There is so much to say about student-directed learning. Generally speaking, when learning activities are truly student-directed, classrooms are transformed, as are students. Self-led learning experiences, in short, give students choice, voice, and autonomy.
These learning experiences can also be done just about anywhere on earth - in a classroom, remotely, out in the backyard or school yard, on the road, traveling around the world, and more because they are designed around personal interests and circumstances.
My current blog series is focused on experiential learning, and student-direction is an important piece of that. I encourage you to go back and read What is Experiential Learning Anyway? and What is Student-Directed Learning Anyway? before moving on.
There are many ways you can add student-directed learning to your otherwise teacher-directed activities, simply by giving students choice. But to really utilize the benefits of student-directed learning, consider making it your curriculum, not just adding a few opportunities for choice here and there. There are a few very powerful strategies for doing this.
I chose three specific learning activities to mention here, not because they have to be student-directed in order to work, but because they have the framework in place to make student-directed learning possible and easy to incorporate. Check them out below!
I have tool kits for all of my go-to self-directed learning experiences, including those that I describe in this post (as single units or in a bundle). By signing up for my newsletter, you get a free project assessment e-Portfolio where students can independently manage their own learning outcomes from these self-directed learning experiences.
3 Transformational Student-Directed Learning Tools
Before launching into these three teaching strategies, it's important to know that there is a significant amount of overlap between them. Project-based learning and problem-based learning both fall under the umbrella of inquiry experiences. However, there are some inquiry-based learning experiences that ARE NOT PBL or PrBL. So don't limit yourself.
I would also consider project-based learning a type of problem-based learning. They both tackle real-world problems. They differ in process of gathering information and showcasing learning outcomes.
1. Project-Based Learning (PBL):
I have written a lot of posts about project-based learning because it has been my dominant teaching tool for the past 11 years.
Project-based learning is when students investigate a topic or driving question, create an end product to demonstrate learning, and present the final product. What distinguishes project-based learning from other pedagogies or projects in general is that the community plays a large role in the research process, end products must be innovative, and presentations must be authentic, meaning the information gathered or the product itself should meet and impact a relevant audience.
For details on how to start student-directed project-based learning and for PBL examples, refer back to some of my other posts on PBL.
How do you make PBL student-directed? Give students choice in as many ways as you can. Students can choose their own topic and learning objectives the flexibility is there. If you are restricted to teaching specific topics, then choose the topic and allow student choice in all other aspects of the project process (subtopic, research questions, sources, community experts, final product, authentic audience, how to share final product with that audience, etc.)
Teacher-directed project-based learning would mean you would be doing all of that work for your students. Not only is that a lot on you, but learners are then robbed of the opportunity to develop those important skills themselves such as networking, communication, and collaboration.
I have many PBL resources that focus on a specific theme. The guiding materials leave room for student choice in every other way. I also have a project-based learning toolkit, which gives students choice in every facet of the experience. My PBL assessment e-portfolio opt-in gift is the perfect resource for to wrap up and showcase the entirety of these PBL experiences.
The photo on the left is one part of the end product of a large and ongoing student business project. The picture is of skate decks for his skateboard company, all designs by students. The photo on the right is of a student taking photos as a way of demonstrating learning. Photography was a passion of his, so taking photos to document his project was his choice.
2. Problem-Based Learning (PrBL):
Problem-based learning is when students examine real-world problems. I implement PrBL by having students investigate a problem, research existing solutions, develop novel solutions, and propose a comprehensive plan to mitigate or eliminate the problem completely.
Again, problem-based learning has the bones to be student-directed as long as students direct the experience through a series of choices. I often introduce a problem and then have students choose how they will examine the issue, who they will talk to, resources they will utilize, collaborators, etc.
True student-directed problem-based learning would ask students to identify and choose a problem that they are interested in and want to investigate and solve. This route is so interesting because even the act of choosing their own problem to investigate requires specific skills such as making observations about the world around them or recognizing when there is a problem at all. Students will get better at these skills the more opportunities they have to build on them.
I have a problem-based learning product line in my TpT store with a problem-based learning toolkit for student-directed experiences, as well as theme-based PrBL resources.
I do a lot of problem-based learning activities on environmental science because I am a science teacher. I give students a water pollution problem about fertilizers, and take students to a nearby organic farm to talk with the farmer about how she grows crops sustainably.
3. Inquiry-Based Learning:
I use student-directed inquiry-based learning quite often because I am a science teacher. It's very fitting for science concepts, as one method of investigation is experimentation.
Inquiry-based learning, however, is multidisciplinary. It can be used in any learning environment for any concept. Inquiry simply asks a question which students investigate through whatever means available and effective.
Again, inquiry-based learning is not defined by giving students choice. It falls on a spectrum, as I said in my last post. Check out inquiry posts, including how to implement student-directed inquiry-based learning for details.
If the teacher asks the question, designs the investigation, and directs everything in between, then it is teacher-directed inquiry. Open inquiry is the opposite end of the spectrum where students observe the world around them, ask their own questions, and direct their own investigations. Guided inquiry lies somewhere in the middle.
I have a few scientific open inquiry activities in my TpT store. I also have an inquiry-based learning toolkit with the guiding materials needed for student-directed open inquiry, as well as a variety of other inquiry-based learning resources.
Share your student-directed learning experiences with us! Comment on the this post or send me an email anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Several years ago I showed a news segment to my advisory/PBL students about the Syrian refugee crisis. A student of mine approached me after the activity expressing her interest in the topic.
This student chose to design and conduct a project-based learning experience about Syrian refugees. She wrote the driving question for her project, decided to create an interactive, animated timeline to demonstrate the events that led up to the crisis, organized and executed a pie fundraiser to raise money for the cause, and distributed her timeline and marketing materials to neighboring community members to raise awareness and raise some money. All her choices.
What is Student-Directed Learning?
Experiential learning, the focus of this current blog series, is self-directed, one of many elements that distinguishes it from other teaching strategies. Last week's post talks about what experiential learning is exactly. Make sure to check that out.
The Syrian project described above is the epitome of a student-directed learning experience. This student called all the shots from the beginning to the end. I provided guidance, but the learning experience as a whole was designed and managed by her. Student-directed learning by definition involves student choice.
Make STEM, problem-based learning, scientific inquiry, or any other learning experience child-led by giving students opportunities to make choices. They direct, you facilitate.
This post offers suggestions for ways to make project-based learning self-directed. Again, modify any learning experience to give students choice, I just use PBL as an example here because it has been my go-to teaching strategy for 13 years. I highly recommend it. Check out posts from my project-based learning series for more details.
Ways to Make Learning Experiences More Student-Directed
Learning experiences are student-directed when students have choice.
Let students choose...
1. What they want to learn.
It is wonderful if your students have the flexibility to choose ANY topic to study at any given time, but understandably, many of you do not have that option. Standards are an unfortunate hurdle. But don't let that stop you from sneaking in student-directed learning experiences. Your students can have it all - content knowledge and a passion for learning.
One way to get around the standards obstacle is to have students design project-based learning experiences around specific sets of benchmarks. Grab my Student-Directed Tool Kit Bundle (PBL, PrBL, scientific inquiry, & design projects) for guiding materials.
You can also assign guided project-based learning experiences. For example, I have a PBL resource on habitats. Each student chooses one habitat type to study. This channels the students' research around specific parameters or ecological standards, but still gives students choice, boosting that intrinsic motivation factor.
2. Their own learning goals and objectives.
Because learners are unique in their skills, interests, strengths, challenges, and so on, their learning goals will also be unique. Students can and should choose and write their own goals. Knowing how to create tangible goals, manage them, and meet them is a skill that is essential long after graduation.
My personal learning plan is a great way for students to create and manage their goals.
3. How they will gather information.
Some learners love podcasts, others love to read, some enjoy networking with professionals, some enjoy classes, others experimentation, and so on. To control how students research or investigate a concept limits learning potential. True student-directed learning experiences allow learners to determine their avenue(s) of exploration.
If we use the habitats project as an example once again, students are all focused on the same ecological principles, but different habitat types. Insisting that every student use specific books, or even the same expert as everyone else in the class, narrows their reach. Branch out, and better yet, let your students decide how they will learn about the topic, because what works for one student, may not work well for another.
4. Community experts and collaborators.
In many experiential learning activities, project-based learning included, students are encouraged to reach out to community experts for information, expertise, and resources. Make the learning experience student-directed by asking them to identify, locate, and connect with their own community experts.
Choosing which community experts to work with helps students develop communication and collaboration skills, while also getting the most accurate and up-to-date information about the concept at hand.
