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.
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 have only been out of the classroom for a little over a year. Not long ago I started this blog and was quickly blown away by how much I seem to have missed in only one year out of the education scene. I questioned if I had been completely aloof for a decade, or if educational trends have just emerged that rapidly. I'd like to go with the latter, as my entire educational career has been in a progressive learning environment. It was literally my job to keep up with what was working for students a what wasn't, and to adjust my practice in response.
I have spent the last four months completely immersed in education. I have read dozens of books and hundreds of articles on education. I have participated in professional development courses and conferences. I have been completely in over my head, drowning to be blunt, in social media as it relates to education. Pinterest is littered with the trendiest of trends when it comes to learning, and everything else for that matter. The list of top educational trends of 2018 listed below was created strictly out of observation and experience. I have not run any fancy analytics programs or produced any actual data. So do with that what you will. You can take is as a grain of salt, or you can see for yourself.
Many of these trends aren't new. We implemented several of the trends listed here with full force where I taught (others I have never heard of until recently). They have made such a strong presence in the educational scene within the last couple of years because we know they work for 21st century students. So many of these emerging trends are based on the rapidly evolving world we find ourselves in. What used to make sense or what we used to do just doesn’t make sense anymore. With the world changing as quickly as it is, we are forced to really consider these ideas. Social media and other forms of technology have completely altered the way we communicate and learn. Notice patterns as you read the list. A few themes that I have identified include: student-centered learning; hands-on learning; inquiry-based learning; connecting content with the real-world; student choice and voice; technology and innovation. The overarching theme is a student-centered model necessary to develop the skills needed in the 21st century. Therefore, I don't see these trends going anywhere.
Up until now there has been a lot of buzz and a lot of talk about these concepts. Turn these trends into practice in your classroom if you haven't already. If you've just been playing around with these ideas with your students here and there, try to start implementing it as if it's the norm, because these trends are likely here to stay. There is a reason they are trending. Go with that!
Top 20 Educational Trends of 2018
1) Social-Emotional Learning -
"Social emotional skills" is a buzz phrase in education now because those are the skills students need in the workforce today more than content. Content information they can find in seconds anytime, anywhere.
2) STEM/STEAM -
Stem and steam are hot right now. No pun intended! Both strengthen many 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and more.
3) Maker Education -
Maker education is a new one for me. I have used "maker" principles with my students without realizing that what I was doing had a name. Students identify a problem and then make something as a solution to the problem. There are a lot of free webinars on edweb.net on maker education. I highly encourage checking those out.
4) Differentiated Learning -
Differentiated learning is providing variety to fit student's individual needs. A lot of teachers are using strategies like "choice time" and "task cards" to provide a differentiated learning environment. Direct-instruction or passive learning can still dominate a differentiated learning environment, however. As an experiential learning educator that is not preferred in my opinion. Check out "personalized learning" below to see another option for meeting student's unique needs.
5) Flexible Seating -
Flexible seating is having a variety of seating options in any given learning environment. It might mean couches or bean bag chairs in a reading corner. A high-top table with stools for projects or activities that require sudden movement, a large community table for cooperative learning activities, etc.
6) College and Career Readiness -
Having a 4.0 GPA just doesn't cut it anymore as far as college and career readiness is concerned. There are competencies students must have to survive and thrive in the 21st century workforce. Just because a student got straight A's doesn't mean they are ready for what comes after graduation.
7) Blended Learning -
From my understanding, blended learning is a combination of classic schooling with online learning. I'm realizing, however, that it's not that simple. I think people that practice true blended learning have a precise understanding of a much more complex picture than just a mix of tech and teacher. I think there is a little personalized learning thrown in there as well, among other principles that are still a bit of an enigma to me. I'd like to learn more about blended learning. If there is anyone reading this that has significant experience with blended learning, please private message me. It would be wonderful to have you guest post about it on this blog.
8) 21st Century Skills -
This one is highly interconnected to the others. The other trends listed here provide learning opportunities to develop the essential skills needed in the 21st century.
9) Project-Based Learning -
My pride and joy. My entire career has been dedicated to project-based learning. Check out some other blog posts I've done on PBL.
