of paper. She decided rather than put numbers inside, which is normally what you do, each triangle would have statistics on teen pregnancy. She randomly placed them all over the city, in bathrooms, on the city bus, etc. It was a great way to raise awareness). Click here to learn how to make a fortune teller.
72) Make a graphic organizer
73) Make a postcard
74) Compile a book of interviews
75) Organize and host a game show
76) Produce a news segment
77) Put together a time capsule
78) Make a collage
79) Put together learning stations
80) Design a set and give "visitors" a "tour" (would be good for a book project)
82) Organize an event in the community
83) Create a professional quality infographic
84) Make a music video
85) Put together a handbook
87) Learning activity
88) Child-friendly translation of a convoluted concept
89) Design and make a usable product - Ex: If the topic is on natural disasters, the student might design and build a life-saving device.
90) Write a jingle
91) Make a puzzle
92) Design an art installation
93) Create a brand
94) Write a proposal
95) Host a school event
96) Organize a speaker series
97) A "_____ week/month" program/schedule (Ex: three week meal plan or theme book club schedule)
98) Host a fundraiser event
99) Create a Pinterest profile and add boards and pins directly related to your topic. Could do the same for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Create a page that IS NOT personal. You might create a Facebook page for a character in a book or an Instagram page for healthy recipes, for example.
100) Write an editorial
Thanks for stopping by! Feel free to share your stories of project-based learning successes. I'd love to hear about some final products your students have used that weren't listed here! My eyes and ears are always open for new and exciting ideas. Thanks for reading!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest & Instagram, for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
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".
10 Free Gifts to Give Your Students This Holiday Season
Children of the 21st century need so much more from educators than content delivery. We as teachers (and parents) grew up in an entirely different world than our students. Information is available to them anytime, anywhere. Memorizing facts, we know, isn't relevant to this generation, it won't be relevant to the next generation, nor the one after that.
What students need now are the "free gifts" on the list above, among other things. There are many more student-needs than what I listed on my gorgeous graphic up top, I just couldn't fit anymore on the page!
Educators are (or should be) well aware of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Basic needs must first be met for learners to reach a level of "self-actualization." Many children do not even have consistent access to their most basic needs: food, water, warmth and rest. School may be the only place they get those things. Safety, friendship and the tools to build a healthy self-concept are additional student needs. Most children struggle with these ideas, especially tweens and teens. They need us to help them navigate through this unique time in history.
What we can give our students this holiday season is support, kindness and love. We can listen when they need us to listen. We can provide our students with learning opportunities that help them develop the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. We can offer experiences that foster the discovery of skills, talents, interests and desires.
I left my job a year ago to stay home with my own children, and since then have done some serious reflecting on my career. The last few years at my job I felt bogged down by constant student behavior issues, the pressure of adhering to standards, truancy, and my own stuff going on at home. I lost patience with my students and lost-sight of their most inherent needs.
We all know teachers don't teach for the money! We teach because we love our students. You are likely already giving your students most, if not all, of the gifts on the list. If you're not, it's okay! Give yourself a break. We as teachers are up against a lot. But try to do some serious, honest self-reflection this winter break. Make changes in your classroom if you need to. Create the conditions they need to thrive. Assign projects that promote student voice and choice. Provide a plethora of input to aid students in discovering their interests and talents. Focus on your students, who they are as individuals, and what they really need from you.
Check out some of Experiential Learning Depot's projects that might be just what your classroom needs. They are all student-centered, so provide that choice, voice, autonomy and hands-on experience mentioned on the list.
Activities for Building a Strong Advisory Community
Project-Based Learning Tool Kit
Community Action Projects
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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.
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Earlier this week my two children were walking around outside collecting colorful fall leaves off of the ground that were already beginning to fall. I LOVE fall, but in Minnesota, the fall season is fleeting, and that means WINTER IS ALMOST HERE! Right now is a great time for schools to fund-raise, as many of the best fundraisers happen outdoors. So let's get to it before our fundraising is limited to shoveling snow!
As you know by now I was heavily involved in our school travel program. I have traveled with students to Costa Rica, Hawaii, Colorado, Texas, California, Florida, the U.P., and many very close to home. These trips are not free, nor are they cheap. They weren't possible without significant fundraising efforts by my students. I have been traveling with students for 9 years, so have a lot of experience with fundraising at this point. A lot of trial and error! A LOT OF ERROR. What I have found is that the best fundraisers are those that are student led - entirely planned and executed by students (with some guidance and a few seeds planted here and there.) There are enormous benefits to student-led fundraisers, one of which is the load it takes off of your already spread-thin plate, especially if there is one or two really ambitious, organized, motivated students that can take the reigns. There are also many benefits to students that participate in student-led fundraisers. They invest their time and put hope in the outcome, so see to it that it goes well and goals are met. Fundraising where students can get involved also provides opportunities to build important life skills such as marketing, communication, team-work, budgeting, conflict management, and organizational skills. A bonus? Kids love fundraising! I'm not sure what it is, but I won't argue with them if they're willing to participate in the effort.
