Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
If you were to ask me, "how can I make my summer school program fun and engaging?" (and not just fun and engaging for the kids), I would say, "make personalized, self-directed project-based learning the foundation of your summer school program".
It doesn't matter what subject you teach, whether you're a classroom teacher or a home educator, or whether you're a rural or urban educator. My answer would be the same across the board. No question. Run a project-based summer school program.
In my experience, which is 14 years of high school education, students are engaged when learning is personal. Personalized project-based learning takes students' interests, strengths, challenges, goals, and more into consideration when planning learning experiences over the course of a session.
In other words, it is customized learning; interest-led and self-directed.
This concept is easily captured with project-based learning. I have tried a variety of directions, and find PBL to be best suited for my high school students. Each student designs, develops, and leads their own project-based learning experiences.
If you're looking for some PBL tools to help you get started, grab my free self-directed PBL mini-bundle of resources.
But why develop your summer school session around self-directed, personalized PBL? In short, because students are engaged, it's fun, they develop content knowledge across disciplines, and gain essential 21st-century skills in the process. The biggest bonus? It's also fun for you.
Let's get into some specifics. This post outlines the reasons for a self-directed project-based summer school program in a way that will make it easy to pitch the concept to whoever needs convincing (your director or parents, for instance).
10 Benefits of a Project-Based Summer School Program
Let's get started! Why develop a self-directed project-based summer school program or session? Run through this list of benefits and then tell me you aren't jumping out of your seat to get started planning right now!
1. Project-Based Summer School Engages Students
Project-based learning, when self-directed, is highly engaging because students drive the experiences based on personal interests.
Students choose the project-based topic (or subtopic around an assigned theme or set of standards) based on interests and personal relevance. Students choose how they will demonstrate learning, using their skills and aspirations to drive their final product choice.
Students design their project-based summer experiences by making a series of choices all based on who they are as unique individuals. Every project and all outcomes vary between students for this reason.
This ownership of learning promotes personal investment and the desire to learn. Students take interest in the experience and therefore the content that comes along with it.
2. Project-Based Summer School Results in Deeper Learning
A project-based summer school program offers authentic, real-world, relevant, and place-based learning experiences. Students study meaningful topics, those that students can connect with on an authentic level, and therefore, the content is understood and retained on a deeper level than it would from a lecture, textbook reading, or worksheet.
3. Project-Based Summer School Crosses Disciplines
I love a project-based summer school program for many reasons, but the fact that PBL is cross-disciplinary is high up on my list of reasons to make summer school programs (or any other program) project-based. Project-based learning, student- and teacher-directed, brings in a variety of subjects and skills.
Let's look at an example:
A student might choose predator/prey relationships as the focus of their PBL experience (life science). The student might connect with an ecologist who is studying local predator/prey relationships (field ecology), learns about GPS tagging and telemetry to track the movement and migration of local populations (geography and technology), conducts a point count with their expert (math), and their project final product is a map of the predator/prey demographics using ArcGIS (math, geography, tech). You get the picture.
Students can design their projects around specific required standards, gain a deep understanding of those concepts through authentic learning, and acquire a variety of other skills and knowledge in the process.
In life, learning doesn't happen in discrete units. It's a great idea to prepare students for that now.
4. Project-Based Summer School Builds Character
Character building is such an important benefit of a project-based summer school program, especially for teenagers. Because project-based learning is authentic and community-based, students are immersed in character-building opportunities such as integrity, empathy, compassion, and more.
On top of that, PBL promotes the development of a healthy self-concept. Students analyze their priorities, desires, values, and more because of exposure to the world around them.
5. Project-Based Summer School Promotes 21st-Century Skill-Building
Teaching 21st-century skills is a must for 21st-century learners. Employers look for an understanding of the concepts involved in the industry, but these days, they also require soft skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, organization, communication, decision-making, responsible citizenship skills, and more.
Project-based learning, especially when self-directed, naturally presents opportunities to gain these 21st-century competencies and more.
Check out the following project resources that specifically target 21st C. skill-building:
6. Project-Based Summer School Instills a Passion for Learning
What's not to love about helping students develop a passion for learning? A love for learning connects with the "engagement" piece a little, but I'm also referring to a lifelong passion for learning. Because self-directed project-based learning is authentic and gives students choice, students develop not only an intrinsic motivation to learn, but the desire and excitement to learn.
Project-based learning also gives students the skills to find information, promoting lifelong learning. Students know how to learn so can take on anything long after they have left my class or graduated high school.
7. Project-Based Summer School Encourages Relationship-Building
Self-directed project-based learning promotes relationship building on so many levels because it is so collaborative. I become very close with my students because the learning experience is personalized. In order for me to guide students in the process of designing and leading their own project-based learning experience, I need to get to know who they are as individuals.
Project-based learning is also community-based and highly collaborative, so students build relationships and network with community members. Finally, students build relationships with each other.
Peer relationship-building is especially pertinent for summer school program students because they are in their own little cohort having these pretty profound and meaningful experiences together.
8. Project-Based Summer School Promotes Personal Successes
I am not an educational theorist. I am not in research. I am a self-directed project-based learning teacher; a practitioner that has experienced and observed the outcomes of self-directed PBL firsthand, and those outcomes are powerful.
Watching students succeed and observing how much they gain academically and personally is enough of a reason for me to have a project-based summer school program or session. I have been doing PBL for 13 years, and if I didn't think it was an effective learning strategy, I wouldn't continue with it. Self-directed PBL is not only an effective learning tool, it literally changes lives.
9. Project-Based Summer School Makes Your Job Fun and Uplifting
It can be a challenge for teachers to sign on for a summer school program or session. It is time-consuming, limits your opportunity for self-care before the next school year begins, and is often not very exciting. Your students likely don't want to be there either, which makes it even harder to want to be a part of it.
BUT, self-directed project-based learning made summer school enjoyable for me. I sign on for summer school every single year because I love it. I love walking into work every day imagining what my students would teach me that day.
10. Let Project-Based Summer School Be a Practice Round for Fall
Okay, I know your summer school students shouldn't be treated like guinea pigs, BUT, your summer school program could be a great way to introduce project-based learning into your curriculum or make it your curriculum.
Use your project-based summer school as practice for the upcoming school year. Maybe you've always wanted to try project-based learning but when the school year starts it gets away from you.
Summer school can be your practice round. Try it this summer, learn from the experience, and apply lessons learned when you launch project-based learning in your classroom or homeschool this fall.
A project-based summer school program or session is a great way to make summer learning fun and engaging while helping you develop the tools to continue on with project-based learning this fall and for years to come.
If you have any questions, please email me anytime! I also encourage you to check out the following project-based resources to help you launch your project-based summer school program with ease so that you and your students can enjoy the experience rather than feel overwhelmed by it.
If you are looking for 1:1 guidance with the development of your project-based summer school program, check out my PBL consulting options. I'd love to help!
Resources for Your Project-Based Summer School Program:
Helpful Blog Posts:
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Did you know there is an experiential learning Facebook group? Check that out - Experiential Learning Community for K12 Teachers - and join in the discussion about experiential learning ideas such as citizen science.
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.