YES! Winter break is upon us (many of us), the holidays are in full-effect, and you want to spend this break, well, taking a break! This is a great time to spend time with family and friends, reflect (blog-post about reflection on the horizon), and practice self-care, so that you can head back to teaching with renewed energy and spirit! Don't spend this break planning learning activities. Take that badly needed break, and use these quick, low-prep, New Year's-inspired learning activities when you return to reality.
Each of the New Year's-inspired activities included here could be implemented on your own; you can organize the experiences yourself. If you're looking for guidance or ready-made resources to implement these same activities, click on the activity link included to get to Experiential Learning Depot resources.
10 New Year's Inspired Experiential Learning Activities
1) Set Goals Through Artistic Expression
My students are hands-on learners. That is why they end up coming to me, because they thrive in an experiential learning environment. One of the first activities I give my students after the break is a hands-on way to reflect on the year and make goals for the new year. PBL Maker Challenge: Goals Through Artistic Expression asks students to set goals and illustrate those goals artistically. They create an art piece with visuals that symbolize or represent their goals. This maker activity mixes things up a bit and really gets learners thinking about what they want and where they're headed this year. The final product can be displayed in a place that provides a consistent reminder.
2) Community Action Projects
A popular New Year's resolution or goal for the new year is to give back. Community action projects give students an opportunity to play an active role in giving back to the community. They choose an issue that they are passionate about, explore ways to make an impact, design their project, and take action. Head to Experiential Learning Depot on TpT for my community action project guide.
3) New Year's Inquiry Bingo
This resource is brand new! My inquiry bingo resource is a game best suited for middle and high schoolers that encourages inquiry. Students investigate a series of questions that cannot be answered with one simple Google Search. Finding the answer to each question requires research skills, teamwork, communication, critical thinking, problem-solving and more. This activity helps learners practice finding credible and accurate information through a variety of avenues. This particular inquiry bingo is based on a New Year's theme.
4) Dinner Party on a Budget
Although the holiday season is wrapping up, "planning" a New Year's themed dinner party on a budget (hypothetical) would not only be a lot of fun, but would be an important learning experience. One of the most common New Year's resolutions centers around personal finance. This activity is a great way to learn some important lessons about saving and budgeting.
5) Learn a New Skill
This is a GREAT project-based learning experience for educators and/or students that are new to PBL. This project is a good way to introduce project-based learning into your teaching repertoire. The new year is a great time to start fresh and try something new. Educators, maybe project-based learning is your "something new" this year. And your students can kick of the new year by learning a new skill!
6) New Year's Themed Student-Led Project-Based Learning
Well that's a mouth full! What I do with my students is child-led project-based learning. Learners choose the topic, method of gathering information, community experts, final product, community impact plan, authentic presentation plan, and can even generate their own rubrics that reflect their personal skills, goals, interests, etc. Transitioning to student-directed learning can be a challenge, as many students are accustomed to learning experiences that are designed for them. If you are interested in making the transition, use my Project-Based Learning Tool Kit to make the change much easier. Start the process by asking students to do New Year's-themed projects. They will design their own project around a subtopic of their choosing related to New Year's (history, research studies, cultural traditions, etc.)
7) History Through Artistic Expression
This is a another PBL project, and this is one of my students' favorites. Learners recreate a historical photo of their choosing. The resource, as it is written, is wide-open as far as topics go. Students can choose ANY photo from history. However, honing in on a theme, such as New Year's will make that choice a little less overwhelming, especially for those that are new to PBL. Ask students to choose a historical photo from New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. For guiding materials click on History Through Artistic Expression.
8) Behind the Scenes of a Community Event
This is another student favorite. It may be a little late in the season to get rolling on such an experience, but the gist of this project is that students choose one community event to help organize. Students go behind the scenes to help coordinate the event, or even shadow. The purpose is to invest time and energy in their own communities as well as to understand how these events come to fruition and the enormous amount of work that is involved. You could assign this project to students specifically for events going on in the community ON New Year's or to celebrate the new year. Click on Project-Based Learning: Behind the Scenes of a Community Event.