10) Genius Hour/Passion Projects -
I hear these two words constantly. They possess the same elements as project-based learning, but are brief, temporary assignments in passing, as supplements to curriculum. Authentic project-based learning is more substantial or tends to be the curriculum itself. For those that assign passion projects in class and have genius hours, is that statement true? I have heard about teachers creating entire courses on passion projects. To me that's the same as project-based learning. Feel free to correct me if that's offbase.
11) Brain-Based Learning -
The point of brain-based learning is to teach or provide a learning environment that takes the brain and how it works into consideration.
12) Trauma Informed Practices -
This is really interesting to me, but I don't know very much about it unfortunately. I worked with high-risk students for almost ten years. Every one of them had experienced one trauma or another. If you're interested in this, ACES is a great place to start. Other than that, I have little to offer. Because of that, I will be having a school counselor guest post about this in the near future. Stay-tuned!
13) Alternative Grading Systems -
This concept is simple. Some schools are starting to move away from strict A-F grading systems. Many combine letter grades with portfolios. Others have eliminated grades all together and complete narratives for each student instead. The purpose is to reduce academic related stressors.
14) Personalized Learning -
As compared with "differentiated instruction" listed above, personalized learning doesn't stop at arranging your classroom or modifying lessons to fit various needs and skill levels. Differentiated learning is great if it's your only option. Personalized learning on the other hand addresses student needs and skill levels in addition to backgrounds, homelife, learning styles, intelligences, and most importantly in my opinion, interests. Students direct their own learning in a personalized learning environment. Lessons aren't modified by the teacher. Students are designing their own educational journey with teachers there to facilitate. I'll do a blog post on this concept in the future.
15) Problem-Based Learning -
PrBL is a cool tool that I wish I was much better at. Rather than students receiving a lecture with numbers and stats on a real-world issue, students learn about said real-world issue by making their own observations, asking questions, exploring the issue, brainstorming solutions and acting on those solutions.
16) Gamification -
I'm going to be completely honest. I know nothing about this. But it's a serious buzzword floating around out there. It does make sense to incorporate gaming into schools. I say that only because technology is here and it's here to stay. These games are only getting better and better. My reservation about it is the hold it has on students - the addictive nature of it. I'm sure there is someone out there to defend both angles. I don't know. What do you think?
17) Lifelong Learning -
Lifelong learning encompasses all of the trends listed here in one. It is having the tools to learn long after "schooling" is over.
18) Growth Mindset -
There is a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. A growth mindset acknowledges that skills can come through hard work and determination, vs. fixed mindset which is the opposite. Promoting and encouraging a growth mindset with students is a major trend right now.
19) Self-Assessments -
This is when students take an active role in a learning outcome. Students grow by periodically self-assessing. They learn how to fail, pick themselves back up, go back to the drawing board, modify and try again. To take it a step further, students can even create their own assessments. I have my students create their own project rubrics. That rubric template is available in my TpT store. Check it out here - Student-Generated Project Rubric.
20) Authentic Presentations -
Finally, my favorite part! I am a huge advocate for project-based learning, and an authentic presentation is an important component to PBL. An authentic presentation is one where students share their work and their acquired knowledge with an authentic audience, one that is relevant and public. There are so many advantages to doing authentic presentations. I wrote a blog article on this concept a while ago. Feel free to check it out for more information - How to Incorporate Authentic Presentations into your Curriculum.
None of these trends are used independently from the others. They are all interconnected. Just because you're focusing on lifelong learning doesn't mean you should put social-emotional learning or college and career readiness on the backburner, for example. They all share common themes. They all consider the needs of 21st century learners.
For resources on many of these trends, as most of them fall under "experiential learning", feel free to check out my TpT store. As of right now project-based learning dominates the store. But with project-based learning comes authentic presentations, lifelong learning, gamification if you wish, self-assessments, personalized learning, and more from the list of trends above. This is the last day of a winter sale on my high school PBL bundle and "how to" guide. Check out Experiential Learning Depot to get to this resource and others. I'm working on some maker and stem resources and will have those posted soon.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on TpT, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
Happy New Year, Everyone!