Check out my free community expert planner.
5. How they will demonstrate learning.
I have found that encouraging learners to decide how they will showcase learning is incredibly impactful. I provide a few final product suggestions to my students, and they either choose from those options or choose their own way of demonstrating learning.
Habitat project students might create topographical maps, a moving diorama, an interactive animation or physical exhibit, a photo journal, a magazine, a portfolio of infographics, etc. I offer suggestions in my resources, including this one, or students can choose their own. Check out my blog post with a laundry list of project-based learning end products for students to choose from. You can also scan these digital final product options!
6. Their authentic audience and method of reaching that audience.
Experiential learning is authentic, meaning, students use and share their outcomes in a meaningful and relevant way. Project-based learning emphasizes authentic presentations rather than simply presenting a final product to the class. Learning outcomes should solve a problem for a relevant audience or impact the community in some way.
For example, a student creates a portfolio of infographics about the habitat that they chose to study. They donate their infographics to a nature center located in the habitat studied to put on display.
Let students choose how they would like to share their new skills and knowledge and who to share it with. Again, my guided project-based learning resources provide authentic presentation suggestions for students to choose from, or the option to choose their own way of sharing.
7. Assessment method and criteria for evaluation.
All students are unique in how they learn, their interests, their career goals, and so much more. Why cast an assessment blanket over every child, especially if the learning experience is personalized by way of student choice?
Give students input on how they are evaluated. If you would like to give a formative assessment, consider offering a few options, each requiring a different skill set than the other. Let students choose which one to complete.
Project-based learning is an experience, so is usually evaluated with a rubric. I have a generic PBL rubric that I use with beginners. In time, students can begin to develop their own rubrics, choosing evaluation criteria based on the details of their projects.
Have students add to and manage their own project-based learning assessment portfolios. They add project descriptions, rubric scores, reflections, standards met, etc. after they have completed each project. By the end of the year they will have a robust portfolio of student-directed learning experiences.
Get that PBL assessment portfolio as a free gift when you subscribe here!
There are so many amazing student-centered learning activities that I see educators implementing such as STEM, project-based learning, problem-based learning, and more. You can teach in a traditional environment and still implement student-directed teaching activities. Start small. If your curriculum is largely teacher-directed right now, consider adding a few student-led learning activities in here and there. See how they go. If that goes well, add more until your entire curriculum is student-directed!
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Misconceptions about Experiential Learning
Most of the inquiries that I get from educators are about experiential learning and how it can be worked into curriculum. The good news is that it's a great learning tool for people of all learning environments, backgrounds, skill levels, and interests, and it's fairly easy to implement if you know the essential components.
There are, however, some misunderstandings floating around about what it is and who can benefit from it.
1. Myth: Experiential learning takes place outdoors.
One common misconception is that outdoor learning and experiential learning are interchangeable. Experiential learning activities can be outdoors, but certainly don't have to be. Taking students outside on a sunny spring day for lecture and worksheets is not experiential learning. An indoor open inquiry activity would be more experiential than passive learning activities taken outdoors.
2. Myth: Experiential learning is only for corporate team-building.
I very recently discovered that a common use of the term experiential learning is in association with corporate team-building activities. Experiential learning in the world of education is not this. Any educator, from any learning environment can do experiential learning with students, and the application to learning doesn't stop at team-building.
So let's iron out experiential learning, what it is exactly, and how your students can learn experientially starting today, beyond the walls of a classroom AND within a classroom.
Essential Components of Experiential Learning
The following features are essential to experiential learning. After you have read about the importance of these components, subscribe to Experiential Learning Depot to gain access to a free growing resource library. You will instantly receive an email with a password and instructions to access that library.
In the library you will find an experiential learning activity planner that includes all of the elements of experiential learning identified here. Use it to help design and facilitate experiential learning in your classroom or home learning environment. Good luck!
1. Students are Actively Involved:
Students should be actively, not passively, learning throughout the activity at hand. Experiential learning IS NOT lecture. It is NOT prescribed worksheets or even prescribed activities such as a science lab that includes a recipe to follow. Just because the activity gets learners out of their chairs or even out of the building doesn't mean they are involved in the concepts.
Getting involved requires inquiry on the part of the student. Learners ask questions that challenge prior thinking or explain unexpected results, develop solutions to real-world issues, and embrace failure and enthusiastically go back to the drawing board. Learning activities should be authentic and largely, if not entirely, student-led.
2. Students Have the Freedom and Support to Make Mistakes:
Part of learning through experience is gaining skills and knowledge throughout the entire process. Allowing students to feel they can fail, revise, and try again takes off some pressure and encourages learners to strive to improve. This is an important competency for lifelong learners.
STEM, STEAM, and maker education, among others, are experiential learning activities that support this line of thinking. All of these activities can be implemented in any learning environment, inside and out, home or in a classroom, in a traditional setting and alternative setting.
Check out some of my PBL maker challenges for an experiential learning resource that welcomes mistakes, failure, and trial and error.
3. The Experience is Personalized:
An activity is experiential when it's meaningful to each individual student. The activity should meet the diverse need, backgrounds, interests, goals, and skill levels of each student.
Student-led project-based learning encompasses every element of experiential learning when implemented correctly, but it's also the easiest way to make learning personalized in my opinion. Check out past posts on project-based learning here if you missed them.
If you're just starting out, I recommend my personalized project-based learning bundle. Pair it with my free project-based learning e-portfolio when you subscribe and you will be well on your way to an experiential classroom!
4. Students See a Connection Between Content and the Real World:
Connecting an activity with real-world problems or ideas helps students find meaning and purpose in what they're doing. The brain needs real-life connections to retain information. They need to see how what they're learning applies to life.
That doesn't mean students need to swim with sharks to learn about shark conservation, but they might get involved in the real-world issue of overexploitation and poaching of sharks by working with marine scientists to develop solutions. These are authentic experiences that not only help students learn about sharks as they relate to real-world issues, but they help learners develop the skills that are pertinent to life in the 21st-century.
Problem-based learning is a fantastic experiential learning activity that fosters real-world connections, critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving and more. Check out some of my problem-based learning resources for more info.
5. Students Can See Purpose in the Activity:
Do you ever hear "Why do I need to know this?" You will never hear an experiential educator respond to that question with "you just do" or "sometimes we need to do things we don't like".
Students should know why they're doing what they're doing. If students see their final score or grade as the sole purpose of the activity then something is missing. With purpose comes intrinsic motivation to learn. This element of experiential learning ties in well with the others. Personalization and involvement as already mentioned, along with student-directed learning and reflection mentioned below, organically engender purpose and meaning.
6. The Experience is Student-Directed:
Students should have control and investment in their learning. Any experiential learning activity should be student-driven or at a minimum, student-centered. Student-directed learning gives students choice in topic, process, and outcome. Check out my student-directed learning series for more info.
The bulk of the resources in my TpT store are student-directed, or at a minimum, student-centered. Most of them are project-based, but there are also inquiry-based learning activities, maker projects, problem-based learning, and loads of freebies. Follow Experiential Learning Depot on TPT for new resource alerts.
7. Reflect on the Experience:
John Dewey said, "We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience." Without reflection, everything said up to this point is moot. Students need ample opportunity to look back at their successes and failures, which there will be a lot of in experiential learning. They should analyze their work, not just the final outcome, but the entire learning process. It encourages acceptance of constructive feedback and continuous self-improvement throughout life.
8. Authentic Learning Experiences:
Make learning authentic by adding experiences that are real and relevant to students. If students are studying the brain, for example, connect with the neurology department of a local university to arrange for a speaker, class visit, to borrow resources, etc.
Utilizing community experts and community resources in an important part of project-based learning, making the experience authentic, but I think it enhances ANY learning experience and shouldn't be limited to PBL.
Now take a hands-on activity that you like to do with your students. Do the above elements fit in with the experience? If they don't it's not exactly experiential learning, and you may not be getting the outcome or understanding of the content that you're hoping for.
Go through a favorite activity and fill in the experiential learning planner included in E.L.D.'s free resource library to see if it is experiential. If it's not, consider modifying the lesson to make it experiential.
I hope a solid takeaway from this post is that experiential learning is not exclusive to outdoor education programs. I'm a huge advocate for outdoor learning experiences. Getting out and getting involved in the local community, removing oneself from the conveniences of urban living and experiencing the natural world, traveling to places outside of one's comfort zone, are all powerful learning experiences.
But if you are teaching in an environment that deems those experiences unlikely or even impossible (I know there are many of you), you can and should still grant experiential learning opportunities to your learners. Start with any student-directed learning activity.
