Has anyone else binge-watched "Down to Earth" on Netflix since Covid began? If you haven't, do it! Down to Earth is the epitome of project-based learning on the road and/or abroad. Zach Efron (yes, I know), travels around the world where he focuses his energy on ONE global issue. For example, he visits Paris, where he dives deeply into the issue of clean and healthy drinking water. He talks with engineers, city planners, and local political figures. He talks with locals and visits a water treatment facility.
Zach confronts a problem, gets involved in the concepts by arranging authentic learning experiences and talking directly with experts. He educates the rest of us about his findings. That is brilliant project-based learning at work. This is a good framework to follow when planning your own project-based learning experiences as you travel.
Project-based learning is a fun and interesting way to enhance learning on any trip. Below is a list of end product ideas for PBL experiences on the road. However, project-based learning is much more than producing an innovative final product. In addition, 1) students reach out and engage with the community, 2) they organize relevant learning experiences, and 3) they share their new skills and knowledge with the world.
Encourage learners to participate in service learning projects on their trips, engage in cultural experiences, immerse themselves in ecological and human ecosystems, set up interviews/shadowing experiences/exchanges with locals, and more.
I suggest using my project-based learning tool kit as a guiding tool through student-led projects, and to snag my free PBL e-portfolio for students to showcase learning (when you subscribe).
Click here for more blog posts on PBL.
45 Project-Based Learning Experiences for Student Travelers
1. Travel Journal:
Have students write a travel journal as they go. Have them publish it for personal use and as a keepsake for later on in life.
2. Travel Blog:
Students can keep a blog of their adventures, posting at the end of each day. I like this one because they can share the link with friends and family from home who can then follow along on their travel adventures with them. My students kept a school wide travel blog. Check it out at thejenningsexperience.weebly.com.
3. Climate and Culture Project:
My students did a group project on this in Hawaii. They coordinated interviews with locals, business owners, tour companies, surfers, park rangers, and more about how climate influences Hawaiian culture. Check out my Climate and Culture PBL project on TpT.
Students can create their own trivia game with questions relevant to their trip.
5. 21st-Century Skills Portfolio:
This is a project that my students do regardless of whether they travel. The idea is that they make a portfolio with evidence of skill-building and reflect on those experiences. Travel would significantly bolster this portfolio. Check out this resource here.
6. Open Inquiry Experiments:
Have students design and conduct ecological open-inquiry experiments. They can test water quality from various water sources, conduct animal behavioral studies, edge effect experiments, soil experiments, and more. Because I am a science teacher, my students do this almost everywhere we go. Their final product is a lab report or science fair style presentation. Check out my open-inquiry tool kit to help guide students through the process.
7. Google Tour:
There are so many cool things to do with Google Maps. Students can drop points anywhere in the world, add descriptions and photos from those points, and publish their "tour". Check out my blog post dedicated to all of the ways kids can use Google Maps as a final product of PBL projects. You can also check out my "hometown tour" PBL resource but rather than complete their project on their hometown, they focus on their travel destination.
8. Behind the Scenes Projects:
This type of project is a great way for students to really immerse themselves in the place they are visiting. They connect with residents, businesses owners, city planners, etc. to fully experience the inner workings of the community. Check out my Hometown Behind the Scenes projects, one on a community event, the other on a local business. The projects are both written about students' hometowns, but could easily be adapted to any location.
Host, produce, and publish a daily podcast on the trip for friends and family to follow along on the adventure.
10. Student Exchange:
Connect with another school, student organization, homeschool co-op, etc. to arrange for your students to experience a day in the life of a local student. Have them journal, video document, or blog about the experience.
11. Write a Memoir:
Have learners document their experience by writing a book about it.
12. Plan the Trip:
I don't plan our school trips. Our students plan them with my guidance. Trip planning is a profound learning experience. It includes lessons on finance, fundraising, geography, culture, geology, biology, etc. etc. Check out my free trip planning project guidelines or see my Plan a Trip Around the World PBL resource for all of the guiding templates needed to plan a trip.
13. Biography Project:
Read a biography or memoir about one person from or relevant to the destination and arrange authentic learning activities while traveling. Complete a project on this person. Check out my Biographies PBL project for guidance and templates.
14. Pinterest Profile:
Students create a Pinterest profile about travel. They create boards related to traveling such as budget travel, travel bucket list, authentic experiences while traveling, etc. Learners designate a board per destination visited and design and create their own pins to add to those boards on their travel experiences.
15. Tour Guide:
Students write a tour guide about their travel destination. They can add photos of their experiences, write reviews (restaurants, excursions, lodging, etc), and add insider tips for future visitors. Try using my free resource on creating a travel guide or my project-based learning resource on creating a hometown tour, only the tour would be created around the destination rather than the students' hometown.
16. Make a Travel Product:
Students design and make a product that solves a travel problem such as young kids kicking your airplane seat. They test their prototypes on the trip and even consider asking other travelers around them to test their products. Check out my Maker Tool Kit for any maker project, which includes a guide and design templates.
There are so many directions kids can go with this. They will choose a theme such as landscapes or environmental portraits, work on a specific camera function or photography technique, or do a photojournalism project, photographing an event taking place in their travel destination.
18. Habitats Project:
Students visit different ecological landscapes in the area they are traveling and design projects around these habitats. My students have conducted biodiversity surveys in Costa Rica. Another group gathered and mapped out climate data from various biomes in California. Check out my habitats project for guidance and templates.
19. Artistic Performance:
Students write a song, poem, skit, screenplay, etc. about their travel experience or specific content relevant to their travel destination, such as climate in their region.
20. Digital Animation:
Create an animation on any number of things related to the trip. Students can create a cartoon of their experience or an animation about something specific that they learned on their trip.
Students create a physical or online storyboard about their travel adventures. They could also create a storyboard about some aspect of their destination's history.
22. Learn a New Skill:
This could be something that is specific to the place or the culture. For example, when we visited Cambridge, England, we learned about punting and how to do it. When in Costa Rica we learned how to make traditional, wood-fired, pottery. In Italy we learned how to make authentic cannolis. Check out my pbl resource on this concept.