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 find people asking me on a regular basis to explain what I do as an experiential educator. A lot of people come wanting to know more about experiential learning and how they can work it into their curriculum. The good news is that it's a great learning tool for people of all backgrounds, learning styles, 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.
Based on Instagram alone, I have noticed that experiential learning is often associated with outdoor education. The Instagram hashtag, #experientiallearning, is loaded with photos of students hiking, traveling, and getting their hands dirty. This can be experiential learning, but isn't always, and outdoor education is certainly not the only form of experiential learning. So let's iron out what it is exactly and how you can utilize it with your students.
In short experiential learning is learning through experience. It's getting actively involved in learning. Hands-on activities aren't necessarily experiential learning activities, however. There are specific elements that make is different. Project-based learning can be experiential, as can inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, community learning, service learning, and simple hands-on activities, just as long as the following characteristics of experiential learning are utilized:
What is Experiential Learning?
1. Students are actively involved -
Students should be actively, not passively, learning through the learning experience at hand. What experiential learning IS NOT is lecture-based. Students should be involved.
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, not just from the outcome or final grade. Allowing students to feel they can fail, revise, and try again takes off some pressure and encourages an attitude of willingness to improve. This is an important competency to have in life-long learners.
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, learning styles, and skill levels of each student.
4. Students see a connection between the 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.
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 as the sole purpose of the activity then something is missing. With purpose comes an intrinsic motivation to learn.
6. Student-directed -
Student's should have control and investment in their learning. Any experiential learning activity should be student-driven or at a minimum, student-centered.
7. Reflection -
Reflection is a big one. I believe that reflection should be a key component to any instructional approach, not just experiential learning. Students should have ample opportunity to look back at their successes and failures (which there will be 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 through 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 bring community resources into your classroom. You could bring community experts in as speakers, helpers, or teachers. Utilizing community experts in an important part of project-based learning, but I think it enhances ANY learning experience and shouldn't be limited to PBL.
Now, here is an example. I am technically a biology teacher. I teach the basics of neurology, and when I do, I invite someone from the University of Minnesota neurology department to come in to talk about their research. In the past they have brought with them an actual human brain, a resource I am personally unable to get my hands on. That is a valuable resource that brings out some of the elements of experiential learning listed above.
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. For example, you might have your students doing a lab in chemistry. It's hands-on learning. It's not a worksheet, so that's experiential learning right? Not necessarily. If it's a prescribed recipe then students are missing the personalized learning component. The experience isn't student-directed. It may not connect with the students' reality or the real-world. It is not active learning, it's passive. Just because it's hands-on does not make it experiential. 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 a student that has a lifelong passion for learning and actually understands and absorbs the content.
For experiential learning resources check out my TpT store Experiential Learning Depot.
I like the article below on experiential learning. It's a long one, but it would act as a great manual for educators new to experiential learning. I also give it credit for helping me out with this blog post. "Best Practices in Experiential Learning" - prepared by Michelle Schwartz
Happy holidays everyone, and a great final week before break if you're still working!
I have been traveling with students to some capacity for 10 years. I have a background in ecology and environmental science. Before I became a teacher I was working on various endangered species projects around the country. I knew from that time in the field that the deepest learning happened when I got up close and personal with my environment, not when I was reading about biology concepts in textbooks. I knew when I became an educator that I wanted to work at an experiential learning school where students directed their learning. That is how I came to be heavily involved in the travel program at Jennings Community School, where I advised at-risk teenagers, taught using project-based learning, and traveled with students for the next 9 years.
I don't believe that experiential learning applies to biology alone. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand." That is experiential learning in a nutshell, and it pertains to all disciplines. You don't have to be a science or art teacher to get your students involved and active in their learning.
Getting students beyond the walls of the classroom is an amazing first step. I know it's tough in some teaching environments to even get students in the school yard, and that's assuming there is a school yard to go to. At a minimum, get your students out of their desks and involved in the concepts. Those hands-on, inquiry activities encourage students to observe, explore, ask questions and absorb new information and skills through experience. All great things. But traveling? Traveling encompasses these important facets of learning plus a whole lot more. Traveling is an opportunity to completely change the lives of your students. I've seen it happen over and over and over again.