Good luck! And as always, reach out anytime with questions. I would also love to showcase your experiential learning successes right here! Share your experiences with me anytime.
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How I Came to Be An Experiential Educator
I almost dropped out of teaching school. I don't like to say that because I'm not a quitter. I never have been, but it's the honest truth. I wondered if I could have a full time career doing something that just wasn't sitting right with me. My own experience was telling me that learning comes from direct involvement, but I wasn't observing that in practice.
Here's my story:
I got my undergraduate degree in biology and proceeded to work with environmental protection programs for almost four years following graduation. Education wasn't on my mind at that time. I was dedicated to the world of science and nature.
Working in the field was amazing for so many reasons. I met wonderful people, saw places I wouldn't otherwise have seen, and gained practical experience for a career in environmental science. I learned more about science in three months in the field, immersed in the content, than I did over the course of my lifetime. Content that I studied in college, paired with active involvement in the field, was a powerful learning experience for me.
Several years of working in the field was exhausting, however. I was constantly getting hurt. I literally had a handful of near death experiences, one of which was rolling an ATV down a mountain with me inside, another getting chased down by a nesting female alligator. I'll save the details of those stories for another day.
I felt like my personal life was a revolving door. My coworkers became like family just to go our separate ways after a few months together. All of the jobs were temporary assignments. I was exhausted, hurt, emotionally and physically broken, and I was lonely. I decided enough was enough. It was time to go home.
I went back to my hometown in Minnesota. I applied to get my teaching license at the University of Minnesota, was accepted, and started the program within days of returning home. The program itself was great, but things went downhill when I started my high school student teaching experience.
I was torn. What I was learning in my teaching program at the U was starkly different than what I was observing as a student teacher. My teaching program trained us to take a student-centered approach. We spent almost the entire year practicing inquiry-based learning strategies. Then I would go student teach under the supervision of an instructor that was very teacher-centered.
I don't believe this to be the fault of my cooperating teacher. She was doing what she felt she needed to do to fit in all of the standards, meet testing requirements, stay under budget, and "educate" the 180 total students that walked into her classroom each day.
We talked occasionally about how she felt a little stifled and restricted. The logistical nightmare it would have been to transport 180 students to the science museum, for example. There was limited learning beyond the walls of the classroom. She was a seasoned teacher and she was intelligent. I have to believe that she felt there was no other option.
I knew I couldn't operate that way for the rest of my career. My experience working in the field was always in the forefront of my mind when trying to work out my educational philosophy, along with the "student-centered" theory I was learning in teaching school.
I knew as a student myself, that a strictly teacher-centered, lecture-based philosophy would not be effective, especially with 21st-century students. What the students need, I thought, is to learn how to learn, as I did in the field - how to problem solve, think critically, navigate sources of information, question current lines of thinking and adjust thinking based on new input and experience.
I decided I needed to check into some things. What other options did I have? A lot of options it turned out. Not only were there a lot of schools and educational organizations doing things differently, but teachers in traditional classrooms were mavericks as well, trying to promote active and involved learning experiences while under the same restrictions as the rest of us.
Those educators that went above and beyond, that were creative and reflective, that tried new educational approaches that were supported by research despite restrictions and obstacles, turned out to be my inspiration and mentors over the course of the next decade.
As I was researching my options, I came across a website for an experiential learning school in St. Paul. I called them up, asked if they were hiring, and started teaching there a few months later. I stayed at that school for almost 10 years.
The students in these pictures are engaged, observing, problem-solving, creating. Of course it wasn't perfect all of the time. But I watched the impact that experiential, student-directed learning had on my students, the same impact experiential learning had on me when I was working in the field.
I started this blog about two years ago, and in that short time have discovered through research and networking, the abundance of experiential learning going on out there right now. I'm floored by the speed and force by which project-based learning, inquiry, problem-based learning, student travel programs, maker education, STEM, and other forms of experiential learning are appearing on the educational scene.
The dramatic emergence of these experiential learning approaches is because we know from experience and research that they're effective learning tools. If you hop on a search engine to find educational quotes, none of them will be about the profound greatness of direct-instruction.
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I also encourage you to subscribe to Experiential Learning Depot! Subscribers have access to my free and growing experiential learning resource library AND my experiential learning assessment e-portfolio where students can showcase and manage their own learning outcomes.
Since schools have been closed I have been working with my young children while simultaneously working on high school experiential curriculum. My child is required to sit at his computer much of the day to work on his school assignments, so to break up the monotony, I have been adding experiential learning activities to the day. Everyday we do a hands-on, subject-integrated, activity that follows a theme for the week. I have been adding those experiences and schedules here to inspire other parents and teachers in the same situation. I have also been adding modification ideas, particularly for high school students. Click on April for Part 1.
All About Pollinators Experiential Learning Activity Schedule
This is an awesome time of year to study pollinators in my neck of the woods. It's spring in the northern United States. Some pollinators are in the middle of lengthy migrations or are just arriving. Spring flowers are blooming. On top of that, we're all feeling really cooped up by this point and are needing some hands-on learning activities to keep us going. My kids do, anyway, and so do I, frankly.
The great thing about this week's schedule is that every activity can be done from home or outdoors. Even in urban areas. Hopefully you can step into a courtyard or take stroll down the block. The only activity this week that helps to have access to some wildlife is the citizen science experience. I'll offer some modifications below. The others can be done indoors, although, I highly recommend trying to take them outside if that is an option. Good luck!
Monday: Pollinator Simulation
I chose honeybees as the pollinator for this experience with my own young children. They are three and six. I also planned the simulation. We started by observing the apple trees in our yard. They are just starting to flower so my kids were able to observe some of the reproductive parts of a plant such as the stamen and stigma. I made flower models for three separate apple trees, which is the situation on our block. My kids made bees out of cotton swabs and learned how bees cross-pollinate apple trees by carrying pollen from anther to stigma. I used the colorful sugar from Fun Dip as my pollen.
Modifications: Older students can turn this into a PBL experience by choosing a pollinator of interest, researching that pollinator, and creating their own interactive simulation on the mechanism of pollination by the pollinator that they choose to study. They could create a stop-motion animation, make a moving model, or even design and build a physical interactive simulation like I did for my own children. Check out my project-based learning tool kit to guide learners through this process.
Tuesday: Citizen Science
There are so many interesting citizen science projects out there that specifically focus on pollinators. Each citizen science project can be catered to work for a variety of ages and skill levels. My kids and I participated in Bumble Bee Watch. I wasn't sure if my kids would like it, thinking they may be do young to understand it. But my son loved the idea that his findings were sent to and used by real scientists. My daughter loved the process of finding bumble bees in nature and identifying them on the citizen science project page.
Check out iNaturalist for a variety of options. What citizen science project you do will depend on your geographical location, your access to natural areas, and time of year. For more citizen science project ideas head to my citizen science blog post.
Modifications: Consider having older students create their own citizen science projects on a pollinator of their choice. iNaturalist makes this possible. If this is not an option, consider turning citizen science into a project-based learning experience using the tool kit mentioned above. Another option is conduct experiments on pollinator behavior using my open inquiry tool kit.
Wednesday: Design a Pollinator Garden
My children and I have wanted to make a small butterfly garden on our boulevard. My son and I researched a variety of native plants that provide food and shelter for native butterflies. We spent a lot time on the University of Minnesota website perusing flowers. He chose plants that he liked and drew out a map/plan for flower placement in our blvd. He worked on research skills, reading, writing, science, and more. We ended up building this garden, but you do not have to for this to be a worth while experience. If you do not have access to a plot of land consider looking into urban gardening. Try pots and vertical gardens if you have acces to a porch or balcony.
Modifications: Turn this into a maker experience for older students. There are so many benefits to incorporating design thinking into high school curriculum. I am working on creating a maker PBL resource on this very idea and will post it here soon. In the meantime, have older students do the same project as my son. They can choose a pollinator to study, research plants that support the safety, survival, and reproduction of their chosen pollinator, and design a garden. Older students can/should consider plant placement, needed distance between plants, the amount of sunlight required, height potential for plants, and more. Check out my Pollinator Garden Design maker/pbl resource.
Thursday: Pollinator Shelter
This turned out to be a much more interesting activity than I anticipated. Last year, my son and I made a bat house. He enjoyed that so much that I thought he might also like to make one of these trendy bee "hotels" that I'm seeing all over Pinterest. As someone with a background in wildlife biology, however, I know the importance of building wildlife shelters that are safe for their residents.