I had many students that wanted to organize fundraisers, so I created a graphic organizer to help them streamline the planning process. That template is available at my TpT store (Experiential Learning Depot). Download it here for free - Graphic Organizer for Planning a Student-Led Fundraiser.
Now for the fundraisers. Some fundraisers are better than others when it comes to those that are student-led. I have listed the top 11 student-led fundraisers in my experience. I'm certain there are many great ones, and I'd love to hear about those!
Student-Led Fundraiser Tips:
1) Great fundraisers for students to lead are those that require little money upfront, are local or require light travel, the fundraiser location is easily accessible, the product for sale is made by the students (baked goods, candles, t-shirts, etc. - people are more likely to buy when they can see the effort put in), or the service provided is by that of the students.
2) Encourage students to connect with their community - hugely important. That might mean students spending some significant time just setting the stage for future fundraisers. Their neighbors will be their biggest allies when it comes to raising money because those neighbors could be their "customers" and they can spread the word.
3) Encourage students to collaborate with the school board - ideally you will have members on the school board that are well connected with potential big donors. Keep them in mind when fundraising. Ask student fundraisers to speak with or present to their school board, and ask the board to support student fundraisers.
4) Marketing! Planning and having a fundraiser is just a small piece of the big picture. Students must also get the word out there. There are a variety of ways to market fundraisers. Students know better than anyone how to use social media as a marketing tool! Work with that. Creating a marketing plan is one feature of the free graphic organizer already mentioned.
5) Students should have a specific project in mind - donors want to know where their money is going. Students should create a portable presentation (poster board) that they can put on display wherever they are fundraising. The board should lay out the purpose of the fundraiser. Whether it be a field trip, student travel opportunity, chemistry lab equipment, robots for a robotics class, iPads for your class, or simply notebooks and pencils, donors want to know. It makes it more personal.
6) Encourage students to start planning early. Marketing takes some time, and you don't want to spring a fundraiser on anyone. Give people notice so they can plan to be there!
Ok, here we are. Finally to the guts of this post. I have tried A LOT of different fundraisers with my students. The following 11 were the most successful in terms of student-involvement, money raised, and efficient use of time.
Easy to do Student-Led Fundraisers
1) Donors Choose - if you are an educator and you have not yet donated to a project on Donors Choose OR created a fundraising project of your own, you are truly missing out! Donors Choose is crowd-funding for educators. The best part? The website is deliberately designed to get students involved in their own fundraisers. For example, there might be a "project" created on an educators site to raise $1,000 for classroom Chrome Books. Students can create the project, market their project to friends and family, and are required to write a thank you letter if the project is fully funded. I have used Donors Choose for several school traveling experiences. One of my students created a "project" on Donors Choose asking for enough money to pay for student passports to get to Costa Rica. She met her goal in only two weeks. Passports paid for. The interesting part is that corporations looking to fund interesting projects surf the site. Our passports weren't paid for by donations only from friends and family. A big chunk of the money was donated by businesses.
The projects below are the fundraising projects, written by my students, that have been fully funded.
2) Hometown Calendars - several years ago my boss, a long-time loyalist to St. Paul, MN, noticed a lot of changes happening in our school community. A light rail was going in right in front of our building that would connect the two major downtown areas. He asked students to take photographs of some of the work, then had them go back into archives to find photographs of those same areas from decades ago to see how it has changed over the years. That is how the JCS calendar fundraiser got its start. The students formatted their photos into a calendar to sell. The students take the photos, find old photos to compare and contrast, create the calendars AND sell the calendars. They work closely with the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce as well. Check out their latest calendar below!
3) Class or school t-shirts - the last few years of my time teaching, my advisory students created school t-shirts to sell to students, teachers, parents and community members. All t-shirts were designed and created by the students. This type of fundraiser involves students from a variety of backgrounds with various talents, and it's fun if you make it an annual thing that the school community can look forward to each year. The picture below is a student-taken and edited photo of the St. Paul skyline that was printed on sweatshirts and t-shirts. It's a great student-created product for a student-led fundraiser.
4) School store - I like this fundraiser because it is mostly student-run, and they take pride it being a part of it. My students survey the student body asking for store product suggestions. It is where we sell healthy snacks, our school shirts, some quick and easy breakfast foods. The downside to the school store option is that the funds raised come exclusively from students. This worked for my students though because we didn't have vending machines in the building. We served breakfast and lunch and that was the only access students had to food throughout the day unless they brought their own snacks. The school store was the only place to get a quick snack in between meals. If the students aren't doing the bulk of the work for this fundraiser, it isn't worth doing. It is an enormous undertaking if you're doing it alone. The students can take charge of stocking, book-keeping, selling, etc.
