Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
Experiential learning is awesome all of the time, but experiential fall learning activities are favorites.
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 of many characteristics of an experiential learning activity that sets it apart from other approaches to learning.
Students direct the experience by asking their own questions, choosing how and where to gather information, getting involved in learning by organizing authentic experiences, choosing an innovative way to demonstrate learning, and reflecting 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 promotes 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 fall learning activities below from Experiential Learning Depot.
You can either take the ideas and roll with them or head to the links provided for a ready-to-go resource.
21 Fun and Experiential Fall Learning Activities
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 take this idea beyond the fall theme!
I have found that the best way to create questions that require some pretty serious digging and research is to work backward.
I have an answer first and develop a question around that answer by trying to figure out the answer myself.
This design thinking 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:
You don’t need to spend a ton of time yourself coming up with problems associated with autumn.
Ask your students to do it and to use the tool kit below as their guide. Simply ask them to identify problems associated with fall, and then design and build a product that solves the problem.
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 science activity that much more interesting.
Project-based learning starts with a PBL driving question and is experiential when designed and led by the student.
The specific resource I’m referring to is a ready-made PBL 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 for consumption throughout the winter.
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.
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 resource is student-led, inquiry-based experimentation.
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 experimenting.
The energy budget is also a great concept to get the ball rolling on a climate change unit.
I teach a high school climate change course in the fall and we start with the energy budget.
My scientific open inquiry tool kit includes all of the materials needed to guide students in self-led scientific inquiry experimentation.
I love this one for fall because you can simply take students out into your schoolyard 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.
Fall is the beginning of a string of holidays, which often means out-of-towners come to visit.
Have students create special hometown tours 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.
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.
I love this community action project that revolves around researching an issue related to solid waste, exploring solutions, and acting on those solutions.
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 a few weeks after school begins.
My students explore careers, build career portfolios, design and lead their own community action 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 suggestion looks like and are thinking of getting started but aren't sure where to start, head to my senior project blog series.
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.
The tool kit that you see below guides students through directing their own community action projects on an issue of choice.
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.
Again with the holidays! Along with holidays often comes travel.
This resource is a great project-based learning experience to provide travelers with a resource for holiday road trips!
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.
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!
This free, outdoor ecology vocab scavenger hunt gets learners experiencing nature, even in their own backyards, 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 earlier.
One of my favorite fall learning activities is having my students design and make their own Halloween costumes using the principles of design thinking.
They choose a costume to design with the challenge of only using upcycled materials.
I have my students develop a dinner party plan on a budget before the holiday madness ensues. Thanksgiving is a great time to get this experience rolling.
Students practice so many incredible life skills from budgeting to planning to writing and so much more.
We usually choose one plan from the group and actually carry out that plan. It becomes our school's goodbye party and meal as we head off for Thanksgiving break.
My students LOVE fundraisers.
If that's not enough of a reason to have them plan, coordinate, and host their own fundraisers, how about this?
Planning fundraisers is an incredible skill-builder and community-builder. Students can raise money for a variety of reasons from tackling a local issue to purchasing a classroom learning tool.
Fall is a favorite time to have my students plan and lead fundraisers. Supporters are attracted to seasonal fundraisers.
My students have run leaf-raking, holiday pie, and cider-stand fundraisers among many others.
The seasonal effect is real and makes it so much more fun.
And last but not least, service-learning!
First, what is service-learning? It's similar to community action projects but rather than focus on an issue that students take action on, they identify community needs and develop and carry out a plan to meet those needs.
Fall is a great time to get students going on a learning experience like this.
Again, the season of taking is upon us! Let's also show students the power and effect of giving. And, hey, they can even learn while they're at it!
Enjoy the fall colors and mildish temperatures while you still can with these learning experiences.
Again, if you're not sure about 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.