After my son and I did a little research, we discovered that many of these bee hotels are not safe for bees. In fact, many of them kill bees if they are not made correctly and if they are not continuously maintained. We decided to modify a cheap, not very safe bee hotel that I got from a gardening center not long ago. We researched safe bee hotels and how to care for them. We modified the bee hotel that we already have and created a "how to take care of a bee house" guide sheet. We posted our bee hotel and care sheet on our blvd for passerby's to observe and learn from.
Modifcaitons: I have a maker PBL project on this exact experience that is geared toward high school students - Build a Wildlife Shelter. Another great option is doing community action projects. These projects are a cool mix between problem-based learning and service learning. In our research on bees we came across a pretty serious problem. Our final product, in a sense, was the result of a community action project. We identified a problem and worked toward solving the problem. Check out my community action project tool kit.
In the picture below my daughter is inserting paper straws into the tubes so that they can be removed and swapped out occassionally for cleaner straws. This reduces the chance of pathogens taking over the shelter, and causing potential harm to the bees. I've read that bamboo, which are the small tubes in this store bought bee house, are especially susceptible to problems.
Wind: Wind Pollinator STEM
This was a really fun one! I have my high school students do a cool STEM challenge on this topic to learn about adaptations. I attempted to have my own children to the same thing, but it turned into a more age appropriate activity, which was designing their own plants. My kids love to do anything that involves grabbing whatever crafting materials are around and making something out of it all. They made their own plants out of recyclables and crafting materials, each with a stamen and stigma to show the parts necessary for cross-pollination.
Modifications: My older students do the same thing, create plant models, that cross-pollinate using wind (anemophily). They design models, make a prototype, test their prototypes, make adjustments, etc. until they have a final product that effectively cross-pollinates using wind. Check out my resource - STEM Challenge: Wind Pollinator Adaptations. This resource is alined with NGSS and focuses on the concept of beneficial hertiable traits, in this case, as they pertain to plants that pollinate with wind.
Plant Science Experiential Learning Activity Schedule
Spring is such an awesome time to bring plants into any curriculum, and it is one of those topics that is experiential by nature. There are so many ways to get involved in learning when it comes to plants. Students could start and maintain a community garden, grow plants and sell them to raise funds for habitat protection, design a product that solves a gardening problem (design thinking projects), design and conduct experiments on any number of plant topics, develop a comprehensive plan to solve a local invasive plant species problem, and the list goes on.
Each of these experiences engages learners in the content, and helps them better understand and absorb the concepts because they are actively involved. These examples are all learning experiences that my high school students have undertaken, as have my own children, 3 and 5, with modifications. For the past few weeks we have been growing our own plants from seed, experimenting, baking, creating, writing, and more, all as they relate to plants. Check out the details of each activity below, try some out for yourself, and easily adapt them to a variety of ages and skill levels. Good luck!
Monday: Water Transport Demonstration
You've probably seen or tried the classic celery demo, where you place the celery in food-colored water, and observe as the celery leaves slowly take on the color of the water. The purpose of this activity is to demonstrate water transport from the stem to the leaves via xylem.
I tried this activity with my own children, but we used a variety of plants - celery, kale, a tree branch, asparagus, and a branch from a bush in our yard - which we then observed and recorded the similarities and differences between them. Try this with whatever plants you have on hand. Practice using senses to make observations. Pull out your magnifying glasses. Pair the experience by making a model of xylem and phloem using straws, toothpicks, toilet paper roles, etc. if you wish.
Modifications: This is a great opportunity for older students to conduct open-inquiry investigations. They can develop their own questions based on their observations, and design and conduct their own experiments. Click here for a self-directed scientific inquiry tool kit (printable and Google Classroom digital version included).
Tuesday: Green Sun Butter Cookies
Chlorophyll is an important plant feature. It's vital for photosynthesis. Chlorophyll (chlorogenic acid) uses light to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and gluclose. My young children and I baked sun butter cookies, which are a beautiful golden brown color on the surface and green on the inside. What happened? Sunflower seeds contain chlorophyll, so when chlorogenic acid reacts with baking soda in the baking process, the green pigment of the chlorophyll emerges. For my own young children, this activity was mostly done in fun. But it is also a good way to introduce chlorophyll and it's function in a plant.
Click here for the recipe that we used.
Modifcations: Older students could take this a step further by experimenting with different ingredients. Chlorophyll isn't the only plant pigment. Others include carotenoids, anthocyanins, anthoxanthins, and betalins. Carrots, red beans, cauliflower, beets, sweet potatoes, and eggplants all have pigments in them.
Self-directed inquiry experiments are always a great option when it comes to science topics. Look for my tool kit link above. But there are many directions older students could take this concept, such as project-based learning. An example is developing unique recipes that result in fun science lessons for kids. The student could then compile those recipes onto a blog or webiste and share the link with parents and teachers. This ONE example of project-based learning. The options are endless when you have the right guiding materials for self-directed PBL. Check out my self-directed project-based learning tool kit here (printable and digital options).
Wednesday: Grow and Experiment
We sprouted dry pinto beans from the grocery store using a plastic bag and a wet paper towel (instructions). But we didnt' stop there. Once the seeds sprouted, we planted the seeds, and added a couple of experiments to the mix to hammer in plant parts and requirements for growth. One of our experiments was on different types of soil and their affect on plant growth rates. The other experiment was similar, but we changed the amount of water added to the plants vs. the types of soil. This was a good opportunity to talk about the nature of science and experimental design.
Modifications: Because my kids are so young, I setup and directed their experiments. My kids made predictions, observations, practiced taking measurments and graphing, and more. But older students could self-direct these experiences and elaborate significantly, focusing on skill and age appropriate content. For an environmental science class, for example, they might test the growth or success rates of plants using different types of fertilizers. They could then connect their results to a larger problem-based learning or community action project on water pollution.
My experiential water pollution bundle includes a scientific inquiry and problem-based learning activity on fertilizers, as well as a community action project. Each resource in this bundle can be purchased independently as well.
Thursday: Phototropism Maze
This is such a cool experience to observe directional growth of a plant toward light; otherwise known as phototropism. There are so many ways to see this phenomenon first hand, but one way is to create a maze in a box and block out all light except for one small opening at the top of the maze. Check out our pictures below. The point is to see if the plant will change direction and grow toward the light. You could do this using a cardboard box. My children and I used a cardboard doll house that we made a few weeks ago. We are still waiting for the results. I'll post on the results either when the plant reaches the roof or when it dies! Cross your fingers.
Modifications: High school students could easily turn this concept into self-directed inquiry experiments. Example investigations include how light intensity affects the rate of directional growth, the differences in phototropism rates of different plant species, the role that different parts of the plant play in phototropism, and so on. Check out my latest scientific open inquiry resource that guides students through self-directed experimentation ON the topic of phototropism.
Plants are such a integral part of the balance of nature. They are food for a variety of organisms, they provide essential natural services, and shelter. Plant communities provide habitat, which I wanted my children to see first hand. Not only that, I also wanted them to pay close attention to the dynamics and activities of nature taking place in a seemingly quiet and barren landscape. I took them to cattail marsh. We sat quietly and observed the habitat before us. We identified a variety organisms using this habitat for food, shelter, mating, and more. We then went home and made a moving model of the habitat that we visited.
Modifications: This exact experience could be done by older students. They can be given a lot more independence and autonomy, but the general idea is the same. Check out my project-based learning experience on habitats.
We currently find ourselves in a very unique situation. Never before have we been required as a society to operate entirely by computer. Of course being confined to the home is not ideal for any experiential educator, but we work with what we have. One silver-lining? The opportunity to work on 21st-century skills such as adapting and problem-solving.
As a reminder, experiential learning is doing; learning through experience. The activities are hands-on, personalized, relevant and applicable to real-life, and self-directed (click on "experiential learning" in the archives for more details). That is the key during quarantining; "student-directed". Many parents are trying to simultaneously hold down their jobs and home educate their children. What they need is for their children to be able to work independently with a little guidance here and there.
Project-based learning, inquiry, problem-based learning, and STEM all promote experiential thinking, and these are the resources I provide. I have been in the process of converting many of my resources to digital. I provide a printable and digital option for each resource. The digital option is the same as the printable, but it can be assigned, personalized (by students), and shared via Google Classroom. The resources listed below each include a digital option.
High School Experiential Learning Resources to Use with Google Apps
To fast track to all of my digital resource, click here. If you are looking for something in particular, peruse the listings below. Click on the title to get to the resources. I convert more resources to digital each day, so check back often. Scroll to the bottom for free resources.
The following tool kits provide all of the templates necessary for an unlimited number of self-directed learning experiences. Each includes printable and a Google Classroom version.