9) Current Events
This is a good learning experience to start after break. Students can research current events from New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. Once they have honed in on a current event of interest, they can design their student-led PBL project. Click on Project-Based Learning: Current Events for a guiding resource from Experiential Learning Depot.
10) 21st-Century Skills Portfolio
This project is the essence of Experiential Learning Depot. Students gain content knowledge, 21st-century skills, and social-emotional skills with this activity. They also build their resumes. Students organize authentic experiences that help them build elemental 21st-century skills, they reflect on those experiences, and they document the experiences in a portfolio that can be shared with employers, college admissions counselors, etc. Post-New Year's is a great time to start building a 21st-century portfolio. Students will be thinking about the past year and the year ahead. This project is a great way for seniors to harness the skills they will need in the coming year.
I also encourage you to check out last weeks blog post for after-break STEM activities, winter-inspired! Click on the STEM link under archives to take a peak.
Thanks for stopping by. Have a GREAT winter break, and remember to take care of yourself! Recuperate! You deserve it. Happy New Year!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on TpT, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
I don't know about you, but pretty soon here (in Minnesota) it is going to get outrageously cold outside. January is notorious for its stinging, cutting, numbing, eyelash freezing, breathtaking (literally), bitter cold temperatures. By "cold" I mean -20 degrees F for weeks at a time. That kind of cold makes it difficult to want to go outside to grab the mail let alone go out for a nature walk.
So here we are. With questionable weather and winter break on the horizon, parents and educators are going to be scrambling for some fun, stimulating indoor activities. STEM is the way to go. If you're an educator just trying to survive until winter break, try some of these STEM challenges. These activities are fun, they will occupy the antsy kiddos that are hopped up on holiday madness and break anticipation, and they are educational. STEM is a great way to learn content knowledge and build essential 21st-century skills.
The STEM challenges below are great for beginner STEM educators who might feel a tad intimidated by the prospect. I know the feeling. These activities are also adaptable for all ages and skill levels. I have done the sled challenge mentioned below with my 5 and 3-year-old, as well as with my high school students, I modify my facilitation method, level of involvement, and expectations of my learners. Tips provided below! If you're not quite sure what STEM is, head to these posts on STEM 101.
Below you'll find challenges that can be done using standard household/classroom items, trash, or recyclables. These activities are also highly flexible. If you don't have a "bigfoot" toy, for example, use something else! If you don't have a sledding hill, make one! Don't spend money, be open-minded, let kids get creative, and have fun!
Snow Day Inspired STEM Activities
1. Animal Rescue
The goal of this STEM challenge is to "rescue" an "animal" by engineering a contraption that will bring the "animal" to "safety". In other words, learners will design and build a tool that will bring a toy animal from point A to point B. I place the animal at point A, walk about 15 feet, and place a strip of electrical tape on the floor marking point B. Students cannot step over this line to rescue their animal.
I have done this activity with my own young children as well as my high school students. My children did exactly what I described above, only I added a little background story to make it more interesting - the animal was trapped on an island surrounded by lava. My high schoolers did the same activity except I used this challenge as a way to simulate adaptations and variability as they relate to natural selection. I threw a pile of paper clips on the floor (bugs), made a large circle around the paper clips using electrical tape, and asked students to make contraptions (birds) with the goal of collecting the most paper clips (bugs) from the center of the circle. The students gained content knowledge AND skills in a fun, interesting, and relevant way; my goal for any learning experience.
2. Yeti Escape
Students will make a "yeti" out of basic household/classroom materials and recyclables that will be placed on top of Sphero, like a cover. As Sphero moves, the "yeti" moves with it. The challenge is to create the fastest "yeti". If this isn't making sense, check out the pictures below. Hopefully they will clarify some things!