Create quality infographics about some of the concepts learned on the trip. If students spend a lot of time in national parks, for example, they might create infographics on what they learned about each the park's geology, history, biodiversity, etc. This can be done with any number of subjects. They can post infographics on a blog, Instagram, Pinterest board, etc. day-to-day as they travel.
24. Design a Set:
Upon return from a trip, students create a "set" that demonstrates where they were. It should be something that someone could walk through as if they were touring the destination themselves. Host an event for people to tour.
Students design and make their own postcards using photos from the experience. Students can later donate them to the places where the photos were taken such as a visitor center of a local park or gift shop of a museum.
26. Moving Diorama:
Students design and create a diorama that moves. It could be of an ecosystem, landscape, famous street, museum, etc. Use my maker tool kit to help learners through the design process.
27. Interactive Timeline:
Students design and make an interactive timeline on one piece of their travel destination's history. "Interactive" could mean moving, pop-up, reveal flaps, manipulating parts, etc.
28. Heritage Project:
I have my students do heritage projects in school all the time. They are asked to organize authentic experiences about one culture of their choosing. When traveling, authentic learning experiences are much easier to arrange because students are immersed in the culture they are studying. Check out my heritage project to get learners started.
29. Video Promotion:
Create a short movie that summarizes your trip. Produce it as if it were a promotion for your school or homeschool. Or produce it as a campaign that encourages parents, educators, and students to embrace travel as a learning tool.
Students make mini-documentaries on their travel experience. This final product idea could go with any number of driving questions or research topics. The documentary could be about the travel experience itself. Or it could be about a political, social, economic, environmental movement taking place at their place of travel. It could be about specific content such as a piece of the history, ecology, geology, geography, art, and more.
Make a calendar about the travel experience itself or about some aspect of the travel destination. Original artwork and/or photographs of the destination should be included for each calendar month.
32. Make a Magazine:
This is a great group project. Students come together to determine the theme of the magazine, what to include, student roles and tasks, and more. The content should reflect the travel experience as a whole or features of the place itself.
This is a fun one for 21st-century learners. Chances are your students already "vlog" to some capacity. Students will record significant moments, learning experiences, activities, etc. during their travels and post those videos to a blog, website, or social media outlet such as Youtube, Twitter or Instagram. Family and friends from home can follow along. Students should have a focus question or topic, as all project-based learning experiences do. Check out my pbl tool kit (link in intro) to help learners organize this experience.
34. Citizen Science:
Turn any number of citizen science projects into a project-based learning experience. Connect with the organization that has started it, collect data on their behalf, and create a final product to demonstrate learning.
35. Community Action:
My community action project is a combination of project-based learning and service learning. Students identify an issue in the community where they are visiting, plan a course of action that solves the issue, and act on it. Check out my community action project tool kit for guidance.
Create a topographical map of your destination's demographics, species distribution, population dynamics, specific landmarks, parks, museums, or whatever else you're interested in mapping.
Survey members of the community about any number of topics. Your survey could be about how local's feel about tourism to their town, top hot spots for locals, favorite restaurants in their community and so on. Choose your own topic, make sure that it is relevant to your destination, and go with it!
Identify community events, issues, or developing news. Interview relevant experts and write a an article about the current event.
Interview locals about any number of topics. My students did this when we visited Hawaii to study climate. My students wrote a book of essays with perspectives from locals about if or how climate change has impacted their lives, businesses, etc.
40. Write a Lesson Plan:
Write a guided project-based learning lesson plan for an age group and topic of your choice. Try using the project-based learning tool kit mentioned in the intro of this blog. Make sure your plan gets into the hands of those that could use it such as parents, teachers, and students.
Write a cookbook with authentic recipes from your trip. Meet with professional chefs, farmers that harvest local ingredients, and more. Make the cookbook and donate or sell it to a relevant audience. Try this "Plan a Dinner Party" PBL maker experience, but focus the cuisine on YOUR destination.
42. Write a Historical Fictional Book:
Write a novel or children's book based on historical facts about your destination.
43. Product Creation:
My students do a lot of maker projects using design thinking. They create prototypes of a product that could fix a problem, test it, and tweak it, until they have a functional, effective product. Students could do this with any number of problems relevant to their destination. For example, if they are visiting a mountain town where buildup of ice on driveways is a consistent problem, students would develop a product that solves this problem. Check out my maker tool kit that includes all of the guiding materials for any number of maker experiences like this one.
44. Project-Based Reading!
Read a variety of books about your destination before you go on your trip. Your destination should be the setting of your book. Your book does not necessarily have to be non-fiction. For example, Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" is a fictional novel, but they cite a number of real landmarks in the book in Paris, London, and so on. When you are at your destination, visit a variety of the landmarks mentioned in your book.
45. Put them together!
Combine a variety of these to make a comprehensive, authentic, project-based learning experience. Subscribe to my mailing list to receive a free project-based learning editable e-portfolio where students document and manage their project-based learning experiences into one handy, user-friendly document.
One of my favorite ways to combine learning and travel is to engage students in the planning process. My high school students coordinate fundraisers for travel, connect with community experts at our destinations, organize and plan authentic learning experiences once we arrive, the route, the budget and so much more.
I highly recommend my project-based learning resource on trip planning. The idea is to plan a hypothetical trip around the world, but the templates can be applied to any trip, real or hypothetical, around the world or one destination.
How to Write Deep and Meaningful Inquiry Questions
Introducing Driving Questions for Inquiry Activities:
Last week's blog post was about making detailed observations to inspire inquiry investigations. These observations lead to driving questions.
But what is an inquiry question? How is it different than any other kind of question? How do you write questions that lead to a deep and meaningful inquiry learning experience? Keep reading!
Check out some inquiry-based learning resources from Experiential Learning Depot:
Let's Walk Through an Example:
A couple of days ago my children and I were walking around our neighborhood observing the fall colors. My son noticed a bald eagle flying above us. It eventually perched in our neighbor's tree directly next to another eagle. Right at that moment we watched a battle ensue between the eagles and then heard a thump! Upon inspection we saw that the eagles had been fighting over (what we believe was) a rat.