Project-Based Learning Tool Kit
Maker Project Tool Kit
Problem-Based Learning Tool Kit
Scientific Open Inquiry Tool Kit
Tool Kit Bundle
These PBL resources focus on a specific theme. The templates included help guide students through the project design process and project execution independently. For open-ended projects rather than those that already have a topic in place, check out the PBL tool kit mentioned above.
Plan a Trip Around the World
I am technically a life science and environmental science teacher, so a lot of my resources are about science. So, although a good chunk of my resources would be considered in the sciences, the following are the only two in the sciences that are currently available for use with Google Apps. I will continue to convert more over the next few weeks.
Inquiry Bingo: Earth Day
Climate Drivers Inquiry Activity
The first three freebies are great supplemental activities that go well with self-directed project-based learning, especially helpful for those that are new to the process. The last one, College Exploration, goes well with a couple of my other college and career readiness, particularly Career Exploration, which is also Google Apps compatible.
Project Topic Brainstorming Activity
Start a Project: PBL Cheat Sheet
College Exploration Activity
I hope you find some of these resources useful during this crazy time! As always, if you have any questions about experiential learning in ANY learning environment, including home/remote, reach out at experientiallearningdepot.com
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education
Experiential Learning Activity Schedules for all Ages and Skill Levels
Welcome to distance learning, everyone! School closures across the globe have forced educators into converting their entire teaching portfolio to an online platform. Parents are trying to work from home and homeschool their kids at the same time; no easy feat.
We're all finding our way, and that's great, but sometimes it's nice to have a schedule or plan laid out for you. I have been an experiential high school educator for 12 years, and a home educator to two small children for 3 years. I have had a little of both worlds - home and school, young and old, traditional education and progressive. I have a lot of ideas in my tool belt, and want to share them with you all to attempt to make this transition run as smoothly as possible.
I will be doing at least one experiential learning activity with my children each day. They will stick to a theme for the week. I will post that schedule right here as a I go. This is simply to give you ideas and a lending hand as we continue to manage this school closure/home learning situation. All of these schedules can continue to be used in the home, in the classroom, and out in the world long after this pandemic is behind us.
Interest-Led Mad Science for All Ages
My son has been interested in science for a long time, and recently received a starter/kids chemistry set for his birthday. All he wants to do now is mix colors and random kitchen ingredients and make things "explode". So I decided to base this week's home experiential learning activities on interest-led science experiments and activities.
There are many elements of experiential learning that make it what it is, one of which is personalization. I sat with my children and asked them a couple of simple questions and made a list of their answers - "what do you like?" and "what do you wonder?" This weeks schedule of "mad science" was entirely inspired by my children's answers to these two simple questions. Doing this makes learning exciting, relevant, personal, and it promotes intrinsic motivation to learn.
My young children basically played. They understood the basic concepts behind each activity, but it was mostly just fun, exciting, and inspired a passion for science. High school students can go about this the same way but add student-directed learning experiences to go along with their interests such as designing and conducting their own experiments around the questions that they came up with, or complete student-directed projects about their interests related to "mad science". Check out my open-inquiry and project-based learning tool kits here.
The chemistry kit came with some science experiment ideas, and dancing noodles was one of them. You just add snippets of cooked spaghetti to a beaker. Add baking soda and vinegar. This is an interesting variation of your classic "volcano". My kids know at this point what happens when you combine baking soda with vinegar. So I asked them to make predictions about what might happen to the noodles if placed at the center of the reaction. My kindergartener could predict that the bubbles would cause movement.
We make hard candy every year around the winter holidays. It's always fun and is a great way to talk about evaporation. This is a fun one to do with my students, too, to see what happens if you don't give it enough time to evaporate or give it too much time. We also tried gummy candy this time. We use this hard candy recipe.
DIY Bouncy Balls
This was a fun way to make "toys", which was one of my children's interests, and to introduce polymers to older kids. I used this recipe.
Glow in the Dark "Potions"
This was a fun way to satisfy my kids interest in "potions" while providing a hands-on way to learn about density. I got ingredient ideas from this website, but didn't have my kids follow a recipe. They made observations and predictions and experimented with the various liquids placed in front of them.
My daughter wondered how dress became pink. So we looked into dye's and decided to concoct our own out of plant materials. We used avocado, beets, cabbage, onion skin and coffee grinds to dye white socks. We investigated the parts of the plants that make the color and researched how to keep the color once it's been washed.
Experiential Distance Learning Schedule: Climate Science
This week, my children and I focused on climate and how it works. I do a similar "schedule" with my high school students with added scientific open-inquiry experiments, maker projects, etc. The high school content is more difficult and the expectations are higher. Head to Experiential Learning Depot on TPT to peruse high school climate science resources. I'll be adding an inquiry resource on climate drivers this week. Stay-tuned for that. I'm working on creating an experiential learning course on the science of climate change, so check back often for new climate resources.
Update: It's here! My climate drivers inquiry-based learning activity for high school students. Printable and Google Classroom versions.
This was an interesting week to start this theme because in Minnesota we are going through a transition of seasons; winter to spring. It's still pretty chilly here right now, so some solar experiments required a little creativity, but we made it work. Check out our week and try it out with your own children or students!
Monday: DIY Weather Instruments
We made a radiometer, rain gauge, and weather vane. Watch this video for a detailed explanation. With my young kids, I used the radiometer to explain that the sun is a powerful source of energy. That's it. A weather vane is a great way to introduce the significance of wind when it comes to climate. A weather vane shows the direction that the wind is coming from, which can help make predictions about imminent weather conditions.
We made these weather instruments the first day of the week because we wanted to record the weather each day. At the end of the week we graphed our daily records and calculated average precipitation and air temperature. This started dialogue about the difference between weather and climate. The weather will be rainy and cool tomorrow (short-term) whereas the weather this week was typical of Minnesota climate in April (long-term).
Modifications: How climate works is a lot more complicated than what a radiometer or weather vane can tell you. I used these instruments to introduce the basic concepts of weather and climate to a 3 and 5-year-old. But high schoolers could grasp more advanced climate concepts such as how the coriolis effect, hadley cells, ferrel and polar cells, etc. influence atmospheric circulation. High school students can still make weather instruments, but should use it as an introduction or supplement to a more advanced activity on climate and the atmosphere. Check out my atmospheric circulation maker-stations on TPT.
Tuesday: Weather Vs. Climate Art Activity
Part of experiential learning is making it personal by identifying student interests and giving the experience personal meaning. My children both love to paint, so I had them use their love of art to demonstrate their understanding of the difference between weather and climate. They both painted a picture of each season and describe the difference between the weather tomorrow, for example, and Minnesota climate.
Modifications: Another important component of experiential learning is that it is self-directed, allowing students choice in process and outcome. I do a lot of self-directed project-based learning with my high school students, and they choose how to demonstrate learning. Allow your older students to CHOOSE how they will demonstrate their understanding of weather vs. climate. Check out my PBL task cards, a collection of end product options. These can be used for any learning experience, not just this one.
Wednesday: Energy Experiments
The Earth's surface is what heats the planet, so different surface materials heat the Earth in different ways - some absorb radiant energy and some reflect it. Albedo is the amount of energy that is reflected. I set up a lab for my kids to test albedo of different surfaces. The purpose was to see which surfaces reflect solar energy and which ones absorb it. My children chose the surface materials, made predictions, did the experiment, and discussed their results. My young kids could grasp that different materials have different temperatures. They also seemed to understand that the sun is responsible for the heat. There were a lot of valuable pieces to this experience other than the science. My kids practiced writing, addition and subtraction, reading a thermometer, problem-solving, writing, graphing, and more.
We then made our own solar ovens using Pringles jars (so many tutorials online), one wrapped in black paper, and the other in red. My son predicted that the marshmallow in the black container would cook faster because of the albedo experiment. My daughter said the red would cook faster "because the marshmallows will taste good". She's three ;)
Modifications: Solar energy is the foundation of climate science. It drives the whole system. The energy budget is a balance between the amount of incoming solar energy to Earth and outgoing energy out into space. If that budget is off, climate shifts. Older students can 1) ask their own questions and design their own experiments in relation to the energy budget, and 2) understand the implications that surface materials have on climate in real-life. Pavement, for example, would absorb more solar energy than would a marsh. How we manipulate the Earth's surface will impact the global climate.
Check out my energy budget unit bundle, which includes an open-inquiry experiment.