If you have used a Sphero you know that they are not very powerful because they are round and made of smooth plastic; they slip easily. The covers, then, need to be engineered in a way that promote quick movement, as the goal is for students to create a yeti that makes the fastest escape. My kindergartener did this challenge and had to modify his design many times playing around with yeti weight, materials, and weight distribution. Older students could design and conduct their own experiments around the same idea. They could also play around with coding Sphero. They could create a maze and code Sphero (and Yeti) to move through it. Get creative! Or give learners the freedom to lead their own learning experience using Sphero.
If you like this challenge but don't have Sphero, don't go out and buy one! Just alter the mode of transportation. A balloon car is a good option that would demonstrate similar concepts and offer the same skill building opportunities.
3. Lego Float
This is a favorite because my child initiated the experience. He was playing around with a helium balloon that he got from a birthday party. I noticed him tying LEGO figures to the balloon string. Then he began to add and remove LEGO accessories to the LEGO figure tied to the balloon. He continued to do this until the balloon hovered at a level that was within his reach. He basically eliminated the need to hop on a chair to retrieve his balloon. Problem-solving at it's finest, and completely self-led.
For children his age, then, a great activity would be to design a balloon weight using whatever materials available to keep the balloon within reach. LEGO's were great, but so are toothpicks, paperclips, cotton balls, and more. Tie this experience to lessons about mass, gravity, gas and so on, or just let kids enjoy the experience of working with their hands and solving a problem as a team. Older students could take it up a notch by, again, designing their own experiments and conducting them. This is scientific open-inquiry; a student-led scientific inquiry investigation. Click here for a scientific open-inquiry tool kit
4. Sled Race
Learners design and engineer a mini-sled with the goal of winning a sled race. This is a fun way to introduce Newton's Laws of Motion. Students take many factors into consideration including sled material, track material (you do not NEED an actual sledding hill for this experience), angle of the track, weight distribution, etc. They also practice many of the skills already mentioned that STEM challenges have to offer. I have done this with my children and my high school students. Although the outcomes were different between the age groups, the process was the same. Both groups are encouraged to fail, identify solutions, modify the design, try again, fail, and so and so on.
I recently started a STEM Challenge product line in my store, and STEM Challenge: The Great Sled Race is the first resource in the line! It includes all of the materials to guide you and your students through the experience seamlessly from start to finish.
5. Obstacle Course
This is a great one for those stir-crazy youngsters that are trapped indoors, during break, for example. This is best suited for younger children, as space is a factor. I told my children to make an obstacle course in our basement using only items that were within sight. They propped couch cushions against each other to make tunnels, placed pillows on the floor to use as stepping stones, and even added rules and a background story creating a full-blown adventure.
This may sound fairly basic, and it is. But it's one of the reasons why I love this activity. It's easy to get started, it's child-led, it involves play and make-believe, it gives kids an opportunity to practice social-emotional skills, and so on. It is even a good way to introduce some math and science concepts. For example, my 5-year-old propped two couch cushions against each other to create an A-frame to crawl through. Every time he crawled through the A-frame it would topple over. He played around with it, adjusted the angle, explored propping the pillows on different planes, and more.
6. Winter Shelter
This is another challenge that can be done across age groups and skills levels. I did this challenge with my toddler! The challenge is to build a shelter that can withstand cold temperatures using any materials that you have on hand (tin foil, styrofoam, play dough, clay, egg cartons, cardboard, etc. - one of my high school students even used snow). The goal is to build the warmest shelter. Have learners build their shelters, place a chunk of banana in their shelters, put their shelters in a freezer or outside if it's cold enough, and let them sit there for at least one hour. Take the shelters out of the cold and check the banana's temperature in each shelter using a candy thermometer.