One of the eagles flew away, while the other continued to sit in that same tree, likely waiting for us to leave so that it could snag the rat that we were standing next to. Eventually the eagle flew away, and when we came back to our neighbors yard hours later, the rat was still there. The eagle never came back to get it.
Those that observed the interaction started spouting off questions. My four-year-old said she felt sad for the rat, and my son's response was "don't eagles need to eat?" This opened the door for an inquiry investigation about the food chain and predator/prey relationships.
My son also asked why the eagles were fighting. Simply put, they were fighting over food, but this surface question could easily turn into a deeper exploration into intraspecific competition and population dynamics.
I wondered if our presence cost the eagle its meal. If we hadn't been standing there would the eagle have returned for the rat? This question could be refined into a more detailed driving question about animal behaviors, the influence of humans on local ecosystems, whether humans should interfere with natural phenomena, and how that interference may affect the natural balance of the ecosystem.
Arriving at the Big Questions:
This post is about asking those big questions that lead to big investigations. So how do students write those questions? Some questions are better than others when it comes to asking effective inquiry questions. Let's go over a few...
1) Is an eagle a predator?
"Is" - This question only gets at the surface of the concept. The student can easily answer the question with one Google search and the experience is over.
2) Do eagles eat rats?
"Do" - Same idea. Do eagles eat rats? Yes. Investigation over.
3) What do eagles eat?
"What" - This sort of question, ones that begins with "what", "who", and "when", can be answered easily with little room for interpretation. You discover that eagles eat rats, rabbits, other birds, and road kill. But the why isn't addressed, which makes the question pretty basic.
4) How did the eagle get that rat?
"How" - You do a little research about the hunting techniques of an eagle, and maybe even dig into its evolutionary history. Asking "how" goes slightly deeper than "what" or "where", but is still not quite what we want.
5) Why does the eagle want to eat the rat?
"Why" - This "why" question encompasses all of the questions asked before it. This question would take time to answer. It gets into the interconnectedness of life on earth, the food chain, animal behaviors, the eagle's evolutionary history, and so on.
6) Should humans interfere with the predator/prey relationship?
"Should/would" - This "should" question is more philosophical, but it gets at a deeper exploration of how species are connected, niche, adaptations, symbiotic relationships, the complexities of predator and prey relationships, coevolution, and yes, the role that humans play in the natural world.
This question is specifically directed toward the effect that humans might have on the natural balance of the ecosystem, if they were to protect a rabbit from the talons of an eagle, for example. This question requires critical thinking and analysis, an understanding of the predator/prey relationship, ecological communities and populations, evolutionary history, and an examination of the scientific research that is already out there as well as the varying perspectives among community members and experts. This is a great inquiry question.
Try This Exercise with Your Students:
Encourage these deeper questions by having students go through this exercise. Have them make a simple observation, such as "The leaves on the tree are turning yellow." Then they can begin to ask questions starting with basic "what", "who", and "when", then move onto "how" and "why", and finally ask those rich questions starting with "should" or "would" that can become the driving question to a comprehensive inquiry exploration.
I have put together an easy to use template for this exercise that can be copied and assigned to students digitally. You can find it in my free resource library accessible to subscribers. After you have signed up for my mailing list you will receive an email from me with the password to this library as well as a project-based learning assessment e-portfolio.
Applying Questions to Specific Learning Experiences:
Not long ago I wrote a post about teaching methods that embrace and promote inquiry. Project-based learning and scientific inquiry experiments were two of several mentioned. I'm going to stick with these two methods here.
How to Write a Project-Based Learning Driving Question:
The backbone of a project-based learning experience is the driving question. You could simply ask students to research a specific topic, but a driving question offers purpose. PBL driving questions include a who, an action, and identifies the purpose of the experience or the audience that is impacted by the experience.
1. How could my class educate the local community about, and include the community in preventing human interference with local wildlife?
The big difference between this driving question and simply researching the topic of eagles as a local predator, is in the purpose. The purpose is to bring the community together to work toward a common interest, which is protecting local wildlife.
Check out Experiential Learning Depot's guided project-based learning resources here.
How to Write a Testable Question for an Scientific Inquiry Investigation:
Scientific inquiry investigations are my favorite! I'm a science teacher, so yes, I may be biased. But experimentation does not have to be limited to science. Sometimes the best way to investigate an idea is to test it. Students can test concepts in psychology, sociology, consumerism, economics, cooking, and more.
Experiments require a testable question. Questions are developed with cause and affect in mind. How does this affect that.
For example, "What is the effect of the presence of humans on the likelihood of an eagle returning to its prey?"
I am in the process of putting together an introduction to experimental design resource. This resource includes a step-by-step guide for student-designed experiments, including writing testable questions. Students then design and conduct their own experiments on the theme of consumer products. I will be launching this resource in the next couple of days! Follow Experiential Learning Depot on TPT to get an alert when it has been published.
Asking questions is inquiry. I hope this has been helpful in paving the way for purposeful student-asked inquiry questions that launch outstanding inquiry experiences. Reach out anytime with questions.
In what ways do your students find the questioning process challenging? What are some successes or favorite inquiry questions you have heard in your time as an educator? Share your stories!
Experiential learning is student-centered. The child learns from experiences that are personalized, hands-on, meaningful to the child, and student-led. They construct meaning through exploration of their own passions and ideas. Inquiry is a great experiential learning activity that hits these points.
Questions steer inquiry-based learning experiences. For example, a testable question is needed for a scientific open-inquiry experiment, a driving question is a catalyst for project-based learning experiences, and so on. But developing a good driving question starts with observations. Look back at this post to learn more about great inquiry-based learning experiences such as project-based learning.
Making observations seems like a fairly straight forward concept. "What do you observe?", right? But children need a little scaffolding and direction. There are ways to set the stage for successful observation-making, which ultimately motivates driving questions that students care about (next weeks post will be about asking questions for inquiry-based learning experiences).
If you're looking for ways to get students making detailed observations that lead to inquiry learning experiences, then you've come to the right place.
Click here for inquiry resources.
Making Observations that Lead to Inquiry-Based Learning Experiences
Practice Making Detailed Observations Using Senses
You could simply say, "Okay, take a look around. What do you notice? What do you see?" That's great, and might work for a minute. But kids tend to focus on the obvious at first.