Thursday: Ocean Circulation Demo
This was by far my children's' favorite activity this week because they love anything that involves water. A LEGO water park was the byproduct of my thermohaline circulation demo. The ocean plays a large role in the global climate. Salinity and water temperature influence ocean circulation because salty, cold water is denser than fresh, warm water. This demo shows how the density differences put water into motion. This circulating water moves heat around the globe, moderating coastal temperatures. My kids understood that the blue water had salt in it. They also understood that it sank because it was "heavier" than the water that did not have salt in it. They loved to watch the demonstration and it inspired a lot of questions, which is always my end goal!
Modifications: My own children did not understand the bigger picture or how this concept applies to the ocean and climate, and I wouldn't expect them to. They are 3 and 5. But I would expect that high schoolers could grasp these concepts. Have students watch this demo play out in full and then move on to my ocean and climate inquiry stations resource.
Friday: Data Analysis
We did several activities this week that required recording data and figuring out what it all means. We analyzed our weather data that we recorded each day, putting the numbers into graphs and learning how to read them. We also put the results of our albedo and solar oven experiments into graphs. I set the graphs up for them, and had my kindergartener put his numbers into it, with my guidance. They were both able to read the graphs to a certain degree to draw conclusions. For example, they could see from the graph that we had the most precipitation on Monday, or that the dark surface materials were the warmest.
Modifications: As I said above, your students could do climate experiments as well, but should make their own observations, ask their own questions, and design their own experiments. For unlimited self-directed experimentation, check out my scientific inquiry tool kit (includes a printable and Google Classroom Distance Learning Option). Your older students should also design their own method of collecting data and create their own graphs entirely.
Weekly Experiential Learning Schedule: Plan a Trip
I have been a high school project-based educator for 12 years. Trip planning projects (hypothetical) are always a favorite. It is a student-directed, interest-based, multi-disciplinary learning experience, that applies to real-life and offers opportunities to gain important life skills, such as budgeting. I have several free high school trip planning activities in my TpT store and a "Plan a Trip Around the World" student-directed PBL resource in my store for purchase (printable and Google Classroom option).
My family and I were supposed to head to the Great Smoky Mountains, Asheville, Savannah, and Charleston in June. We have to postpone it due to coronavirus, but fully intend on visiting at some point. So I decided that this week's experiential learning theme would be "planning" that trip. We ended up focusing most of our attention on Charleston. If you have young kids, help them choose a destination and do the activities highlighted here. If you have older children, give them the self-directed learning resources and let them go for it. Check out what we did!
Monday: Travel Distance and Cost
The original plan for this trip to the southeast was to fly into Nashville and fly out of Charleston. Turns out that it is a lot of extra driving to fly into Nashville, and my kids struggle with driving. So, their task was to weigh the costs and benefits of different travel scenarios; to choose a fly-in and fly-out scenario that's cost-effective BUT requires the LEAST amount of total driving time. For this activity to be successful for such young kids, I had to have the scenarios ready. Before we started the activity I figured out the total number of hours on the road per scenario as well estimated flight costs. My children, then, determined which was the best case scenario by comparing prices and driving hours. This was a good way for my kindergartener to practice <=>, adding and subtracting, and decision-making.
Modifications: High school students can do the same activity. A high schooler, however, would research their own flight costs, determine possible routes on their own, and consider other variables. For example, if their goal is budget travel, they may suggest not flying at all, and take a road trip instead (in order to save money on flight and on site transportation costs). Then they would look at the cost of gas to see if that route is cost-effective and time efficient. The resources in my store (free and paid) guide this experience.
Tuesday: Lodging and Graphing
This was my children's favorite part of this week. Even though we will be traveling to the Smokies, Asheville, Charleston and Savannah, I decided that we would focus on one destination, Charleston, because my children are 5 and 3. Be realistic! I asked each of them to tell me ONE hotel feature that mattered to them. My son said "pool", my daughter said "hot pool", and I said "cost", "good reviews", and "good location". I hand-sketched a graph (see photo), hopped on Tripadvisor with the kids to scope out hotels, and the kids colored in the graph.
This activity was a great way for my kids to practice organization, decision-making, math skills, and reading graphs. I helped them understand the benefit of organizing information onto a graph. My daughter was so excited by this activity that she presented it to her dad at the end of the day. She is 3 years old.
Modifications: High schoolers, again, could do the same activity, but include more "must-haves". High schoolers can, and should, consider things like whether there is free breakfast, proximity to learning activities, if hotel parking is free, room availability, expense during travel season vs. the off season, how many travelers there will be and how many rooms will be required. Students could also compare lodging options such as Airbnb/VRBO, camping, hostels, motels/hotels, etc.
Wednesday: Plan Itinerary
My kids loved this. We referenced a variety of resources from friends that have visited or lived in Charleston, to Tripadvisor, to travel blogs, and travel guides. They researched what to do in Charleston (looked at pictures and listened to me read background info about each activity) , chose their favorites, and put together an itinerary by drawing photos and writing descriptions of each thing they wanted to do while in Charleston.
Modifications: My young children chose a few places to visit in order to learn a little history and practice drawing and writing. This isn't a real plan. High school students should approach this activity as if they will actually be taking this trip. They should have a solid itinerary scheduled out. They will have to look at activity costs, location, transportation options, etc.
Thursday: History and Culture
This activity isn't technically part of trip planning. It's just to understand the history and culture of the destination. I read "Oh, Charleston!" to my kids to teach them about the history of ragtime music and the Charleston song and dance. My kids learned how to to the dance. Sort of. My daughter likes to cook, so we made an authentic Charleson meal, which included Lady Baltimore cake (named after a book, not the city of its origin), barbecue (which, btw, is not an outdoor meal on the grill, northerners), and cornbread.
Note: The cooking part of this week's activities extended into the weekend. We were not able to put together a full meal in an afternoon.
Modifications: My high school students have done a similar thing. I work at a school that has a travel program, so sometimes these trips actually happen. We always study the history and culture of the place before we go on any school trip. Because it's project-based learning with my students, they are required to produce an innovative final product to demonstrate learning and share their new skills and knowledge with a public and relevant audience. So they might make a meal with authentic dishes from their destination and then format those recipes into a cookbook, host a dinner party, or produce video tutorials to add to Youtube. So many options!
Friday: Demonstrate Learning
At this point I had my kids compile everything they learned from the week into a "trip planner". I I put together a blank book with blank construction. They compiled their plans into the book, glued in photos, wrote captions, etc.
Modifications: There are so many interesting ways for kids to demonstrate learning that go beyond poster boards. My students create trip proposals and present their idea to the school board for approval. Hypothetical trip plans have been compiled into brochures, blog posts, websites, and more. Check my post on final product ideas: 100 End Product Ideas to Demonstrate Learning.
Experiential Learning Activity Schedule: Simple Machines
We focused on simple machines our first week. We did this because my oldest child loves building, particularly with LEGOS. This week of activities on engineering included math, science, reading, writing, technology, art, and more. Look below for details and photos of our experiences.
Tuesday: Maker Project
Maker projects start by identifying everyday problems, frustrations, or obstacles and designing a solution to that problem. My children wanted LEGO cleanup to be faster, so we each designed our own product that would solve that problem. Kids their age require a significant degree of structure and guidance. This kind of project promotes problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and more.
Modifications: This exact project could be done by high school students, they just require less hand-holding. They identify problems, design solutions, build their products, test their products, make changes, try again, and so on until they have a functional solution to their defined problem. I have a Maker Project Tool Kit geared toward high school students in my TPT store, and recently added a digital version to be used with Google Apps.
Wednesday: LEGO Math
I love this one. It has little to do with machines, but but children's love for LEGOS and building is really what inspired this week's theme. I set out a white board and had my children do numbers-related activities using LEGOS. My daughter did some color matching and categorizing by size, shape, etc. My kindergartener did adding, subtracting, less than/more than, etc.
Modifications: Older students could do fractions, algebra, angles, etc.
Thursday: Stop-Motion Animation Using Simple Machines
I love this one because it combines so many concepts and skills in one activity. The idea is to make a moving stop-motion set using LEGOS and simple machines. My child created a storyboard, wrote the story, drew the illustrations, created the set using his LEGO pieces, and created a stop-motion animation. I was by his side to answer and ask questions throughout the process.
Modifications: My child's final product was what you would expect of a five-year-old and where they are at developmentally. I could easily assign the same project to a high school student, but the expectations would obviously be different. I would expect narration and sound in their final product. I would ask that their stories be more elaborate with all of the essential parts of a story, plot twists, character development, etc. They can also be given more independence than a 5-year-old. As for younger students, my toddler enjoyed observing and assisting.