This is a fun way to play around with the concept of heat transfer. Older students could do this exact same experiment, and mine have. They could also design and conduct their own open-inquiry investigations around this same idea. Head back up for the link to my inquiry tool kit.
7. Ski Lift
This challenge involves getting a skier (a LEGO figure is one option) to the top of a ski hill (actual snow hill or ramp of any kind) using a simple machine or a combination of simple machines. In other words, students cannot move the skier to the top of the hill with their hands. They will design and build a pulley, lever, wheel and axle, etc., that will do the job for them. Students could get as elaborate as they would like with their systems, using a combination of machines. There is no limit to ingenuity!
8. Zip Line
This is such a fun and easy challenge. It is exactly how it sounds, and is a common introductory STEM activity. My 5-year-old did this a few months ago. The goal was to get his Batman LEGO figure from one end of the room to the other by making a zip line. The number of factors to mull over in this challenge is high, including the zip line material, angle of the line, weight of the rider, friction between the line and the glider, and so on. Use this activity to teach about angles, gravity, motion, friction, and more.
9. Stuffed Animal Hotel
Again, this is exactly how it sounds! Learners build a stuffed animal hotel using cardboard as their basic framework. For younger students like my 5-year-old, building a stationary hotel is a challenge in itself. Building stairs was a hard concept to grasp as was keeping a ramp from caving in. This is a great activity for younger children to learn some geometry concepts such as shapes and angles.
Older students could add to the challenge by including several moving parts such as an elevator, lift, garage opener, etc. And rather than create a hotel for stuffed animals, toys that they most likely lost interest in long ago, have them create something more relevant to their lives such as their dream home or school. They could even extend this experience into a full-blown project-based learning experience. Check out the many posts that I have written on project-based learning for details and implementation tips by clicking on PBL in the archives. You can also head to Experiential Learning Depot on TpT for project-based learning resources.
10. Bigfoot Trap
My child has been on a bigfoot kick for years, so I only use bigfoot as the subject here because I have many bigfoot figurines in my house, AND, if you follow me on Instagram, you know that a "bigfoot hunt" has become a winter family tradition. However, you do not NEED to use a bigfoot toy for this fun challenge. Use anything!
Students will design and make a trap for bigfoot using a hodgepodge of whatever supplies are available and trap it! Placing the bigfoot or other object on a target will trigger an action that will trap bigfoot. Kids will draw from observations and experiences, test their traps, make adjustments, try again, and so on until they have created an effective bigfoot trap!
So there you have it. STEM is such a fantastic way to encourage discovery through observation, questioning, failure, and problem-solving. It organically integrates subject matter and provides opportunities to practice and build important skills. All great things. Why learn about natural selection or Newton's Laws of Motion by reading about them in textbooks when kids can learn about these concepts with hands-on experience?
What are some STEM activities that you do with your kids or students? If you try any of the STEM activities I mentioned above, I'd love a report on the experience. Let me know how it goes! Have a great break, everyone!
I have been writing this blog for a little over one year. I have spent a lot energy in that time reading books on education, talking with educators, researching pedagogy, and simply observing common trends. This post includes trends that fit my philosophy. My list of top educational trends of 2019 comes from observation and experience. I have not run any fancy analytics programs or produced any actual data. So do with that what you will. You can take it as a grain of salt, or you can try some of the trends on my list and see for yourself.
Many of the trends I list below are not new. The philosophy of the school where I have spent 12 years of my life is structured around many of these trends. These trends have had such a strong presence in the educational scene within the last couple of years because we know they work for 21st-century students. They are based on the rapidly evolving world we find ourselves in. What used to make sense or what we used to do just doesn’t make sense anymore. With the world changing as quickly as it is, we are forced to really consider these ideas. Social media and other forms of technology have completely altered the way we communicate and learn.
Notice patterns as you read the list. A few themes that I have identified include student-centered learning, hands-on learning, inquiry-based learning, connecting content with real-world issues, relationship building, student choice and voice, and technology and innovation. The overarching theme is a student-centered model necessary in developing the skills needed in the 21st-century. Therefore, I don't see these trends going anywhere. But we shall see!