"I see walls", for example.
Okay, what do the walls look like? What colors are the walls? Are they tall or short? Are they all the same length? Are there windows? Is there anything on the walls? Does anything about the walls surprise you? Now feel the walls. Describe the texture. Are there any inconsistencies in the texture? Are they hot or cold? Tap on the walls. What sound do you hear? Does the sound change when you tap on different spots?
You get the point. It's easy to say "I see walls". Yes, your student is technically making an observation. But what question(s) could that lead to? Help them practice making detailed observations so that asking questions for future inquiry investigations becomes more fluid and natural.
How to do this:
Scaffold and Facilitate
A huge part of teaching students how to make observations is to be there to support the process. The job of an experiential educator, and therefore, facilitator of inquiry-based learning experiences, is not to tell students what to observe, but to help them develop the skills to make these discoveries on their own.
How to do this:
Set the Stage
Ideally you would spark observations by setting up a stimulating environment. Sure kids could observe their school walls, but there are much more interesting ways to engage learners in making observations.
How to do this:
Check out these other posts on inquiry-based learning from Experiential Learning Depot, as well.
Where do you struggle with inquiry-based learning? What holds you back, prevents you from doing more, or presents the biggest challenge?
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I went through my teaching licensure program in 2007. At that time, the main objective was to train us to be leaders in inquiry-based learning. I never questioned why inquiry was so heavily emphasized, I just did what I was told (ironically).
Inquiry allows learners to construct an understanding of the content or concepts through observation, questioning, exploration, experimentation, and so on. As you saw in my last blog post, there are many ways to implement inquiry-based learning experiences into your curriculum.
After 13 years in education, I now understand why my professors were obsessed with inquiry. I knew the what and the how; what inquiry was and how to facilitate inquiry learning experiences. But I didn't know why, and I didn't ask.
But the "why" is equally as important. If you don't know why you're doing something, why would you do it at all? I trusted that my professors had a great reason for harping on inquiry, and I'm glad I did, because the "why" is powerful, especially when it comes to teaching 21st-century learners.
Inquiry-based learning offers so much more than content development. It creates opportunities for building skills that are CRITICAL to thrive in this fast-paced, technology heavy, information inundated society that we live in. This picture that I've painted is the now and it is the future for our students.
So the "why" do inquiry-based learning for me lies heavily in the skills that come out of it. Inquiry experiences help students build a hefty portfolio of skills, but I'm going to go over a few of my favorites. Before getting into this post, it might help to go back and read my inquiry intro post.
Top Five 21st-Century Skills Gained Through Inquiry-Based Learning
Inquiry encourages resourcefulness. The process requires students to gather information on their own rather receive information through direct instruction. Some inquiry experiences, such as project-based learning, ask students to explore topics and investigate questions by reaching out to community experts and organizing authentic learning activities. Utilizing and collaborating with the community is one way to practice being resourceful.
This is absolutely one skill that cannot be acquired through didactic instruction. For students to be self-directed, they need to self-direct, to make their own choices as part of the learning process. Inquiry-based learning sets the stage for self-direction. Students can choose their questions and determine how they will gather information. This is especially true with self-directed project-based learning and scientific open-inquiry investigations.
3. Critical Thinking:
This 21st-century skill comes up often. Critical thinking is arguably the most important 21st-century skill because it applies to so many facets of life. Inquiry-based learning is an effective way to advance critical thinking skills. Problem-based learning, scientific experimentation, STEM, and project-based learning all pave the way to questioning. They encourage students to challenge what they think they know. Students objectively evaluate their experiences, observational phenomena, and real-world issues.
I often hear people say that they're not creative, they weren't born that way, or they're not the creative one in the family. This just isn't true. Creativity is a skill that can be developed with practice and opportunity. Inquiry-based learning is that opportunity. STEM and maker education are two great learning experiences that promote creativity.
For example, one of my STEM challenges is for students to develop a plant prototype that can successfully "cross-pollinate" with "wind". Students design and build their own prototypes, try them out, fail, make creative adjustments, and try again. There would be little opportunity for creative thinking if I had given a PowerPoint presentation on wind pollinator adaptations instead of facilitating this STEM activity.
There are so many great learning experiences that promote problem-solving, problem-based learning being the most obvious. With PrBL, students heavily investigate and assess one issue, question people on a spectrum of perspectives related to the issue, and figure out the most effective way(s) to solve the problem. STEM and design thinking are also great inquiry activities that utilize problem-solving skills. Students investigate the concepts and put those concepts into practice. If something doesn't work as they thought, they ask how the problem can be solved and fix it.
Before I go, check out this simple inquiry activity. The video below shows a mixture of cornstarch and water. When handled, it feels like a liquid at times and a solid at other times. It is a non-Newtonian fluid. A Newtonian fluid is one described as having the properties of an ideal liquid. A cornstarch and water mixture is not that! This challenges our observations and experiences around states of matter, inspiring questioning and the desire to explore the concept!
This video along with the guiding questions is an example of an inquiry activity that offers the opportunity to practice resourcefulness, self-direction, critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving, among others. Try it out and use it as inspiration for your own inquiry activities!
If you appreciate this kind of guiding prompt, subscribe to my email list to gain access to my free experiential learning resource library, which includes short activities like this one. You also receive a free Project Assessment e-Portolio that students can use to showcase their cumulative work in one space.
1. What do you observe?
2. What does this video make you wonder?
3. What do you believe the mixture is made of?
4. Does the content of this video remind you of something else or an experience that you have had in the past?
5. Do you think the material is a liquid, solid, both, neither, something else entirely?
6. If you aren't sure, how could you find out?
There are so many more skills that can be refined by doing inquiry-based learning. I encourage you to check out my 21st-century skills portfolio resource (printable and digital options) where students can compile evidence of skill-building and showcase their achievements. Inquiry activities could be that evidence!
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Almost every learning experience that I facilitate with my own children and my high school students centers around inquiry. Direct instruction is rare.
