Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
Every season is prime time for experiential learning, but fall is one of my favorite times of year for experiential learning activities. Fall is unique in so many ways. The weather begins to change, wildlife prepares for winter, many farmers harvest their crops, seasonal illnesses begin to creep in (not my favorite), kids gear up for winter sports, fall flavors make a brief appearance, and the holiday season comes on strong.
There is so much to learn and an unlimited amount of questions to ask. Experiential learners are self-directed. That is one characteristic of an experiential learning activity that sets it apart from other approaches to learning.
Students direct the experience by asking their own questions, they choose how and where to gather information, they get involved in learning by organizing authentic experiences, they choose an innovative way to demonstrate learning, and they reflect on the experience.
Although I would prefer to have all learning experiences outdoors, that isn't always an option. For some, it's never an option. As I've said before, experiential learning activities are not exclusive to "team-building" nor "outdoor education", two common misconceptions.
Experiential education is learning through experience, indoors or outdoors. It is inquiry-based, hands-on, child-led, reflective, and active (not passive) learning. An experiential learning classroom or learning environment simply needs to promote active learning, collaboration, problem-solving, etc.
As wonderful as it would be to grab your kids and head out into the community to shadow climate scientists, study the animal behaviors associated with the changing seasons firsthand, and visit farms to participate in fall harvest (I think you should do all of these things if you can, by the way), there are other options for those that have less flexibility.
Check out some indoor and outdoor experiential learning activities below from Experiential Learning Depot that are perfect for fall. You can either take the ideas and roll with them or head to the links provided for a ready-to-go resource. The title for each activity is the resource link.
Experiential Learning Activity Ideas for the Fall Season
1) Inquiry Bingo: Fall Theme -
This inquiry-based learning resource line is a quick experiential learning activity that promotes the development of skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and research skills. Students are given questions that cannot be answered in a single Google Search. The questions in this particular resource are all related to autumn in some way.
Feel free to create your own questions and to take this idea beyond the fall theme! I have inquiry bingo experiential learning activities for a variety of themes. I have found that the best way to create questions that require some pretty serious digging and research is to work backwards. I have an answer first and develop a question around that answer by trying to figure out the answer myself.
2) Maker Project Tool Kit -
This maker tool kit provides all of the materials needed to conduct student-led maker projects from a design thinking approach. Students identify a problem and create something to solve the problem. There are plenty of problems associated with fall, such as squirrels snatching decorative pumpkins off of my porch!
3) Seasonal Adaptations -
I love approaching the topic of adaptations with project-based learning. Emphasizing the role that seasons play in organismal characteristics and behaviors makes the experiential learning activity that much more interesting.
Project-based learning starts with a PBL driving question and is experiential when designed and led by the student. This particular resource is on winter adaptations. Many winter adaptations are behaviors that take place in the fall in preparation for the upcoming winter climate, such as gathering and storing food in the fall to be consumed throughout the winter.
If you're interested in project-based learning as an experiential learning activity for fall or year-round, grab some of my free self-directed project-based learning tools to get started. You can also check out my blog posts on steps in project-based learning.
4) Species Migration -
This is another animal behavior project-based learning experience largely related to fall. Students look at the migration behaviors of a species of their choice. Many epic migrations begin in the fall. Again, project-based learning is a great experiential learning activity to study species migration, but you could easily take the concept of migration and study it using a variety of experiential learning activities.
5) Climate Science: Energy Budget -
Studying the energy budget is a great place to begin to understand seasons, weather, and climate. Why does it get really cold in Minnesota in November but it doesn't in southern Florida? Why do the days get shorter in the fall?
This particular resources is inquiry-based. Students ask their own questions about the energy budget, ask testable questions, design an experiment to answer that question, and conduct their experiments. This is an experiential learning activity because it is student-led. Students construct knowledge by making observations, asking questions, and experimentation.
6) Scientific Open Inquiry Tool Kit -
My scientific open inquiry tool kit includes all of the materials needed to guide students in self-led scientific inquiry experiments. I love this one for fall because you can simply take students out into your school yard or backyard at home to make observations, ask questions, and study and experiment with questions related to autumn.
Fall scientific inquiry can be done inside as well, such as experimentation with changing leaf colors, pumpkin decomposition, seed germination conditions, and more.
