Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
I was recently told, by two individuals that I admire and trust (best friend and husband), that my blog posts should be more relatable. A little less information heavy, and a little more fun. I can do that....I think. If you know me well, especially when it comes to education, you know I tend to be serious. I feel that the intention of this blog is to share information with educators and parents. So I won't stop doing that, but to appease the crowds, the INFJ in me will attempt to be more relatable. And what's more relatable than the Great Minnesota Get-Together!!??
As I go through any average day, I am always thinking about how to make this or that into a learning opportunity, a project or some kind of lesson. I think this is probably a common phenomenon among educators and parents. It’s purely accidental, I can’t help it, and truthfully I don’t mind it. Keeps my brain rolling when some days it feels like all I’m doing is changing diapers and breaking up sibling fights (my children are wonderful and I love them deeply). Every book I read sparks project ideas, including one I’m reading now about cannibalism! I recently visited the science museum with my own kids (awesome trip) and was thinking the whole time about how I could transfer these ideas into my class. A simple walk around the block with my kids sparks project ideas. I’d try them on my students as we speak if I was still teaching. Yesterday I went to the good ole’ Minnesota state fair. My kids were playing with an interactive pollinator exhibit. I said out loud to my husband, “this would make a great project for my students”. He told me to turn it into a blog post, so here we are! Ahead of you is a comprehensive list of projects or learning activities inspired by our family trip to the State Fair on Saturday (the busiest and hottest day of the fair!) Enjoy!
Something worth mentioning is that I am only offering project and activity ideas here, not logistics for implementation. Doing that would take me a year. I have project-based learning curriculum on my TpT site like that, which did take me a year to put together. If you want a guide for implementing project-based learning into your classroom, with a full year of project ideas, templates, rubrics and a manual for application, check here. Look over the sample and discuss with your school's director if you think making the purchase would be a good move for your school (moving from lecture-based/teacher-directed to project-based/student-directed learning). Otherwise, check out the MN State Fair inspired project ideas below, and execute them your way with your class this fall!
15 State Fair Inspired Learning Activities
1) Interactive Exhibits - there was a really fun agricultural area at the Minnesota State Fair for kids. The exhibit simulated how food goes from farm to table through active participation in the process. There was a pollination demo that had fishing pole like structures, with pollinators such as bees attached to the ends of the lines. Our kids took the poles and tried to catch "pollen" (plastic golf balls wrapped with Velcro) nestled in a large flower, and moved that pollen to another flower, simulating pollination. This interactive exhibit kept my children busy and engaged for twenty minutes, and by the time they were bored of if, my four year child clearly understood how insects pollinate flowers. As a project-based learning instructor myself, I am always looking for authentic and innovative final product ideas for showcasing projects. Student-created interactive exhibits, on any subject, would be great for student learning and awesome learning opportunities for exhibit visitors. When designing projects this year, consider asking students to create an interactive exhibit as their final product, that they can then display at an exhibition night for family, friends and the community.
2) Mapping the State Fair - using an online mapping program (zeemaps.com is a great one), create a map that illustrates one aspect of the fair. A student could try to locate data on state fair visitor demographics for example, and map the number of visitors that travel from each county to visit the fair each year. Another student could map all of the "park and rides" available to fair goers or parking areas, all of the root beer stands at the fair grounds, all of the kid friendly exhibits at the fair grounds, etc.
3) Local Food Theme Exhibits - at the MN State Fair this year, my family and I ran into an apple exhibit in the horticulture building that we have never seen before. The exhibit was everything apples! It was awesome. My children each had an apple popsicle. This exhibit inspired this project idea. Discuss as a class all of food items that are grown locally, such as corn, soy beans, wild rice, and apples, in Minnesota's case. Have each student cook something using a locally grown ingredient. Host a local food festival at your school where family, friends and community members can sample recipes made with local food. Turn it into a school fundraiser by charging a few dollars for admission.