Inquiry-based learning is a powerful learning tool for so many reasons. It is a child-centered learning experience where students construct their own explanations of variety of concepts. Students do this by making observations, drawing on their own experiences, identifying assumptions, asking questions, experimenting (in some cases) and comparing their personal assessment of the information to current expert thought.
The benefits? Students are engaged. Isn't this THE educator conquest, to engage students? My kids' eyes glaze over when I talk at them. Talk with them, or better yet, don't talk at all. Let them do the talking; the exploring. Inquiry is an experience. Lecture is not.
If children are not experiencing the content, they're not invested. The passion for learning fizzles and students become disinterested, apathetic, bored, and yes, disengaged. My goal as a teacher is to create a learning environment for my students that offers the exact opposite of all of those barriers to deeper learning.
So let's take a look at exactly what inquiry-based learning is, and some great activities to get you started.
Before moving on, let's clarify the different levels of inquiry. Inquiry falls on a spectrum.
If you and your students are new to inquiry, it often helps to start with structured experiences, then move onto guided, until they are confident and ready for open. That's one way to do it. Or they can just dive right in and embrace the trial and error!
So without further ado, let's go over some awesome instructional methods that emphasize inquiry.
5 Game-Changing Inquiry-Based Learning Activities
Inquiry is at the heart of each of the following instructional approaches. These are the ones that I use the most often, but there are certainly others. Peruse your options and try out a few that get you excited. Good luck!
1. Project-Based Learning:
Students investigate a topic, which includes asking a driving question, reaching out to community experts, and arranging authentic learning experiences. Students demonstrate learning in an innovative way and present their information to an authentic audience. Get PBL details by perusing these posts.
Students are not given information directly from the educators mouth during PBL. They make their own discoveries by engaging with the community in a deep and meaningful way. My PBL advisory students spend the bulk of their time doing open-inquiry PBL. They determine the project topic, design the experience, and lead it from start to finish. I do more guided-inquiry PBL experiences in my subject classes, such as env. bio. I offer a theme or set of standards to focus on, and the students plan the rest of their experience. Check out some of those resources here.
I commonly use scientific-inquiry in my science classes. Rather than give students a recipe lab experiment, where they follow step-by-step instructions and the results are uniform and expected, students design and execute their own experiments based on their personal observations and questions.
This is not a strategy reserved exclusively for science classes. I have a psychology PBL resources that includes conducting an experiment and writing a lab report as a final product option. I also have an intro to inquiry resource coming out this week about consumer products.
An example of a guided-inquiry experience would be asking my psychology students to design and conduct experiments that fall under the theme of social norms. My students do this to practice experimental design. Down the line they conduct open-scientific inquiry experiments by choosing their own topics. Check out my open-scientific inquiry tool kit if you prefer to go the open route.
3. Problem-Based Learning
Problem-based learning is when students investigate real-world and relevant issues in an authentic way. They talk to people from every point of view, question experts, research old and new strategies for tackling the issue, and add novel ideas of their own. They formulate a hypothetical comprehensive plan to solve the issue, or if you choose, it does not have to be hypothetical.
These experiences make a profound and lasting impact on students because they have become such a part of the issue. You can take it a step further and have students conduct community action projects, where their plans become a reality rather than a hypothetical.
Again guided vs. open is simply a difference in the guidelines that are offered. To see an example of a guided-PrBL experience, check out this one on invasive species. For open-PrBL experiences, check out my tool kit.
4. Making/Design Thinking:
Making has become one of my favorite inquiry activities. Sometimes you just need a quick, but powerful learning experience. This is it. Maker education is more than crafting or DIY. The experience should incorporate principles of design thinking, which includes building, yes, but takes it a few steps further than that. Students make a prototype, test it out on a relevant audience, tweak their design, test it again, and the cycle continues until they have a useable, effective final product.
Inquiry comes in as students create their prototypes and during the trial and error phase. They ask questions while researching effective designs. They ask questions while creating their prototypes: "what is working well?; what isn't working well?; "what could I change or alter to make my prototype more effective?"; and so on.
For more information about maker education and design thinking check out these posts. You can also check out my guided-inquiry maker projects and my open-inquiry maker tool kit.
STEM is another instructional approach that incorporates inquiry. STEM activities can span several weeks of deep exploration or cover a one-hour class period. I like the flexibility of STEM.
STEM activities follow a similar pattern as the one I described in #4, maker/design thinking. During this process of trial and error students ask questions and test their prior understanding of a concept. Their assumptions get flipped upside down. What they thought they knew is challenged. Your students then alter their line of thinking based on what they're experiencing, and this goes on and on until they have constructed an understanding of the concepts on their own, without you having to deliver it verbatim.
For more on STEM, take a look at these posts. For an example of a STEM resource, check out my students' favorite STEM challenge, Wind Pollinator Adaptations.
There are other ways to execute inquiry-based learning beside the ones that I mentioned here. I have an inquiry activity about climate drivers that does not seamlessly fit into any of the categories included above.
Inquiry does not function on strict rules. That is the beauty of it. Do what you want! Try some things out. Look for what inspires curiosity and gets your kids excited. Organize learning experiences that ask students to actively think, explore, and investigate, vs. passively sitting back while information flies through one ear and out the other. You will not regret it!
When you subscribe to Experiential Learning Depot you get instant access to a growing free resource library. There you will find inquiry prompts that inspire curiosity! Subscribe to receive a welcome email with the library password.
Visit us next week or our second post in our inquiry-based learning series.
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My very first teaching job (my one-and-only) was at an experiential school, where we used project-based learning as the dominant "instructional" approach. I had zero training in project-based learning when I started.
Because my project-based learning experience was limited, I didn't have a choice but to launch PBL on the first day of my teaching career, whether I was experienced or not - whether I was ready or not. Not surprisingly, it all worked out. Here I am, 13 years later, trying to encourage you take the same plunge.
There are several common reasons that make educators reluctant to try project-based learning: 1) they don't know how to coordinate PBL experiences, 2) they lack the confidence to facilitate PBL, 3) they wonder how it can work for a variety of learners, 4) they worry about the time-commitment, and 5) they struggle to work in all of the required standards.