Traveling with students isn't easy, but the outcome is why I dedicated so much of my teaching career to providing these travel opportunities for my students. I know the impact it can make on someone's life. Student traveling isn't just hopping on a plane and sitting on a beach somewhere. The learning is in the entire experience from trip planning, to fundraising, to packing, to relationship building, goal-setting, and sharing and reflecting on the experience. Not many students get the chance to participate in something that encompasses all of these critical learning opportunities in one. There is value in traveling that cannot be gained through any other means. Traveling is a unique and special learning opportunity.
Top 6 Reasons to Start a Travel Program at your High School
1. Increase Cultural and Global Awareness:
Children, particularly teenagers, tend to be self-involved. They're not culpable. It's just the nature of their brains. Removing students from their "bubbles" and shaking up their lives a bit by pushing them beyond their comfort zones can have drastic and beautiful results. It is difficult for students to understand others and the world around them when they are not directly impacted. The teenage brain needs to connect concepts with real-life experience. When students view the world from a different angle, their worldview is altered. Literally. Traveling puts them in that environment.
2. Gain Content Knowledge:
Yes, content knowledge. I am a project-based teacher. One of the first projects I assign to students is planning a hypothetical trip around the world. I do this because of all of the skills and knowledge they gain in the experience. They learn how to budget and find deals. They learn how to read a map and plan routes. They learn about the environment, topography, culture, arts, religion, politics and more while exploring the places they hope to "visit".
When I travel with students, we travel with purpose. Because I am a biology teacher, my purpose is usually environmental in nature, but traveling naturally integrates subjects. Students that travel with me on school trips go through intense seminars and complete several projects pertinent to the designated "purpose" prior to the trip. They also work on projects while ON the trip - group and independent - relevant to the trip purpose. Upon return, each student reflects and shares their work with a public audience. The amount of content absorbed is astounding, and it's all because the concepts are right in front of them. They are involved. They are actively learning through experience.
3. Develop a Healthy Self-Concept:
I know it's cliche, but it's true, and anyone who travels knows it to be true. The phrase "I'm traveling to find myself" would generally trigger my upchuck reflex, but when it comes to children, "finding oneself" is often times a matter of life and death, quite literally, unfortunately. Teenagers deal with a lot. Getting through the teenage years in one piece requires a strong, healthy self-concept that can be acquired by traveling. By getting away from the daily pressures of life, students can ask themselves who they really are. This I've seen time and time again. A student travels on a school trip and comes back a changed person with a renewed spirit and ultimate confidence. They had the unique opportunity to learn about themselves, discover their skills, dreams, talents, and hopes through a fresh lens.
4. Develop Critical 21st Century Skills:
Content is important to a degree, but at the rate society is evolving, what's more important is having the skills to navigate those changes. Careers will look very different 20 years from now. Technology is changing everything. Traveling puts students in a position to work at those life skills. As part of the trip planning process, they exercise organization, locating credible resources, goal-setting, and managing their time. While on trips they encounter situations where they need to problem-solve, think critically, work as a team and get creative. If you've ever read my posts on "travel adventures and mishaps", you know these scenarios are inevitable. All mishaps (mostly minor) provide opportunities to build on these 21st century skills.
5. Build Lifelong Friendships:
The feeling of belonging is a basic need. It is something that many people spend a lifetime trying to attain with little luck. Feelings of loneliness are rampant in young people as well as adults. Everyone is a bit vulnerable when they are traveling. They are away from their homes, their friends, family and comfort zones. In group travel, everyone is in the same boat. My students cast aside their differences on trips and create bonds that last a lifetime because they are experiencing something new and profound together. Only they can understand what the other is feeling in that moment.