Friday: Marshmallow STEM Challenge
The challenge was to get a marshmallow from the floor into a bucket using only simple machines to get it there. STEM challenges encourage mistakes, which helps kids build so many skills. You can see in the video that it didn't work the first time...or the second, third, or fourth time. When their efforts aren't successful, I ask them what they believe to be the problem and how they might fix it. They'd try something new or make an adjustment, and try it again. We went on like this until they accomplished their goal; getting the marshmallow into the bucket using simple machines.
Modifications: My toddler loved this activity. She isn't old enough to truly wrap her mind around simple machines, but her tagging along, and even observing, allowed her to work on gross motor-skills, problem-solving, teamwork, and more. Older kids could do the exact same challenge, but work more independently. You could add to the challenge by asking that they combine at least three simple machines, and make the goal more challenging, such as getting the marshmallow from the floor to the table or up a staircase.
I have a STEM challenge rubric in my store that is included in a self-directed learning rubric bundle for high school students. Check that out for unlimited STEM Challenge assessments.
Outdoor Experiential Learning Activity Schedule
Monday: Animal Inquiry and Mini-Photography Project
My kids learned about types of animals such as amphibians, mammals, birds, etc. by doing an inquiry project. They learned the basics from National Geographic Kids. Then I set them up with photos of different types of animals. Their challenge was to place each photo under the animal category that they believe fits the animal's description. Inquiry requires questions, questions, and more questions - from the students AND the instructor. You don't tell students the answer. You ask them questions that lead them toward making their own discoveries. For example, my child placed dolphins under the "fish" category for obvious reasons. Rather than tell him that a dolphin is a mammal, I asked him why he believes it's a fish, I asked him what might be different about the dolphin than a clown fish, and so on. He was able to identify that the dolphin didn't have gills, that they don't lay eggs, etc.
The second part of this activity was to head outside and take photos of the different animals types in their natural habitats and create a gallery.
Modifications: I do the same activity with my high school students, but rather than categorize animal types, they group organisms photos by relationships. They create cladograms with the photos provided. As for the photography project, I have a high school version of this, where students do a photography scavenger hunt outdoors of higher level ecology concepts such as sexual dimorphism, symbiotic relationships, k-species, etc. Check out this FREE resource.
My son's teacher asked parents specifically to focus on storytelling. This is a great way to work on reading comprehension and writing while allowing kids to get creative and learn in an interesting and fun way. All I did was have my children piggyback off the inquiry activity from the day before. They each wrote a storyboard/comic that included at least one character from each animal type. My 5-yr-old did the illustrations and the writing, and my 3-year-old helped him write the plotline.
Modifications: Older students could do the exact same project, but their expectations would be modified. You could ask that they write a poetry book, a children's book, a magazine, etc. The options are limitless. They could make physical books, but I really like FlipSnack because they can share their final product link with friends and family and/or an authentic audience. They could also create animations using a variety of free online programs.
Wednesday: Numbers in Nature
There are a lot of really cool ways to incorporate numbers in nature. We did a few activities that were age and skill level appropriate, one of which was to head outside for a nature walk and fill a bucket with nature items such as pine cones, leaves, etc. Then my kids counted the points on the leaves, measured the length of sticks, identified different geometrical shapes, etc.
I also had my children read a book called "Lifetime" by Lola M. Schaefer. I had my five-year-old create his own version by numbering pages 1-10 and drawing that number of ONE animal type on each page. For example, page 2 had two dolphin drawings, page 3 had three spider drawings, etc.
Modifications: I used to do a similar numbers in nature scavenger hunt activity with my older students, but they were out to test the validity of Fibonacci's numbers. The claim is that Fibonacci's numbers (0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13....etc.) are found in nature, so they would count the number of petals on flowers, points on leaves, rings on tree stumps, etc. Another option is measure the angles of nature items.
Thursday: Citizen Science
I'm a huge fan of citizen science. It's an awesome way to learn science concepts while giving learners a sense of accomplishment and importance. Citizen science projects use data that citizens collect and report, such as loon sightings. We went for a walk around a local lake and tried to spot loons through sight and sound. We were able to spot one. We can then head to the Common Loon Citizen Science Project to report our location. We also created a backyard bird life list, filled our bird feeders, and count birds as we see them.
Modifications: Some great citizen science projects can be found on iNaturalist, for all ages. That is my favorite citizen science site. Older students can add their own inquiry science experiments to their citizen science projects. Click here for an open-inquiry science tool kit. Older students can also create their own citizen science projects through several sites. iNaturalist is one of those. You can also head to my archives, click on "outdoor learning" and head to my post of favorite citizen science projects.
Friday: Make Your Own Compass and Get Lost!
We made our own compass by cutting a small disc from a wine cork, drawing N/S/E/W on the the cork, rubbing a sewing needle against a magnet, sliding the needle through cork parallel with N/S, dropping the contraption in a bowl of water, and letting it guide us! I literally walked 8-10 blocks directly south and my children followed their homemade compass north to get home. I kept it simple to start.
Modifications: Older students could really get creative with this. They could create a backyard or local park scavenger hunt for younger siblings. They would hide "treasures" around the yard or park, create a treasure map of the area, and have younger students use the compass to find the hidden treasures.
There is a lot of talk about home learning right now (coronavirus school closures), and not the fun homeschooling where you get to hit up all of the museums when the rest of the kids are in school. We currently find ourselves in the situation where schools are closing around the country - around the world - because of COVID-19. Parents aren't sure how to keep busy or support their kids during this time. Classroom teachers are being asked to switch their curriculum to an online format overnight. It's not ideal, but as far as learning goes, you still have options.
If you're going stir-crazy, cooped up in your home with one or more wiley kids staring at their computers all day, this is a great post to reference. Below I've listed all of the blog posts I've written that are relevant or offer ideas for hands-on learning activities that can be done indoors, at home, on a cold/rainy day or when a pandemic hits, without fancy equipment or tech programs or the need to sit at a computer ALL DAY. You can also scroll to the bottom of the page for links experiential learning resources that can be done from home.
If you're unsure of how to facilitate experiential learning, check out some of my posts on student-directed learning for tips and tricks. Once you get comfortable letting go and giving your child voice and choice in their learning, it's a cinch for you. Good luck! Please reach out if you have any questions.
Learning from Podcasts:
This post is all about great podcasts for teens that are educational in themselves or could lead to some really cool learning experiences These DO NOT need to be done in a classroom. They do not depend on the cooperation of a group. Simply have your teens listen any number of the podcasts recommended here and have them turn it into a PBL project. You can find a lot of posts on project-based learning here, and check out my PBL resources at Experiential Learning Depot on TpT.
Student-Planned Hypothetical Trip:
My students plan travel experiences for personal PBL projects all of the time. Although my school has a travel program, few of the planned trips rarely came to fruition. But my students love to plan them anyway, even if they are hypothetical. Almost all of trip planning happens online. On top of that, there is so much to be learned from planning a trip such as geography, budgeting, inquiry skills, collaboration, global awareness, and more. I have many free travel resources in my TpT store, all of which require no more than a computer and internet.
Ways to Use Google Maps in Project-Based Learning:
Google Maps has so much to offer as far as it's capacity for learning experiences. At first sight it seems that it can only be used to direct someone from point A to point B. But it can also be used to tell a story, to tell history, to map out a hypothetical travel experience, to put together a hometown tour, and more. And all of this can be done from a computer from home. Head to this blog post for more ideas on how to use Google Maps as an online learning tool.
100 Final Product Ideas to Demonstrate Learning:
This large list of ways to demonstrate learning comes in handy for project-based learning. If a student is researching COVID-19, for example, a final product is what they would create to demonstrate what they have learned about that topic, such as creating an animation on virus transmission. Poster boards can get a bit tired. Most of the final products ideas listed on this post require little but the internet or basic office/school supplies. Print out this list and prop it up in a place where your child can see it. As they design projects, they can refer to this list, and add some new final product ideas to it as it as they come up!
So much learning happens in the kitchen! Math, science, social/emotional learning, inquiry skills, and more! Cooking is a great way for kids to use their hands, connect with you and/or their siblings, learn a lot, build skills, and have a good time. It's also integrative and is a great way to differentiate learning based on skill level, age, interests and more. Check out these awesome kitchen inquiry ideas.
Snow Day/ Rainy Day STEM Activities:
All of the STEM ideas in this post can be done inside with very few resources. It's amazing what you can do with some cardboard. Start collecting all of those Amazon boxes and toilet paper rolls that you've been stocking up on!