Even after ten years as a project-based educator, I still get it wrong sometimes. Often, if I am being honest. Like anything in teaching (or in life, for that matter), we learn as we go, and the biggest hurdle is getting started.
Getting Started is the hardest part. I have taken it upon myself to myth bust the excuses that prevent educators from getting into project-based learning. Check out the commonly sited hesitancies below, and how to get around those concerns
Common Worries About Starting Project-Based Learning
1. "I don't know how to do project-based learning.":
There are specific components of PBL that are important to understand before undertaking the process with your students. Project-based learning is very different than a project. The short explanation is that PBL incorporates the community, emphasizes real-world topics or issues, and includes authentic learning experiences from how students demonstrate learning to who they share their new skills and knowledge with.
What can you do right now to learn more about PBL?
2. "I'm don't feel confident starting project-based learning."
I understand this feeling. It is hard to be confident about something that is new to you. On the upside, the worst that could happen is that something doesn't go the way you thought it would. If this is the worst thing that could happen, you are right on track. Trial and error is a good thing! To get better at something you have to try it and learn from it.
What can you do right now to gain confidence?
3) "How do I differentiate project-based learning?"
Project-based learning, when student-directed, is personalized by nature. It works for AP and IB students, homeschool learners, kids that are schooling on the road, distance learners, ELL students, and more. Students design their own projects based on their interests, needs, backgrounds, strengths, challenges, and more.
For example, if you are focusing on ecosystems, each student could choose one type of ecosystem as their project topic, choose how they will gather information, demonstrate learning, who they will share their new skills and knowledge with, and so on. Choice in process and outcome is what differentiates the experience.
What can you do right now to make PBL work for YOUR student population?
4) "Doesn't project-based learning take a lot of time? I don't think I could fit in in."
This a common perception from educators about many experiential learning activities, including PBL, that they take too much time away from checking off the mandatory standards (look at #5 for more on standards).
Yes, project-based learning experiences can take weeks. That is because they require students to dig deep, which is a good thing! You could lecture, give students a worksheet, or even assign them a project that is not an authentic PBL experience, but students would likely forget the information quickly, and that is if they ever absorbed (or even heard) that information to begin with. It is necessary and IMPORTANT that PBL takes time.
The question still remains, then, how can you fit it into your day?
5) "How can I cover all of the required standards and do PBL at the same time?"
I wish that this didn't have to be a concern for teachers, but it is the reality - in the U.S., anyway.
So how do you incorporate standards into a project-based learning experience AND cover the unrealistic number of standards that is expected of you?
Design one project that covers an entire "unit" of standards. For example, my environmental science students do a PBL experience on endangered species every year. Their objective is to put together a comprehensive species protection plan for their chosen species. To do this successfully, students would have to learn about the natural history of the species, their behaviors, threats, habitat, territory, and more.
Because endangered species are largely the result of human activity, this PBL experience covers a large number of - if not all of - the NGSS's "Earth and Human Activity" standards - six of them (HS-ESS3-1 through 6) as well as others about ecology, evolution, climate, and more.
If possible, create a list of concept map of the standards that need to be met, and design projects using my PBL tool kit that incorporate many of the standards at once.
Self-directed project-based learning is not reserved for homeschoolers and project-based learning schools. It is for everyone. Those of you that are tied to specific curriculum may have to do some convincing to higher-ups, but I assure you, it's worth it.
If you cannot make project-based learning the norm in your learning environment, try to slip a few PBL experiences in here and there. You won't regret it.
Good luck to you all! Let me know how I can help, any questions I can answer, and what you need to get rolling on PBL.
Yes! We have arrived to our final post in our distance project-based learning series. It has been fun, but I'm ready to wrap it up. What better way to do that than with assessments and reflections? Makes good sense.
A newbie to project-based learning asked me this week how I test my students on content after project-based learning experiences have wrapped up. The very short and sweet answer to that question is that I don't. Testing does not improve quality of work, assess skill-development, incorporate personal and/or academic growth, or intrinsically motivate students to learn.
I understand that some educators are required to test their students, and if that is a must, then go for it. But ALSO complete project rubrics (some student-generated), provide narratives, and help learners develop project portfolios as they go. Thankfully, all of this can be done virtually using Google Apps.
My project-based learning digital resources are Google Slides that can be assigned and monitored using Google Classroom, Canvas, NearPod, and exported to Powerpoint. Unfortunately, my expertise lies in Google Classroom, so that will be the focus of this post.
I you have purchased some of my digital resources, go back and peruse the last 2-3 posts that offer step-by-step instructions and tips on assigning them using Google Classroom and communication and feedback using Google Apps.
You can also go back a bit further to look over project brainstorming, final products, community experts, and authentic presentations digitally.
How to Assess and Evaluate Project-Based Learning Experiences Digitally
So let's go over some of the project-based learning assessment strategies that I use and how to apply them virtually.
1. Project Rubrics
Self, peer, and community expert assessments are encouraged in project-based learning, and not just at the end of a project. My students use their project rubrics to self-assess throughout the project experience in order to stay on track and produce quality work.
All of my digital project-based learning resources include a generic project rubric that students can evaluate right on the slide. When peers, experts, and teachers evaluate student progress or project outcomes, students simply duplicate the rubric slide.
Students and teachers can communicate about assessments right in the Google Slides resource. Look back at last weeks post for tips on virtual communication and project feedback.
If you're only looking for project rubrics, check out my generic PBL rubric and my student-generated rubric, which works well for self-directed learning experiences of all kinds, not just PBL.
2. Project Narratives
This is an important piece of project-based learning as well. Providing a letter grade is fine, but illuminating specific strengths, challenges, and areas of growth is difficult to accomplish with a test alone. Observe students as they work. Make note of their personal accomplishments.
My students develop a personal learning plan at the beginning of the session/class. They then look back on their PLP's periodically throughout the PBL experience and again at the end of the project to reflect on whether they've met their goals, where they've improved, what they've gained from the experience, and more.
My personal learning plan is an editable Google Slides. Use this as one method of including a teacher narrative and student-reflection piece to project-based learning experiences.