6. The Ability to Envision a Future for the First Time:
This is something that teachers that work with high-risk populations will see in their students as an outcome of travel. Having a student travel program at a school with underrepresented students is powerful because students living in poverty do not have easy access to travel experiences. It's not an option for most. Many of my students don't look further than the moment. They don't consider their future career. Many of them don't even expect to finish high school. When traveling they gain a new perspective on the future. For the first time they can look ahead and envision something. They may not know what, but for the first time they are open to the possibilities. They see opportunity for a good life.
Well, now what?
Now that you know WHY you should start a travel program at your middle or high school, what do you do with that? You want to start a travel program, but how? Stay tuned for a post from on what you need to know to start a high school travel program.
I have a lot of travel resources available in my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. They are all FREE. I think it's important to make student travel resources easily accessible to teachers, as it is challenging enough to implement a travel program in a secondary school. Browse my store to download free travel resources by clicking the link above.
I hope this has been useful. If you are a teacher that travels with students, I'd love you to share your stories and travel tips.
Thanks for reading. Happy Monday!
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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
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, and how do I implement it in my classroom?
My experience and philosophy of teaching is all about project-based learning. I talk a lot about PBL on LinkedIn, Pinterest, right here on my blog. Almost all of my curriculum is PBL. I've made the assumption that every reader knows what it is. I'm here now to explain!
In short, PBL is learning through projects that are innovative and relevant. 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.
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.
This book exemplifies project-based learning principles. Yes, this is just a book. It's not even based on a true story as far as I know. But it's not unrealistic. This is what project-based learning is, and it's taking the world by storm. Schools and teachers everywhere are taking note and implementing PBL in classes of all ages and backgrounds.
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, pasted some information on a poster board or Powerpoint, presented it to the class, and called it a project.
This is what they did instead:
Said 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 set-up their own screen printing workshop at the school.
The students met with a local business, JAMF Software, for business tips. JAMF ended up giving the students a grant to set up their own screen printing studio at the school and any 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, planned and hosted a launch party for their brand. Now that's authentic project-based learning!
Although the brand never really took off (students graduated and went their own ways), the lessons learned and skills developed from this one project are profound. If they decide to take another stab 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 are the development of skills essential for success in the 21st century, intrinsic motivation to learn, and a life-long passion for learning. A poster board project on Tony Hawk would not have produced the same learning results.
Take a look at this handy visual that I put together below that compares a standard project with project-based learning.
Want your students to do projects like Viv and my skateboarding students? Check out my PBL bundle below or any variety of other project-based learning resources on my TpT site (Experiential Learning Depot.) The projects are in keeping with the PBL principles mentioned in this post. They are low prep and train students to critically think and have their own ideas! The result is student-directed learning. Win!
SALE $10 off Sunday, Nov 4 - Wednesday, Nov 7
Project-Based Learning: 20 Integrated Projects for Student-Directed Learning
Check out the following resources as well if you're interested in project-based learning. Both resources will help you decide if project-based learning is right for you before you make any big moves.
Passion for Learning by Ronald J. Newell - great book about project-based learning, focused on MN New Country School, an authentic project-based learning school. See how they do it!
I participated in a live webinar a couple of weeks ago about project-based learning that was really inspiring. Check out the recording version of it. Buck Institute -
Project-Based Teaching: Fine Tuning Instructional Strategies for Deep Learning
Follow me onPinterest (Experiential Learning Depot) and my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, for more educational resources.
I hope you give PBL a try! If you have any questions or are looking for more resources, reach out or keep coming back to Classroom Unbound. There is sure to be more on project-based learning in the future! Have a great school week.
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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I have been a project-based learning educator my entire teaching career. Aside from my student teaching experience, I have only worked in a school that emphasizes project-based learning. It is such an amazing tool for learning because it connects students with the community, makes learning relevant and interesting, and builds skills that couldn't be acquired through lecture alone (or lecture at all for that matter). I have seen students produce some pretty outstanding projects over the years that went beyond poster boards and class presentations, because project-based learning should be innovative and authentic. One of my students worked with various renewable resource experts in the community including the University of Minnesota and Advanced Biofuels USA, who were able to get him a free ticket into the Algae Biofuel Summit. He was surrounded the top biofuel experts in the world, listening in on presentations on the most cutting-edge research at the time. His final product was to grow algae and harness his own fuel, which he did successfully with the help of community experts. He wrote an article for Advanced Biofuels USA's newsletter on his experience at the conference and growing algae. This would be considered an advanced project, but really highlights what PBL is really about. He could have easily just researched algae as a biofuel, slapped some information on a poster board and presented to me. That would have been your everyday classroom project. What he did instead was authentic project-based learning where he connected with the community, worked with esteemed experts, shared his new knowledge with a relevant audience, and took part in finding a solution to a global crisis.
