Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
Update: This post was recently published in TIE Online, a journal about international education. The online publication is free! Check it out for more resources and great information on educational travel. Click here.
I have been traveling with students to some capacity for 11 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 experiences in my own life 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 and could use the world as their classroom. 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 took educational travel excursions with students over the course of a decade.
Traveling with students isn't easy, but the outcome is why I have 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. Learning spans 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 other means. Traveling is a unique and special learning opportunity.
Teacher and homeschoolers, if you are interested in incorporating educational travel into your curriculum, start here. Learn the benefits first, listed below, then make your next move. Check out my top reasons for traveling with students, and scroll to the bottom for tips on getting started.
Click here for more posts about student travel.
6 Reasons to Include Travel in Your Curriculum
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 from 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 seminars and complete several student-directed PBL 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.
Try my Project-Based Learning Toolkit to get students started on student-led PBL experiences on any topic of interest.
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 practice 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 Bright Future:
This is something that educators 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 positive. They may not know what yet, 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 incorporating educational travel into your curriculum is important and impactful (homeschoolers or educators), what do you do with that?
Homeschoolers have more flexibility to travel, one of the beautiful things about homeschooling! Home educators, if you're short on time, finances, or travel resources, consider starting small and encouraging your children to play a role. You don't need to sell your home, pack up your kids, and travel the world (as cool as that would be). Even an annual weekend camping trip away from the monotony of everyday life gets children excited. You can also ask that your children help plan the travel experience (FREE student travel planning resources in my store) and that they fundraise for trips.
Educators, especially those working in a traditional school environment, you have a challenge ahead of you. If travel is something that is important to you and you want that for your students, consider meeting with other educators at your school, parents of students, community members, and more, and put together a proposal for a school travel program. By creating a committee you'll have more ideas and a bigger voice. This is especially true if parents are involved. Principals and directors, if you're interested but unsure, try connecting with schools that DO have a travel program and pick their brains on how they make it work and the impact it has had on learning and school culture. You won't regret it!
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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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.