3. Project Portfolio
Rather than demonstrate learning through testing, which I would argue gathers an inaccurate depiction of learning, have students add their project outcomes (evidence of skill-building, photos of final products, standards met, videos of students working with experts, project rubrics, student reflections, teacher narratives, etc. ) to their portfolio throughout the course of a class or learning session.
My (free) project-based learning assessment portfolio is an editable Google Slides that can be completed right online or printed and assembled into a binder. Subscribe to my mailing list and get this critical PBL assessment resource on the house.
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Project-based learning resources created by Experiential Learning Depot are largely self-directed, because that is the nature of experiential learning. Students design and direct their own PBL experiences. Your PBL projects do not have to be student-directed. You are welcome to design a PBL experience for your students.
The assumption is that if you're reading this, you are distance teaching. Whether you design a project for your students or they design it themselves, you will need to communicate and provide feedback to your students regularly. All of the following tips apply to self-directed PBL experiences, and most of them can be applied to teacher planned PBL experiences as well.
My digital resources are created in Google Slides. Assigning Google Slides to Google Classroom is super easy. Check out last weeks post on how to assign a digital copy to each student on Google Classroom.
The following PBL communication tips between students and instructors, then, exclusively applies to Google Classroom. Good luck!
Teacher and Student Communication and Project Feedback Using Google Slides Resources
Let's say your student is designing their project on my Google Slides mental health PBL resource that you have assigned them using Google Classroom, and that student is struggling to create goals. That student can type a question to you using the "comment" button in the upper right hand corner of their Slides. The comment/question will be sent directly to your email.
You can respond right from your email, or you can pull this student's resource up from Google Drive. Click on your "Classroom" folder. Open the resource that belongs to this particular student and reply to comments and questions directly to their resource. I like this avenue of communication because the comment is added precisely it applies in the resource, such as on the slide where the student is writing goals.
2. Teacher Approval Alerts/Sign-Offs
Another element in the project development process where you are needed is project approvals, and in some cases, the approval of student-generated rubrics. At any point that a student is ready for your approval, such as when they have completed their project design/proposal, they can send you an alert using the comment box noted in
"1. Questions/Feedback" above.
That alert will arrive in your mailbox. At that point, you will go into this student's resource through Google Drive as described above, to peruse their project plan and sign-off on their proposal. If you are not ready to sign-off, and the proposal needs more work or a few tweaks here and there, respond to their "comment", or alert, with suggestions.
3. Peer Approval Meetings
An approval meeting is basically a get together where a student presents their project design to a small group, other students in this case, and that small group offers suggestions for design improvements.
So how to coordinate approval meetings from a distance? In a classroom environment, I would have students present their project plans to the class or a small group. In the case of distance learning, you have a couple of options:
4. Project Circles
In my classroom, I would periodically have all of my students come to our large round table where we have class discussions, organize collaborations, and have project circles. A project circle is where students come together and present to each other on their project progress and they can offer each other feedback and suggestions for improvement.
In the case of remote or distance learning students could follow the same steps as they would for approval meetings mentioned above (conference calls and Classroom forums). They could also use other members of their household, such as siblings, to be a part of a project circle.
5. Self/Peer & Teacher Evaluations
My digital PBL resources include a rubric. Students can assess their own work directly into the resource. Teachers can go into the student's resource through the Classroom folder on Google Drive, make a copy of the rubric slide, and complete the rubric as well. Community experts can do this also if you are looking for additional feedback for your students.
6. Peer Evaluation Meetings
When student's are done with their projects, they could go through an evaluation meeting, similar to a project approval meeting. This offers students a chance to get pointers from their peers and go back and make final revisions. This improves project quality. Host peer evaluation meetings the same ways as you would approval meetings and project circles.
Throughout the year I have students add their project outcomes to a project-based learning e-Portfolio, also a Google Slides resource that can be shared using Google Classroom and filled by students online. You will communicate and add feedback to this resource the same way you would the others that I have mentioned so far. Grab this free Google Slides PBL e-Portfolio by subscribing to my mailing list.
If Covid has taught me anything it is that no parent or teacher needs any additional stressors, such as coming across kinks and hurdles to getting learning materials to students. When someone purchases a digital resource of mine, I want the process of getting the resource to students to be seamless. Troubleshooting is an additional task that no one needs right now, or ever for that matter.
I have had a couple of questions from buyers about how to get the digital resources that they're buying from me onto Google Classroom. I have since started adding instructions to all of my digital resources, but I wanted to add it here as well to give the visual folks out there some guidance.
One of my own project-based learning resources is used as the example in the tutorial below. However, these step-by-step instructions apply across the board. You can use the following steps to assign all pdf's that include a link to a digital resource.
My project-based learning resources (most of them) include a printable option with a link to a fillable Google Slides that can be assigned using Google Classroom. The following steps walk you through the process, from downloading the resource to sending a copy to each student on Google Classroom.
1. Purchase and download the resource!
The resource in this example is a community action project about mental health. It is a combination of project-based learning, problem-based learning, and service-learning. Check this one out, and others like it at Experiential Learning Depot on TPT.
2. Find the Link and Click!
After you have purchased one of my resources, you will download the pdf. The first page of the pdf in my resources contains a link and instructions to getting copies of the digital resource to your students. Click the link.
3. "Make a Copy" Prompt
Clicking on the link will pull up prompt that allows you to make a copy. Click the blue "Make a Copy" button.
4. Automatic Copy to Your Google Drive
Clicking the "Make a Copy" button will automatically deliver a copy of the resource to your Google Drive. The digital resource, in my case, a fillable Google Slides, will appear in a new tab.
5. Head to Google Classroom
Head to the class that will receive the resource on Google Classroom and click on the "Classwork" tab. Then click "Create".
6. Create the Assignment
Once you have clicked "Create", a list of options will pop up. You will click on "Assignment".
7. Assign a Copy of the Resource to Each Student
Write in a title and add a description of the product for your students. Click on the paper clip "add" button on the bottom left. Click on "Google Drive". I then click on "recents", where I find the resource that was added when I forced a copy earlier. Click on that resource from your drive to add it to the assignment. MAKE SURE to click on "Make a copy for each student". If you do not click this, a view-only resource will be sent to students.
Click "Assign" in the upper right hand corner when you're ready.