7) Hometown Tour -
Fall is the starting-off point to a string of holidays, which often means out-of-towners come to visit. Have students create a special hometown tour for their holiday visitors using the principles of project-based learning. This experiential learning activity is so personal, which makes it fun and engaging for the students.
8) Upcycled Lounge Area -
America Recycles Day is around the corner! Although November should not be the only day to pay attention to our global waste problem, it presents a reminder. Have students design and create a lounge area for their school or home using trash. Recycle, upcycle, or restore household items that would otherwise end up in a landfill
This is a great example of a maker project from a design thinking approach. Students look at a real-world problem and create something as a solution to the problem. Check out these other awesome upcycling project ideas for inspiration!
9) Resume Builders -
Fall is a great time for juniors and seniors to start thinking about their goals and aspirations beyond high school. I love using this time to help students build their resumes. There are a variety of great resume builders out there, and those that are hands-on are experiential by nature. Check out these experiential resume builders for high school students.
10) Senior Projects-
Fall is also a great time to start comprehensive, life-changing senior experiences. My seniors are required to do a senior project to graduate, and. we always start senior projects right away in the fall when school begins. My students explore careers, build career portfolios, design and lead their own community actions projects, and more. This is the most life-changing, profound, and meaningful experiential learning experience that my students have in their time with me. I highly recommend a senior project of some kind.
If you'd like to get a good idea of what my senior project looks like and are thinking of getting started, but aren't sure where to start, first grab my free senior experience implementation spreadsheet. This will give you a jolt of inspiration and confidence to implement senior projects with your juniors or seniors.
11) Community Action Projects -
Fall is rich with reminders of peace, kindness, and giving. Although teaching gratitude is always important, Thanksgiving and the upcoming "gifting" holidays are nice reminders. Community Action Projects require that students learn about a community issue that is important to them and give back to that cause by getting involved.
One of my favorite community action projects of all time was when my students organized and led an apple pie fundraiser. Apples are HUGE in the fall where we live. They coordinated with a local orchard to take the "imperfect" apples, made their own pies, and sold in them in the community around the holidays. They donated proceeds to a local charity.
12) College Exploration Activity -
Fall is also a great time to start thinking about college for those interested in taking that track. Check out this free experiential learning activity on college exploration.
13) Mini-PBL Travel Brochure -
Again with the holidays! Along with holidays often comes travel. This resource is a great experiential learning activity for those traveling this fall. Combine learning with travel! This resource is free as are many of my educational travel resources. Head to my store home page for more free travel resources.
14) Learn a New Skill -
I don't know about where you live, but it gets pretty chilly in the fall around here. It's a great time of year to pick up new hobbies to survive the impending winter with grace. Encourage students to learn to knit, bake, identify migrating birds or local tree species, ski, write poetry, or even build a fire! All in the name of keeping busy during the cooler, darker months of fall and winter.
This experiential learning activity is project-based. It is a great resource for project-based learning beginners.
15) Heritage Project -
I always do this experiential project with my students in the fall, and I do that for a couple of reasons. One, it's the beginning of the school year, and this project, more than any other, really helps me learn about my students and who they are as individuals. It's an important relationship builder.
I also like to do it around Thanksgiving because it reminds students of their own family traditions, which they are proud to showcase in their project exhibits.
16) Zoo Field Trip Bingo -
If you can take kids on field trips, do it! Fall is a great time for it. Bring this free bingo game along with you to the zoo as a way for students to learn animal diversity vocabulary by connecting them with a real-world experience.
If in-person field trips are not an option for you at the moment, consider adapting this resource to work for a virtual field trip. There are many zoos that have virtual tours. Have students use this bingo game virtually!
17) Ecology Scavenger Hunt -
This free outdoor ecology vocabulary scavenger hunt mini-project gets learners experiencing nature, even in their own backyard, and even in the cold. This experiential learning activity makes getting outside in the warm, summer months very easy. But it's an excuse to get your kids out there in the fall and winter months as well, to not only see that there is still action in the fall, but that action looks much different in the fall than it did three months ago.
Enjoy the last of the fall colors and mildish temperatures with these projects. Again, if you're not able to purchase the resources, head to my store to check out the freebies, and/or use the basic ideas and run with them. Experiential learning is child-led, so the resources help you facilitate those experiences.
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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.