Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
You are likely aware by now that I did a lot of school travel when I was teaching. I post on these trips often because I believe traveling to be an indispensable learning experience. I wrote about the benefits of student travel in a post a couple months ago - Top Six Reasons to Start a School Travel Program. Take a look.
When I wasn't planning and coordinating school travel experiences I was project-based teaching. Because I taught at a project-based school, travel and PBL often went hand-in-hand. I took students on a tropical biology trip to Costa Rica in 2013. One student created a brochure on ways tourists could help protect sea turtles. She placed the brochures in hotel lobbies as we traveled the country. I took students to Hawaii in 2017. The students completed a group project on climate change interviewing locals, business owners, farmers, etc. as we circumnavigated the island.
If you're an educator looking to tie field trips or school travel experiences with project-based learning, or if you are a homeschooler about to go on a family trip and want to enhance the learning experience by adding a PBL project, head to my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, for this free student travel project proposal.
In just a few hours my family and I will be heading to Copenhagen. I have two kids; a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. My four-year-old has recently developed a passion for photography. He takes photos with my phone and edits them using the Photofox app. The cover photo of this blog was taken and edited by him. It started off as a close-up of my eye and evolved into this beautiful abstract photograph. His abilities blow my mind. I never expected a preschooler to be able to navigate a photo editing app, nor that he'd want to. But he can, and he's great at it.
My son and I sat down and filled out a project proposal together, the one mentioned above, which I would normally use with my high-schoolers. With effective scaffolding, students of any age can design their own PBL project using a project proposal. He will be doing a project on "Copenhagen Through the Eyes of a 4-Year-Old" by photo-documenting his travel experience.
This project proposal was written by my four-year-old. I wrote and he told me what to write. His "research questions" were largely based on activities - what he'll do in Copenhagen, where he'll sleep, what he'll eat. This proposal would look very different if it were to be completed by a high schooler. That's another great thing about project-based learning. It's personalized, so could be adapted to any age, backgrounds, skill level, etc.
Rather than "what will I eat when I'm there?", says the pre-schooler, a high-schooler whose project topic is "Danish culture", for example, might ask "what are the main culinary ingredients used in Denmark?, "In what ways are staple Danish ingredients used in Copenhagen?", and "What dishes are the Danes known for?" The student would demonstrate understanding or new skills and knowledge by photographing ingredients, food, and/or chefs in action among other things related to their driving question. They might arrange to take a cooking class while traveling, shadow a farmer, or interview a chef.
My preschooler has decided that he will take a few photos as we tour Copenhagen, edit the photos using Photofox, write a brief caption, and share with an authentic audience by posting his photos right here on this blog post. I will try to upload new photos each day as we go. Whenever I was teaching and took students on trips, I documented the experiences on a travel blog so that staff, students and parents could "follow" us on our travels. Check those out - The Jennings Experience. Return here, to this blog post, to see updates of our travels and my preschoolers project photos.
Combining Project-Based Learning with Student Travel:
"Copenhagen Through the Eyes of a Four-Year-Old"
Hey, we made it to Copenhagen!! After a long flight with two littles, no sleep, very little real food, and a minor bout of toddler motion sickness on the plane, we made it to Copenhagen. We plowed through the day yesterday a bit delirious, came back to our Air B and B, slept for 15 hours and awoke ready to explore the city. We stayed near the canal where we are lodging this week and explored the heart of downtown. We ate lunch at the fresh food market, TorvehallerneKBH, which is made entirely of glass. Lot's of bikes in Copenhagen, regardless of the weather. We strolled on cobblestone streets through winding roads of shops, castles, cafes, and of course, the LEGO store.
Now, for the 4-year-old's project. I mentioned above that my preschooler will be documenting his experience with a photography project. He is very into taking photos, but even more interested in editing using the Photofox app. A challenge for project-based teachers is letting go of control. It was for me when I was teaching and was even more apparent when working with my son on his photography project. We as teachers have likely been taught to instruct - share facts, seek the "right answers", with a few student-centered activities thrown in here and there. Project-based learning is not that. It's active participation by the student, not passive, which means students have to be given the freedom to arrive at conclusions through their own process. There should be a lot of student choice, and students should be directing their learning from project design to assessment criteria.
It has been an extreme challenge watching my child edit his photos. We are in a country with breathtaking views, old architecture, we are steeped in Danish culture, yet my son wants to add "stickers" and wild fiters to his photos. I have to remember as his teacher to scaffold, encourage, and accept his learning process. The learning experience is not diluted just because he added a few special effects to a photo of a castle. It's how he sees it and how he is expressing the experience. Just because it's not what I would do doesn't make it bad or poor work. So I step back and offer suggestions or ideas if he wants them. That is the job of a project-based teacher. To facilitate. The student through exploration, questioning, trial and error, and testing comes to conclusions on their own.