Note: All resources on Experiential Learning Depot on TpT are up to 25% off until midnight tonight.
Top Educational Trends of 2019
1) Social-Emotional Learning -
"Social emotional skills" is a buzz phrase in education now because those are skills students need today, arguably more so than content knowledge. Information is at their fingertips. Impulse-control, empathy, compassion and so on are essential.
2) 21st Century Skills -
This one is highly interconnected to the other trends listed here. The others provide learning opportunities that develop the essential skills needed in the 21st century. Some examples include problem-solving skills, communication, creativity, technical literacy, and critical thinking, among others. Looking over my archives of posts, you'll find that MOST of my them are related to skill-building in some way or another. Click on the link in my archives titled "21st-century skills" for specifics. You can also check out my 21st-Century Skills Portfolio resource in my store.
3) STEM/STEAM -
STEM and STEAM are hot right now. No pun intended! - STEAM...;) Both strengthen many of the 21st century skills mentioned above. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEAM is the same but includes art. Look back at my guest posts on STEM and STEAM for details, and stay-tuned for future posts and resources on practical STEM applications.
4) Maker Education -
Maker education is a student-centered learning model that emphasizes design thinking. Learners identify everyday problems, brainstorm solutions that they can "make". They ideate, make a prototype, test their product on an authentic audience, make adjustments, and so on. This instructional approach is highly student-centered and helps learners build important skills such as teamwork and critical thinking. "Failure" is not only acceptable, but encouraged. It deepens the learning experience. Head to Experiential Learning Depot on TpT to check out my maker resources. You can also head to the archives and click on "Maker Education" for posts.
5) College and Career Readiness -
This is an important aspect of any secondary learning environment. Authentic experiences MUST be a priority. My coworker is a genius at this. She started something called a "life plan" that all students must have in order to graduate. I have a few college and career readiness resources in my store, one of which is my 21st-Century Skills Portfolio, which I already mentioned. This is a GREAT way for students to build skills and add authentic experiences to their college and career portfolios. You can also check out my project-based learning resource, Career Exploration.
6) Blended Learning -
From my understanding, blended learning is a combination of classic schooling with online learning. I'm realizing, however, that it's not that simple. I think people that practice true blended learning have a precise understanding of a much more complex picture than just a mix of tech and teacher. I think there is a little personal learning thrown in there as well, among other principles that are still a bit of an enigma to me.
7) Project-Based Learning -
My pride and joy. My entire career has been dedicated to project-based learning. Check out the blog posts I've done on PBL for details (links to some below) and check out my project-based learning resources on TpT.
8) Genius Hour/Passion Projects -
Genius hour and passion projects are two very different things. I lumped them together because students direct the experience in both. The learning experiences are interest-driven. Genius hour, for example, gives students one hour to dive deeply into one topic of their choice. I love the idea, but would love to see it change to genius day. An hour is not enough. Passion projects are similar in that students choose one topic to research. Rather than spending one hour on the topic, the students spend a significant amount of time on this project.
9) Brain-Based Learning -
The point of brain-based learning is to teach in a way or provide a learning environment that supports the brain and cognitive development. This comes up often in the debate about whether kindergarteners need to be or should be learning to read and write. It also includes the very popular whole-brain teaching strategy. Brain-based learning means taking into consideration what the brain needs (safety, camaraderie, enrichment) and what it doesn't need (shaming, humiliation). The philosophy of my school is based on the child's brain and cognitive development, which is why we take an experiential approach.
