My husband and I made the goal of visiting every US national park as a family before our children turn 18. My children are also distance learning at the moment and my husband and I both work from home, which makes road tripping, especially to outdoor destinations, appealing. We are, as I write this, in Great Smoky Mountains National park. I am literally typing away as my two exhausted children are passed-out beside me.
I have been heavily involved in my school's travel program since I began teaching there 13 years ago. I have taken groups of high school students to California, Hawaii, Colorado, Florida, Texas, New York City, Costa Rica, and more. I have seen how travel can impact a person. Learning, relationship-building, character development and more emerge in a way that is entirely unique to travel.
I always pair travel experiences with student-led project-based learning. Each learner asks a driving question about their destination and explores that question while traveling. They organize authentic learning experiences, interview local experts, include the community, and so on.
For example, my biology students and I took a trip to Costa Rica to study tropical biology. One of my students focused her independent PBL experience on the problem of primate death from electrocution. She found a primate sanctuary called the "Sibu Sanctuary", organized a visit, interviewed the sanctuary staff, and used their expertise to develop an awareness campaign.
Try starting with the following FREE resources. You can also look back at the dozens of educational travel posts right here on this blog by clicking on the "Student Travel" link to your right.
Grab my student-led project-based learning tool kit, a guide that helps students design, plan, and execute their own project-based learning experiences
You can also subscribe here to get my digital project-based learning portfolio where students can showcase all of their project-based learning experiences and outcomes, as well as access to my experiential learning resources library. Here you can find an experiential learning activity planner, which would be helpful for educational travel.
10 Free Educational Travel Resources
1. Educational Trip Planner
This resource is a guide to planning an educational trip. I work at a school that is student-led and project-based, so our students often play a large role in planning the trips. They use this guide to do so. It includes purpose, budget, itinerary, fundraising plans, etc. You could also use this resource hypothetically and/or for family trips with your own children.
2. Trip Project Proposal
A project proposal is a template for designing a project. Students ask a driving question or choose a topic of focus, determine research questions or categories, plan the use of community experts and authentic experiences, choose an innovative way to demonstrate learning, and more.
3. PBL Cheat Sheet
This is a helpful tool for beginner project-based learners. It gives a few ideas for innovative final products and authentic presentations. This is helpful for any project-based learning experience, travel projects included.
4. Community Expert Planner
An important part of project-based learning is connecting with real people with real expertise. This is especially pertinent when it comes to traveling experiences. It makes learning more meaningful; more personal. A community expert might be an interpreter at a National Park, a museum curator, business owners, or even locals of whatever destination you happen to be visiting. This resource is a guide to help students plan community expert meetups.
5. Educational Travel Reflection
This travel resource is one of my favorites. As an experiential educator, I find enormous value in reflecting on learning experiences, especially an experience as profound as traveling.
6. Travel Brochure Mini-Project
this learning activity can be completed at home or at school. It does not require travel. Students create a brochure for one travel destination of interest. The intention is to get students excited about traveling.
7. Ecology Scavenger Hunt
This is another activity that does not require travel, but would be a great supplement to any nature trip, such as this family trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
8. Endangered Species Project
Yet another project that doesn't require traveling, but would be an awesome addition to an outdoor travel experience where students can connect with conservationists, naturalists, politicians, landowners, and more to learn about local endangered species and protection efforts. They might even collaborate with local experts. My family and I came across California condors on our hike through Zion National Park today. California condors have a long and complicated history and have been on the endangered species list for decades. If I were doing a project on this endangered species in Zion I could talk to the naturalists, hunters, landowners, park visitors, bird enthusiasts, and more to gather information from various interests.
We don't have condors in Minnesota, so traveling to where they are and studying them in their natural habitat makes the learning experience more meaningul.
9. Graphic Organizer for Student-Led Fundraisers
Get young travelers invested in the experience by asking them to play a role in fundraising. Traveling isn't cheap, which is one of the reasons my travel resources are free! Let students take some ownership by organizing their own fundraisers. They can use this graphic organizer to brainstorm ideas and organize details.
10. Project-Based Learning Check-In Form
This free resource is a digital check-in form for project-based learning experiences. Students can communicate periodically with their instructors about project progress from home or from abroad. This feels especially important right now when distance learning families are hitting the road for vacations and/or remote learning, like my family is doing right now. Consider assigning students self-directed project-based learning to do while traveling, and use this check-in form to communicate their progress with you.
Find many more PBL resources at Experiential Learning Depot as well as my PBL Toolkit with the necessary templates for unlimited student-directed PBL projects in school, in the home, out in the community, on field trips, traveling around the world and much more.
Good luck to you, and as always, feel free to reach out for questions or comments. Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn.
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, including an introductory to experimental design resource that helps transition students to self-led inquiry investigations.
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 + my latest resource on student-led experimental design.
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?
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on TPT for new resource alerts and Pinterest & Instagram for more on experiential education.
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.