4) Open a State Fair Food Stand - Okay, students wouldn't be expected to really open one (it's pretty cut-throat), but have students make plans as if they are going to start one. They should think about what they would sell, vision, mission, goals, cost, marketing plan, etc. If you would like your students to go through the actual vendor application process, they certainly may. The Minnesota State Fair provides forms and details for doing so. Click here to be transferred to application information.
5) Fair Impacts on the Local Economy - have students analyze the various ways in which their state or county fair benefits their local economy. Each student or pair of students can choose one economics question or category to focus on (parking, local businesses outside of the actual fair grounds, transportation to and from the fair, fair food vendors, fair entertainers, number of jobs available and in what departments, advertising, etc.) Students can come back together and share their findings.
6) Create a State or County Fair History Timeline - have students research major events around their state or county fair, and insert those events into a timeline with dates, photos, even videos if they use a digital timeline program. Students can focus on one aspect of the fair's history such as musical guests, dates of establishment for well-known food vendors, award winners year after year, and so on. It could also just be a general timeline of the most notable events.
7) State Fair News Project or Activity - students should search for interesting news articles on their state or county fair. Archives at the local library or history center would be a great place to start. Have students select one specific news article to turn into a history project. For example, in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt made his famous "Speak Softly and Carry a Bit Stick" speech at the MN State Fair Grandstand. If a student was doing a project on this news article, he/she would then research what the speech was about, why the speech was given, what the social and political climate was like at that time, etc.
8) Historical Maps Activity - have students pair up or group up and research old state fair maps. Assign each group a range of years (1900-1920 for example) and ask them to find a map from as many years as possible. Once students have had sufficient time to collect maps, have them printed and tape them to the wall in chronological order. As a group spend some time observing ways in which the fair grounds has changed and evolved over the decades.
9) Environmental Impact - have students analyze possible side-effects of the state fair on the environment. For example, amount of waste produced. Brainstorm solutions.
10) State Fair Energy Use - split students up into small groups to research information on energy use at your state or county fair, essentially investigating how much energy is used, what elements require the most energy, how those elements are powered, and energy plans for the future. This information may not be readily available online. Teach students how to reach out in the community to find the answers to their questions.
11) Amusement Park Rides and Physics - have students choose their favorite ride at their state or county fair. Research how and why the ride works. For example, Gravitron is a ride that spins in circles, and because of centrifugal force, you become plastered up against it's walls, thus not requiring a seat belt to stay in place. Once students have chosen a ride and understand the physics principal(s) at play, have them build a moving model that demonstrates that particular law of physics.
12) Food Art - one of the coolest parts of our state fair is seeing all of the art made of food items, like beans and corn kernels. Have students try this unique art medium!
13) Behind the Scenes - every time I go to the fair I wonder what it's like behind the scenes for those involved, such as people that show animals, run food stands, entertain, work for a clean-up crew, take tickets, set-up and take-down rides, etc. Have students choose one element of the fair that they are curious about and contact an expert in that area. They should either shadow that expert or interview them on what it's like behind the scenes of the state fair. This could really be applied to any community event.
14) Conduct a Fair Survey and Analyze the Results - ask a question about fair goers, create a survey, conduct the survey and analyze the results. Topics could be food favorites, average amount of money spent per fair goer, top 5 most visited exhibits, etc. The fair does not need to be going on to do this activity. Have students create a survey online using Survey Monkey, and post it on their social media pages. This activity could also be done on any event, or any subject for that matter. It doesn't have to be on a fair.
15) State Fair Traditions - my family has state fair traditions. We visit the same exhibits, eat the same exact foods, and go on the same rides year after year. Ice cream from the dairy barn, lefsa and cheese curds are state fair staples for us. Have students write their state fair story. Could be in essay format, article format, poetry, they could write and illustrate a children's book about their state fair traditions. Again, it doesn't have to be on the state fair. Students could do this writing activity with any event where traditions have likely been established.
Hope you're all inspired! Happy Labor Day and last day of the fair to all! Good luck tomorrow for those of you starting school!
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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.