10) Trauma Informed Practices -
I don't know enough about trauma informed practices, unfortunately. I have worked with at-risk students for almost 12 years. Every one of them has experienced one or more traumatic experiences in their lives, yet I'm still ill-equipped to help. Number 9 and trauma informed practices are interconnected; they go hand-in-hand. Understanding how trauma impacts the brain is essential. If you're interested in trauma informed teaching, ACES is a great place to start. I also recommend reading the book "Eyes are Never Quiet". If you have any resource or training suggestions that are about trauma informed teaching, leave it in the comments!
11) Alternative Grading Systems -
This concept is simple. Some schools are starting to move away from A-F grading systems. Many combine letter grades with portfolios. Others have eliminated grades all together and complete narratives for each student instead. Others combine the two. The purpose is to reduce academic related stressors. Check out my post on colleges that have moved to alternative grading systems.
12) Personal Learning -
Personal learning focuses on the student. It addresses student needs and skill levels in addition to backgrounds, homelife, learning styles, intelligences, and most importantly in my opinion, INTERESTS. Students are designing their own educational journey with teachers there to facilitate. Check out my posts on personal learning for details.
13) Problem-Based Learning -
Rather than students receiving a lecture with numbers and stats on an assigned issue, students identity real-world issues that are relevant to their own interests and realities, they learn about the issue by making their own observations, they ask questions, explore the issue, brainstorm solutions and propose the solution to an authentic audience. The number of 21st-century skills developed in problem-based learning is astounding. Head to my store for problem-based learning resources, including my student-directed tool kit.
14) Lifelong Learning -
Lifelong learning encompasses all of the trends listed here in one. It is having the tools to learn long after "schooling" is over. College and career readiness, 21st-century skill building, social-emotional learning, brain-based learning, etc. all instill a passion for learning. When students WANT to learn, when they KNOW HOW TO learn, they will continue to learn throughout their lives.
15) Growth Mindset -
There is a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. A growth mindset acknowledges that skills can come through hard work and determination vs. fixed mindset which is the opposite. Promoting and encouraging a growth mindset with students is a major trend right now, and I can see why.
16) Self-Assessments -
This is when students take an active role in a learning outcome. Students grow by periodically self-assessing. They learn how to fail, pick themselves back up, go back to the drawing board, modify and try again. To take it a step further, students can even create their own assessments. I have my students create their own project rubrics. That rubric template is available in my TpT store. Check it out here - Student-Generated Project Rubric.
17) Authentic Learning -
I've already mentioned authentic learning several times in this post because so many of the trends that I've listed here depend on them. Authentic learning experiences are those that are relevant to the topic and the student. Project-based learning can be distinguished from other approaches to learning by its emphasis on authentic experiences.
18) Homeschooling, Worldschooling, Outschooling, Road Schooling, Unschooling!
I have always been curious about homeschooling. I left my full-time teaching job three years ago to be home with my kids. I started this blog, started an Experiential Learning Depot Instagram account, and was instantly blown away by the homeschooling presence on Instagram. Of course, homeschooling is not a novel concept, but I do think it is becoming more common, and access to social media outlets make it apparent just how popular home education has become. The variety of homeschooling styles is vast, and almost all of those styles encompass the experiential philosophy, of which I am, of course, a huge fan. I am so fascinated by worldschooling right now and hope to worldschool my own children someday. For now I will continue to live vicariously through the hundreds of thousands of worldschoolers and other home educators on Instagram! ;)
19) Student Leadership
This post is an updated version of last years post, "Educational Trends of 2018". A reader commented last year that I should add student leadership when it comes to school improvement. My response to him at the time was that I wasn't sure if student leadership trended in 2018, but I wished that it would in 2019. Personally, I don't see students taking the lead when it comes to school improvement as a common occurrence. It doesn't mean that it's not happening. If you know of cases, schools, instances, where students are taking leadership roles in school improvement, I would love to hear more about that. Drop your comments.
There are, of course, more trends in education than what I listed here. The ones that I listed are my favorites and those that I believe are worth nurturing and fortifying. What are your favorite education trends of 2019?
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Happy New Year, Everyone!
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.