8. Student View
This is what your students will see from their end once you have assigned the resource. They will be able to click on that assignment, open their copy of the Google Slides resource, and type right into the text boxes to design their own PBL projects.
Next week I'll be adding tips on how teachers and students can communicate with each other about project-based learning experiences from Google Classroom. Distance project-based learning can be a challenge because in a classroom the teacher would be facilitating and offering feedback on progress and outcomes.
How do teachers oversee project-based learning experiences when they're not face-to-face with students? How do they approve projects? How do they provide feedback? Complete a rubric? Include self and peer assessments? All of these questions and more will be answered in next week's post. Stay-tuned.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest & Instagram, for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
What is an authentic presentation?
Some of my favorite projects over the course of my teaching career have been those that have truly embraced the idea of sharing work with a relevant and meaningful audience; those that have included an authentic presentation.
Let's say a teacher assigns students to research invasive species. Students create a poster board with information on that species and present final products to their classmates. That is a project, not PBL. They are different things.
A project-based educator, on the other hand, might have students research a specific community invasive species. Students might collaborate with a local conservationist to design and develop a tool or method to effectively remove the species from the habitat while preserving and conserving the natural ecosystem. The teacher and students organize an invasive species removal event, inviting community members to help remove the invasive species using the tools that the students have created.
This is PBL, and the invasive species removal event is the authentic presentation.
Authentic presentations in the Covid era?
We are currently in a situation that makes authentic presentations a bit more challenging. Communities are social distancing and many schools are still distance teaching. How do students share new skills and knowledge with an authentic audience when they can't physically come together to do so?
You have to go digital. I know this isn't ideal for all, but given the circumstances, it is better to do authentic presentations digitally than not at all. On the upside, sharing capabilities online are out of this world. Google apps, FlipSnack, Canva, animation programs, video and photo editing programs, websites, and more all provide a variety of sharing options. Check out last week's post on digital PBL final products.
10 Digital Authentic Presentation Ideas for Project-Based Learning
Digital authentic presentations brain dump:
Check out these authentic presentation options that will hopefully inspire you and lead you in the right direction when planning PBL experiences. There are MANY others. Think about WHO could benefit from the information or final products that your students have to offer.
If you're looking for PBL resources that include project planning templates with authentic presentation suggestions, check out my teacher facilitated, student-directed PBL resources on TPT (grades 6-12).
I also encourage you to grab my free editable Google Slides e-Portfolio where students can showcase outcomes, including authentic presentations, in one handy digital portfolio. Free when you subscribe to ELD's email list.
1. Add Final Products to a Professional/Established Website:
Don't reinvent the wheel! You could create your own website and have students add their final products to it, but a marketing campaign would have to go along with it to make an impact, especially on a relevant audience. Take advantage of someone else's network, and if possible, coordinate a mutual collaboration with this person. Check out my post on establishing a community network.
Example: Students collaborate with the Nature Conservancy, for example. Students develop tutorials on how to make and use their invasive species removal tools, compile them into a FlipSnack magazine, and ask the Nature Conservancy to publish the FlipSnack link to their website.
2. Write a Guest Blog Post:
Connect with a popular blogger that is relevant to the topic at hand. Coordinate a guest post for students to showcase their work. Again, don't reinvent the wheel!
Example: You, or your self-directed students, connect with Nikela (a conservation blogger) to arrange for a guest post. Students write mitigation plans for their invasive species of choice. Nikela becomes a coach and editor AND publishes student work to their blog.
3. Social Media Campaign:
Note the word "campaign". This wording is deliberate. Social media is a powerful and rapid mode of sharing information, but for the presentation to truly be authentic, the audience needs to be authentic as well. Time needs to be spent targeting and reaching a specific audience that can use the information or final product to their benefit.
Example: Students create a portfolio of pins, from infographics to awareness campaigns. They then create a Pinterest account about conservation, for example, not a personal account, and add boards related to conservation, such as invasive species. Students add their homemade pins to their Pinterest page and market their account to a relevant audience.
4. Youtube Guest:
Youtube is a really popular way to share information. But again, without a relevant following, Youtube is an ineffective authentic presentation option. Instead, have students connect with people that host established Youtube channels, relevant to the topic, to either co-host an "episode" or guest post videos.
Examples: Students create a mini-documentary about a specific invasive species that's negatively impacting their community. Students then connect with Youtube's Nature on PBS to get the documentary added to that channel.
5. Submit to Online Publications or Contests:
This is one of my favorite ways to have students present their final products because it encourages quality work. Students submit to teen art contests, student science publications, writing contests, STEM competitions, and more. There are many options that pop up with a simple Google search. Teen Ink is a favorite, among others.
Example: Students conduct scientific open-inquiry investigations about a specific invasive species, write a lab report, and submit their work for publication to a student-specific scientific journal.
6. Local Media:
Have students submit articles, editorials, ads, video promotions, and more to local media. The type of media will depend on the final product, but might include a local newspaper, radio station, or public television station.
Example: Students create a video advertisement that encourages viewers to do "this" or "that" to mitigate the spread of an invasive species.
7. Live Virtual Presentations:
Have students host a live radio show, present their work to a community elementary students, share their final products on a relevant organization's Facebook live, and more.
Example: Students connect with Conservation Minnesota and schedule to stream project presentations on Conservation Minnesota's Instagram live.
8. Audio Publishing:
Podcasts! I'm a sucker for podcasts. Students could take advantage of the popularity of podcasts in so many ways from guest speaking on established podcasts to creating their own episode or series.
9. Public Display:
Alright, this is not necessarily digital, but students CAN still present their work in an authentic way without being physically present. One of those ways is to display work in a relevant location.
Example: Students create posters that instruct boaters how to check their boats for zebra mussels before entering and exiting new waterways. The students then print physical copies and display the posters at boat launches across the region.
10. Participating in Virtual Events
I know, I know. Not ideal and it's getting old. But virtual events are here and are likely here to stay, so let's embrace it. There are SO many ways for students to share their work virtually these days, and Covid has increased those opportunities tenfold. Look into virtual science fairs, auctions, fundraisers, art shows, conferences, and have students participate in these online events.
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.