Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
'Tis the season for road trips! Whether it be a spring camping trip with students, a summer road trip with your own children, or a cross country trip with just you and your dog, take full advantage of learning activities for road trips along the way.
Learning is powerful beyond the walls of a classroom. Hitting the road opens doors to learning experiences that couldn't be achieved in a classroom.
There are many gears at work that make road trips possible such as planning, packing, navigating, financing, and more. Involving students in educational travel, these steps in particular, gives them the chance to apply skills and knowledge in a real-world context.
Travel gives students the wherewithal to figure things out regardless of the situation or changing circumstances. If one gets lost while traveling, they have no choice but to find their way. It might put a wrench in plans, but this is a learning experience in itself.
Learning naturally happens all the time, especially when traveling. But adding a learning activity such as project-based learning amplifies the experience and adds opportunities for skill-building and content development.
When leading an educational travel experience, having purpose, expectations, structure, and guidance is important, which is why I add learning activities to road trips.
I personally require my high school student travelers to complete student-directed PBL projects that are relevant to the trip at hand.
The following is a list of learning activities for road trips. They are intended to be adaptable, modifiable, and work across the board with all skill levels, age groups, backgrounds, and more. They are learning activity ideas for students to do on road trips to bring learning and travel together.
Project-based learning, which I've mentioned before, is one of the easier ways to incorporate intentional learning into travel experiences. Check out my educational travel project-based learning toolkit to help guide students through the process of student-directed project-based learning from the design stage to the reflection and assessment stages.
Good luck! I'd love you to add any ideas not listed here. This list is certainly not exhaustive. If you have your students or children do any of these learning activities for road trips this spring or summer I'd love for you to share the experience!
20 Learning Activities for Road Trips
1. Create a Tour Using Google Maps
Learners could plot points and narrate a tour on Google Maps for just about anything from restaurants to overlooks to birding spots along the way.
I wrote a blog post a while back about using Google Maps in project-based learning. Check that out for more specific ideas.
2. Scientific Inquiry Experiments
Students could ask a question about their route and collect data as they go. For example, a student may want to conduct biodiversity sampling from a variety of different habitats. I took students to California a few years ago to study the starkly contrasting ecosystems in the state.
We traveled by car around the state collecting climate and biodiversity data. I also drove students through Florida studying the diverse marine ecosystems along the way.
These are just examples. There is an infinite number of questions your learners could ask and test on the road. If you're interested in inquiry-based learning but would like some guiding materials, check out the toolkit offered in my store.
Students could create a physical scrapbook by adding photos with captions and collecting and adding artifacts from the trip such as museum stubs or souvenirs.
Students could also find a digital scrapbooking program such as Shutterfly. Shutterfly is a photo program where you can create photo books. They can be costly. Students could use any number of free programs as simple as Google Slides or the free version of Canva.
Have students document some relevant current events using photography as their medium. This could be on any number of topics in politics, art, culture, humanities, etc. An example would be documented evidence of an upcoming election. There may be events taking place in towns along the way, campaign signs littering yards, or billboard advertisements splattered along freeways.
Have your students create a trip budget that includes lodging, gas, food, activities or tours, etc. Challenge students by encouraging them to keep the trip under a certain amount of money. It might also be cool to have students create a blog post on tips and tricks to pinching pennies on the road.
Check out this life skills resource that challenges students to plan a road trip on a budget.
6. Design and Create Road Trip Games
Road trips can get long. Ask your students to create a game before the trip begins that they can play in the car. The challenge is making sure the game is road trip appropriate such as keeping it compact, limiting small pieces, and making sure it can be played while seated.
You could also have students create a game that is inspired by the trip such as gathering information about small towns on their route and writing trivia questions about their stops.
Students could also keep a written journal. I have done this on every trip I've ever taken, even as an adult. It's fun to look back on them years later. I have had students do doodle journals instead of written journals as well where they articulate their experience through pictures or doodles in this case.
8. Make a Cookbook
All cities have cuisine unique to their region, or types of food they are known for. Determine food staples in different towns/cities along your trip, learn how to make those dishes, and create a cookbook.
For example, if I planned a road trip through the midwest I might learn how to make deep dish pizza (Illinois), pasties (Michigan), hot dish (Minnesota), and cheese curds (Wisconsin).
Capturing the travel experience with photos is an obvious road trip learning activity. Just because it is obvious doesn't make it any less valuable. When taking pictures you see things differently than you would if you weren't trying to get the perfect shot.