With that said, here are his photos from day 1.
Well, so much for posting everyday. Things have been a little crazy around here. We've been here for four days, and the time-change still has us all feeling a bit off. We have been keeping really busy, trying to get to every corner of Copenhagen, and we had one little set back. My daughter dislocated her elbow while rough playing with my son, so we have experienced the Danish health system. That was an eye-opening experience.
My son has evolved a bit with his picture taking and editing over the past two days. As his "facilitator" I've let him take the reins while subtly guiding him through the process. He played around with lighting on photos from day 3, which led to many revelations about angles, various sources of light and how they come together to add interesting features to his photos.
There is something really special about photography when traveling. If you are ever taking students or your children on a trip consider suggesting a photography project. Photographing one's surroundings encourages a level of observation that can only be achieved when coming from a certain perspective. Pulling out a camera, especially when there is purpose behind it, makes you notice things you may not have noticed otherwise. You're fully immersed in the experience because you are actively looking for great shots. There are certainly other ways to immerse oneself in an experience such as sketching or talking with locals. Project-based learning while traveling, regardless of the final product, gives students some direction and purpose. Taking pictures has led my son to ask a lot of questions that he may not have asked if he was just following me around the city.
I decided to put the original photos of day 3 side-by-side with my son's edited photos as well as captions. The original photos are on the left, edited on the right.
This area is called Nyhavn, a strip of colorful shops and restaurants lining a canal.
This building, Rundetaam (Round House), was built in the 1600's by Christian IV of Denmark as an observatory. The winding ramp leads to a tower that overlooks the city of Copenhagen.
A view of Copenhagen from the top of Rundetaam.
The royal crowns found in the "dungeon" as my son called it (aka the basement) of the Rosenborg Castle.
A view of the Rosenborg Castle from Kongens Have, or the "King's Garden." We toured the inside of the Rosenborg Castle where we found the royal crowns.
The tree-lined corridors are one of many stunning features of the King's Garden.
Day 4, 5, &6
I had to combine three days into one post because we got so behind! I don't remember timely posting being an issue when I used to travel with my high school students. I posted our adventure daily. Different with littles I suppose.
The last few days were amazing. We hit up all of the typical tourist spots like the Little Mermaid statue, the canal cruise, Nyhaun, the castles and shopping areas. We visited the sites that make Copenhagen such a kid friendly city like the Experimentarium and many of the awesome outdoor playgrounds. The best part of the trip though was a bike tour that my cousin took us on. She has lived in Copenhagen for a couple years. She took us on a full snowy day bike tour to all of the cool corners of Copenhagen that tourists rarely frequent.
Check out my preschoolers final project photos, Copenhagen through the eyes of a four-year-old. His favorite feature of the photo editing app is "blending." He finds background images on Google Images and blends them with his original photo. They turned out really interesting. Check them out!
Rows and rows of bikes and lights in Nyhaun Viking ship parked in front of Barr
Konditaget Luders - rooftop playground Classic Copenhagen courtyard
Experimentarium Inside an art installation - no filters or edits
Canal Boat Tour Glimpse of Church of Our Saviour from the boat
View of King's New Square from Nyhaun Photo of tour boat. No edits were made here.
Just changes in camera settings and angles.
Both of these photos were taken biking through Assistens Cemetery at dusk.
Copenhagen has an amazing sense of community and I think a part of that is tied to the biking and walking culture.
Sledders out in waves to sled the hills in front A view of the Royal Library on our bike tour.
of the King's Stable. The sky is an example of the "blending"
feature that my son loves on the app.
Going crazy with the stickers on the editing app. This is a photo of my daughter eating a
chocolate covered waffle on a stick.
The trip isn't the end of a project for student travelers. They return from their trip, organize their new skills and knowledge into a final product and demonstrate learning to an authentic audience. For example, they may put all of their information into a blog and share via social media like my son did here. They might share their final product in a presentation or exhibition night. Student travelers complete a reflection, which is critical in my opinion. Try this free option from my store - Student Travel Reflection. Finally they self-assess their own project and the travel experience in general using rubrics. They meet with their instructor to complete a final evaluation, and that's that!
I'll be moving on from student travel for a while, but I'm sure I'll be back with more in the near future. I'll be moving into student-directed learning for a couple of weeks. Thanks for following us on our learning adventure!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
Don't worry! We didn't forget about Thomas the Train.
Observe. Question. Explore. Share.
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.