5) Ready-bake holiday pies - the holiday season is upon us! Okay, I know that seems soon, but for Minnesotans, apple picking has begun already, and that means apple pies! It's never too early to get holiday pie fliers and order forms out to school staff, parents, board members, and neighborhood friends. Several years ago, one particular student who was raising money for a school trip to Hawaii, took charge of this fundraiser. We went to an orchard to pick apples, created fliers and order forms, spread the word on social media, and made freezable, ready-bake pies for pick-up. We wrapped them up and printed out holiday themed baking instructions. Making pies isn't cheap. The apples can get especially pricey. Work with an orchard in the community to arrange a discount or work exchange arrangement. Your fall-back could always be pumpkin pie. Canned pumpkin puree is fairly cheap. If you and your students are ambitious, consider extending this concept and start a school garden where you can grow pumpkins, blueberries, or whatever climate appropriate fruits would make for great pies! This fundraiser is great because it could be and should be almost entirely student-run (with some oversight on your part). They can create all of the marketing materials, design an order form, collect the ingredients (or start a garden), organize orders, make the pies, sell, etc. This was one of our most successful fundraisers because the community wanted to support student-driven endeavors. How good does that look!?
6) Venue events - there are a variety of venues and/or sports teams in the Twin Cities that support local schools and want to see them succeed. The Minnesota Twins and St. Paul Saints are two of the Twin Cities' baseball teams that have school fundraising programs. They put fundraising groups to work behind concessions at games and give them a large stipend at the end of the shift. Valley Fair is an amusement park in Minnesota that has a similar program. They take students behind the scenes to do various tasks in exchange for a large stipend after the shift. My students raised $2,000 toward their earth science trip to Hawaii from Valley Fair alone. This style of fundraising is great because the students did the coordinating. I just chaperoned. Check out local opportunities like this in your own community.
7) Rummage sale - before I talk this one up too much, I'm going to say that this one requires some serious work for everyone, even when it is student-led. However, if it is done well, you'll see serious payout. The reason for this is because it shouldn't cost you, students or the school a dime upfront. Items for sale should be donated. Students leading the fundraiser can ask students, teachers, parents and community members for donation items to sell at the rummage sale. A student of mine organized a rummage sale several years ago. She scanned Craigslist garage sale posts regularly, emailed garage sale hosts, and asked that they donate any leftover items to her rummage sale. We had so many donations, and ended up raising more money from this fundraiser than any fundraiser I have been involved with since. Last bit of advice is for student fundraisers to try to get their hands on baby and kids items!
8) Bake-off or cook-off - bake-offs and cook-offs are by far my favorite student-led fundraisers. Students get SO excited about these events. Bake-offs and cook-offs are both fantastic, however, our cook-offs have generally been more successful than bake-offs. Here is the gist of a cook-off:
9) Yard work service - basically a student fundraising team creates a lawn business. It's best to keep it simple. They can offer raking services, shoveling or weed pulling. This is a great student-led fundraiser for several reasons. One is that few materials are required, therefore it is cheap upfront. They would need rakes, shovels if for snow removal and some bags. They would also need transportation. That is why this is a great student-led fundraiser because students could advertise their services in their own neighborhood. My students usually made fliers and passed them out around the school community. Local businesses would have my student's shovel their sidewalks on snow days. The key to this fundraiser is marketing. A lot of folks are happy to do their own yard work. Others hire professional services. What we did was make it personal and meaningful. We advertised who we were and our fundraising goals. Most people want to support local schools. We also left "donation" amount up to the customer. Typically they give more than we would have asked for. This is also a great way for students to connect with the community, which is important for a variety of reasons.
10) Raffle - this is a great student-led fundraiser to add to any other fundraising event, such as a cook-off. My students wrote letters to local businesses introducing themselves, their fundraising goals, and their purpose for fundraising. They asked in their letters that these businesses donate gift cards to be used for a raffle fundraiser. The students wrote these letters and mailed them right before winter break. When we returned from winter break there were about 50 gift cards from various local businesses. We used the gift cards as raffle prizes at our cook-off fundraiser. It didn't cost anyone a dime, and the planning and prep was fairly straight forward. Students just wrote letters and mailed them to businesses. Simple.
11) Car wash - I probably don't have to tell you that a car wash is a great student-led fundraiser. We see them everywhere because they are straight forward, great money makers, and students love them. Do this before it gets too cold! Car washes are also great spring time fundraisers. I don't know about everywhere else, but in Minnesota, people are outside in shorts the second it hits 60 degrees. They flock to the outdoors, and are typically in good spirits, ready to give, because it may be the first glimpse of sunshine they have seen in 9 months! Have students check out Wikihow's simple instructions on having a car wash fundraiser. Encourage students to add smaller fundraisers to the car wash such as a hot dog stand, drinks for sale, and/or a bake sale.
Fundraisers aren't easy, but a little more manageable when they're student-led. The benefits of student-created, student-organized and student-run fundraisers are enormous, especially for the students.
What successful student-led fundraisers have you seen or been a part of? Please share!
Happy Monday! Have a great week everyone!
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To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.