You notice more, learn to ask questions, and go to greater lengths (such as climbing this hill just a little bit higher) to get that perfect shot. Students would experience the trip from a unique perspective.
Try landscape photography, wildlife photography, environmental portraits, etc. and create a gallery as an end product.
10. Create a Trip Inspired Playlist
Travelers could do this road trip activity in a couple of different ways. One option is to create a music playlist for the road trip that is related to the trip in some way. Maybe the list includes songs from musicians born in one of the areas you are visiting, for example.
Another option is to make a playlist as more of a trip reflection. Travelers look back on the trip and connect songs to meaningful experiences had on the trip.
Click here for a free travel reflection template.
11. Creative Writing
Students could write a book of poetry, a short story, a children's book, a graphic novel, a song(s), a comic, etc. inspired by experiences that they had on their road trip. This option is more of a way to showcase learning, but there are a lot more ways to incorporate writing into the experience.
For example, a student might write music lyrics about the history of particular towns they will visit on their road trip.
12. Make Postcards
Students can make their own postcards of stops along the way with any number of art mediums such as photography, drawing, painting, charcoal, etc. They can then send their postcards to friends and family as they travel.
13. Social Media Documentation
The great thing about technology today is that students can share their experiences in real-time, and all of them know how to do it! They could do Facebook Lives, write daily blog posts, keep an updated website, vlog and add to Youtube, add experiences to Instagram Stories, and so much more.
Students can document their trips as they are on them and post updates for friends and family to follow along as they travel. I had my students do this on school trips with me. We published a blog post at the end of each day of the trip.
My students have mostly blogged in the past, but they could have also vlogged, made a podcast, a documentary, or simply provided updates on their own social media sites.
I took students on a bio trip to Costa Rica a few years ago and we blogged about the experience right here on Experiential Learning Depot's website - check it out.
Before students take the trip, ask them to contact organizations along the route that reflects their interests. For example, students interested in environmental science or nature may be interested in cleaning up road litter along the way or plastics washed up along beaches.
Students can conduct service-learning projects by identifying needs in the communities they will visit, and serving to meet those needs.
Check out this service-learning project tool kit that helps students design and lead their own service-learning projects.
15. History Projects
Have students do project-based learning experiences on the history of places they visit on their road trip. Students might want to know how the infrastructure of towns have changed over the past 100 years, the history of the people and changing demographics, the history of specific monuments located in each town they stop, or even the history of particular buildings such as lighthouses, factories, schools, or abandoned buildings.
16. Economics Projects
Have students explore certain aspects of the economy along the route. One example is to investigate the unemployment rates in different towns along the way and map the rates.
Another option is exploring major markets or industries in the cities that they visit such as tech startups, logging companies, the hospitality industry, tourism, etc. They could visit some of these companies, tour factories, interview employees, etc.
17. Art Portfolio
Students can create a portfolio of art pieces inspired by trip experiences such as drawings, watercolor paintings, collages, etc. The portfolio could be art pieces based around a theme such as landscapes, water towers, lighthouses, bridges, barns, etc. or the portfolio could just represent the trip in general.
One of my students created an adult coloring book. Her coloring pages were inspired by experiences she had or things she saw on her trip.
Interview people along the way about any number of topics and write a "news article" about that topic.
I took some of my students to the Big Island of Hawaii last year, and as we circumnavigated the island over the course of the week, several of my students interviewed locals, farmers, business owners, and more on whether they've felt any impacts of climate change or expect to in the foreseeable future.
The students then wrote an article summarizing their findings. Again, this is just one example. I am a science teacher, so many of my examples will be science-related. It doesn't mean your student's projects have to be. Let your kids get creative!
19. Collecting and Analyzing Artifacts
Have students collect and catalog any number of artifacts they find during their travels such as insects, leaves, shells, soil, rocks, flower petals, etc.
Kids can even map their findings and examine how environmental factors might play a role in which artifacts were found where. For example, they may find very different rocks at one stop than they do at another. Students could research and analyze why this might be.
20. Maker Projects/STEM
Have students observe a problem associated with car travel, such as sore backs from sitting too long, and design and create a solution to the problem.
I saw a video on Pinterest a while back about the struggle to fit road trip games in the car. Travelers could create, then, games that are space efficient. For example, they could make three-games-in-one that all have to fit inside one small box. This is an example of a product engineered to make travel easier.
Parents and students, if spring or summer travel is unrealistic because of time, money, or any other obstacle, check out some of these creative ways to get your kids traveling this summer!
Happy road tripping!
Check out more blog posts on educational travel:
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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.