Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
Again, I start a blog post with a reminder of how the world is changing. We are neck deep in a pandemic that doesn't seem to be getting better in any way; a very powerful racial justice movement is in place, and change feels hopeful and possible because of the tireless effort from the citizens - from the people.
I have been so impressed by the actions of not only the people, but of young people. Kids, from kindergarten age to high school graduation, have the capacity to do so much good in the communities that they are a part of, whether that be on a grand scale or simply advocating for a crosswalk to get put in near a local playground.
When I was teaching high schoolers, I included community action projects in every facet of my teaching. A community action project is a form of project-based learning where students identify issues in the community, research the issues, brainstorm solutions, develop an action plan, and take action. Community action projects deepen learning AND build essential 21st-century skills by engaging students in the community and investing their time and energy into relevant community issues.
My own children and I recently did a community action project together that involved a supplies drive for a local animal shelter during Covid shutdowns. This project was entirely based off of my children's interests, but I had a big hand in organizing and coordinating the experience because my children are 3 and 6 years old. A high schooler could do the same project, but they would lead the entire experience themselves.
I have specific community action projects in my TPT store that focus on specific themes, such a mental health. I also have a community action tool kit that offers an unlimited number of open-ended, self-directed community action projects for high school students. This tool kit includes all of the guiding materials and templates that follow the community action project steps below.
Community Action Project Steps
1. Brainstorm/Identify Community Issues:
This is arguably the most important step of a community action project. This is where students find their interests, make observations about their communities, and decide on a general direction to take with their project. My tool kit includes a variety of brainstorming activities to guide students through this process.
My own children decided to focus their attention on Covid era animal shelters, which was inspired by a stray cat that had been frequenting our yard. My son wanted to keep it, my husband is allergic, and frankly, I don't want a cat. So we researched ways to make an outdoor cat house to protect it from storms and predators, and in doing so, came across a plea for supplies from our local animal shelter. This series of observations lead to our project focus.
2. Research the Issue:
Once students have settled on a community issue that they would like to tackle, they research the issue more thoroughly. The purpose of this step is so they can make informed action plans.
My children and I researched the details of the problem (lack of supplies for shelter animals during the Covid) and exactly which shelter supplies were needed. We discovered that many of the supplies could be hand-made, such as cat toys and blankets.
3. Explore Solutions and Write an Action Plan:
There are many ways that young people can take action. I have another blog post titled "Four Ways Students Can Take Action Today". Check that out for specifics. But this step basically includes brainstorming effective solutions that students can be a part of.
My children and I decided that the best way we could get involved would be to organize a supplies drive for the shelter, which included a neighborhood crafting project.
4. Take Action:
At this point students carry out their action plans. My children created their own fliers using Canva (with my assistance) and passed them around the neighborhood asking for shelter supply donations. We wrote a post on our block Facebook page asking for donations. We made a bin with a sign listing all of the supplies needed, and placed it on our stairs outside for people to make drop-offs. We also organized a cat toy making craft "party". By party, I mean supplying neighborhood kids with materials to make cat toys, having them make them at their own homes, and dropping them off in our donations bin.
We did all of this during the Covid stay-at-home order. This is an example of creative and authentic distance learning. My community action project tool kit includes a digital option to be used with Google Apps so that these projects can be done anywhere.
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.