I had another student that was interested in sea turtles. She did some basic research, came back to me and said she was going to do a Power Point presentation on sea turtles. I told her that creating a Powerpoint on sea turtle facts and presenting it to me wouldn't be authentic or innovative. It wouldn't make an impact on her learning or the community. I gave her a few tips and she went back to the drawing board. She came back to me with this plan: by doing a little more research she quickly found out that all 7 species of sea turtles are highly endangered. Sea turtles are endangered for a variety of reasons, but she found that it was in part because of tourism. She decided to make a brochure with tips for tourists, what they could do to help protect turtles on their vacations. She could have given me the brochure and called it a day, but that wouldn't be true project-based learning. Instead she emailed and called hotels around the world asking if they would place her brochure in their lobbies or attach a link to her brochure on their websites. Later that year we took a tropical biology trip to Costa Rica. She brought her brochures, and distributed them in hotels. Her brochures may still be sitting in these hotel lobbies today. That is authentic. She shared her final product with an audience that could make a difference. Her project made an impact simply because of her choice of final product (brochure) and authentic presentation (on display to a relevant audience).
Students naturally gravitate toward poster boards as their final product when doing projects for whatever reason, likely habit. Check out some alternatives to the standard poster board that I've compiled below. By the way, poster boards aren't always bad in my opinion. It depends on the content and audience. Poor use of a poster board would be plagiarized information slapped on the board and presented to the teacher or class. An example of an effective poster board project would be displaying results and conclusions of a science fair experiment, and using the poster board visual in an actual science fair! The picture below is a photo of a student who learned about sex trafficking in Minnesota. She connected with an organization called Breaking Free in St. Paul, which is a shelter and counseling program for women and children "breaking free" from the sex trade. My student decided to organize a clothing and food drive which she would later donate to Breaking Free survivors. She decided that her final product would be the actual donations, but wanted a way to present her project. She put together a poster board to use as a presentation tool in an event at the upcoming Stars Spring Conference (an awesome alternative ed. career and life skills competition). Rather than post a bunch of shallow information on prostitution she used her board as a supplement to her project. She used it as a tool to raise awareness on the issue.
Start a Project: PBL Cheat Sheet:
There are a lot of final product options beside poster boards. The successes achieved in the the example projects mentioned earlier would not have been possible with a poster board and class presentation. I created a graphic organizer years ago when I noticed some of my new students struggling with the concept of project-based learning. The purpose of the graphic organizer was to help them take a great topic idea and turn it into an authentic project. They essentially chose from a list of final product ideas and authentic presentation options. At some point they will feel comfortable designing projects without the graphic organizer, but it's a good tool to start with. You can download it for free from my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. I also have a product called "Project-Based Learning: 20 Integrative Projects for a Student-Directed Classroom". This is an instruction manual and project bundle for teachers that want to implement project-based learning into their curriculum, but aren't sure how to start. The projects are great for project-based learners at any level, but are designed to gradually acquaint students and teachers to student-directed, project-based learning over the course of a year.
Check out this extensive list of final product alternatives to poster boards!
82 Final Product Ideas for Project-Based Learning:
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 decahedron, aka "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 an experience such as a health plan)
53) Write an instruction manual
54) Create a theme poster
55) Make blue print (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. The nature of the fortune teller begs people to pick it up and look at it because it's an interesting thing to find sitting on a bus. You can't help but pick it up and look inside. 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 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" and "tour" (would be good for a book project)
82) Organize an event in the community
Hope everyone has enjoyed there weekend and good luck with the upcoming school week. 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!
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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.