Experiential Learning on the Cheap:
One concern about taking learning home is the lack of resources. You may think your home is not set up for "schooling". It doesn't need to be. This post provides a few ways to implement experiential learning activities without spending a dime. Some of the suggestions will not apply here, but many of them will. Pick through what will work for you and your current situation. At the end of the day, all you need is the internet. You don't need a smart board, cutsie posters with educational quotes, a 3D printer, or even a regular printer! Experiential learning involves using the community as a resource. Students can do this through email, facetime, conference calling, and phone calls. Experiential learning calls for innovation, authenticity, self-direction, and reflection. All of that can be accomplished without leaving home.
Take Learning Outdoors:
These are trying times for everyone, especially when it comes to mental health. We are social people, so to "social distance" is tough for many. It is for my son, anyway. Hopefully we can get through it soon rather than later! In the meantime, it's important to help our children get through the emotional and mental challenge of social isolation. I would love nothing more than to take learning out into the community. And although you don't want to be taking your kids to the community pool or the zoo where they could lick the hand rails right now, do take them outside! Go for walks in the woods, take in the sunshine and fresh air, get lost, be wild. Check out this post to learn how your kids can not only get outdoors, but learn in the process.
Good luck to you all, and stay safe!
High School Experiential Learning Resources for Distance Learning:
Free Resources - Most of these resources can be used at home.
Inquiry Bingo - This is a game that helps learners develop inquiry skills using only a computer.
Current Events - Check out my worksheets to go along with the Vice News series. Each episode can be found on Youtube and the resource includes worksheets to go with those episodes and extension activity ideas.
Project-Based Learning - You'll find a variety of PBL projects, tool kits, and free guiding resources at Experiential Learning Depot. Students may have to get creative with their authentic presentations by sharing online.
How Does Climate Work? *Bundle* - This climate science resource includes maker projects, inquiry stations, an inquiry lab and project-based learning that only requires a few basic household items.
Problem-Based Learning - PrBL is my absolute favorite learning experience to assign to students. It involves so many great skills such as problem-solving, inquiry and critical thinking. Students identify local or global issues and put together a comprehensive solution plan that tackles the issue from all angles.
Student-Directed Tool Kits - This bundle includes all of the guiding materials that you would need to implement student-led maker projects, inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and problem-based learning experiences. Students identify driving questions, research topics, or problems that need to be solved and design and lead a learning activity.
Some misconceptions about experiential learning perpetuate the myth that it is expensive. One misconception is that experiential learning has to be outdoors. Another is that it is limited to company team-building sessions. You do not need to take your students on elaborate excursions or hire out a team-building company. Those things aren't bad in and of themselves, they're great, actually, but they can get pricey and they aren't a necessity.
So, what do you need for experiential learning? You need a stimulating learning environment and an open-minded educator to guide the journey. Experiential education is hands-on learning through experience. It is also student-led, and personal, based on the interests, skills, and backgrounds of learners. If you keep these things in mind, it's really all you need. You won't need much more.
One of my favorite memories in my career as a teacher was an entrepreneurial project that a group of students did. This group learned how to screen print, set up their own screen printing workshop in the school, started a skateboard clothing company that used their new screen printing skills and workshop, wrote a business plan, created a marketing plan, made a business website, and organized and hosted a launch party for their business. This entire experience was free. This project was experiential learning at its finest without costing the students or a school a dime.
Check out these experiential learning cost-cutting tricks that I've learned over the course of my 12 years as an experiential educator.
Experiential Learning on the Cheap
1. Work With What You Have
Working with what is available is a great skill to have and it adds a challenge to any learning experience. Many of the resources in my TpT store revolve around this concept to encourage experiential education without breaking the bank. When I first began my career as an experiential educator, my school went through a financial setback. There were holdbacks from the state, and public education suffered the consequences. As difficult as this was at the time, this experience was important for me because I had no option but to work with what I had, and when I say "what I had", that literally boiled down to pencils. There were times that we didn't have paper.
This was about the time I started implementing maker education in my classroom. The challenge was often to design and make something with trash or with common household items. Even though finances improved the very next year, I held onto this philosophy because there was no need to spend a ton of money, regardless of whether there was more to go around. A free learning experience is not less valuable than an expensive one.
2. Place-Based Learning:
Place-based learning involves engaging with the "place", taking advantage of the world as a resource. That doesn't necessarily mean taking a field trip to the local zoo. As fun as that might be, it's costly, and doesn't necessarily involve the learner. Experiential learning, again, is to EXPERIENCE the concepts. To get involved. Place-based learning, then, is not only getting out in the community, but utilizing it for the benefit of everyone involved.
Taking your students to the zoo could be turned into an experiential, place-based activity. For example, rather than take students on a tour of the zoo, contact a volunteer coordinator to help students design and create enrichment activities for their captive animals. Students could get behind the scenes, work alongside scientists, and design and create stimulating toys for otherwise restless animals. This is a collaboration benefiting everyone involved. Lower the cost by challenging students to create enrichment activities on a budget, such as upcycling materials. This is one example of working within in the community, taking advantage of the "place", while learning and impacting the community. Win, win, win, win, win.
The skateboarding company students took full advantage of this concept. They sought out a screen printing company that offered to teach them how to screen print and set up their own shop free of charge.
3. Community Experts:
One of the best resources you can have is a portfolio of community connections. The world is the classroom and the real-people living in it will be your students' most important and credible sources of information. Project-based learning, problem-based learning, inquiry, service learning, etc. etc. etc. are all enhanced by community experts. Not only are community members your best resource, but they're generally free, especially if you're creating relationships with community members that are mutually beneficial. They WANT to help. You don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on a professional speaker. Bring in local business owners, researchers, city officials, medical professionals, NGO's, etc. to work with your students. These are the most authentic learning experiences kids can have, and it won't cost you a dime.
The skateboarding co. students wrote a grant proposal to a local software company that was looking to fund youth entrepreneurial projects in the city. This company paid for every single material including t-shirts and skate decks, all of the equipment to build a screen printing shop in the school, and the launch party. This company's marketing director also worked side-by-side with our students on branding.
4. Free Resources from Experiential Learning Depot:
I have many free experiential learning resources in my TpT store, which were all created to inspire and guide you through this style of learning. Some educators are hesitant to take on experiential learning, one of which is the expense. Hopefully we've ironed that out by this point. Another is a lack of confidence. These materials will help you feel comfortable facilitating experiential learning activities and allow you to try them out for free before investing too much time and money into the philosophy.
5. Student-Led Fundraising:
I've always been an advocate for student travel experiences. Traveling is life-changing, and there is nothing more experiential than getting right out into the thick of it. With that said, travel is not cheap, especially when you're talking about a large group experience. One way we are able to afford to take school trips is with fundraising. Some of my favorite projects to do with kids are student-organized and directed fundraisers because of the skills gained in the process. They learn how to create spreadsheets, make graphs, manage money, balance a budget, market their products or ideas, and so on. They also raise money for learning experiences that may not be free such as traveling, field trips, STEM materials, technology for the classroom, and more.
Check out a previous blog post for great student-led fundraiser ideas. You can also head to my TpT store for free travel resources and fundraising resources.
6. Learning Activities with Few Materials
This cost-cutting trick is a combination of the others. Some learning activities simply require fewer materials or less expensive materials than others. Student-directed project-based learning, for example, only requires a computer and internet access for information, communication, and community outreach. Any additional materials would be on a student-by-student basis. If you don't want to spend money on materials, ask that students design their material free. This is much easier than it sounds. If you already do project-based learning or are interested in starting it, make budgeting a part of the experience from the beginning. Slip into that mindset from the start. Make it an expectation. Make it part of your classroom culture.
The interesting thing about experiential learning is that it isn't expensive by nature. Reducing costs also tends to enhance the learning experience, not hinder it. How do you provide interesting and effective learning experiences for learners on the cheap? I'd love to hear your tricks!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on TpT, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
The ability to reflect is a skill - an essential skill - not just in an educational context, but in life. Your students will need to reflect on their parenting in the future, their careers, personal and professional relationships, mistakes, and more. If there isn't reflection, than there isn't growth and improvement, and in turn there isn't progress. If we as educators never pondered over botched lessons, analyzed specific interactions with students, or contemplated feedback from others, we wouldn't be very good at what we do. Let's give the same sense of continuous learning and improvement that we embody in our own lives to our kids by making intentional reflection a regular and expected occurrence.
Reflection is an elemental piece of experiential learning, therefore, every learning experience is followed by reflection. Learners identify challenges faced in the experience, they note progress made, they determine the next steps, and make goals for the future. The new year is a great time to start building reflection into your curriculum if you don't already because that mindset is already there. Make reflection habitual in your learning/teaching environment
Below you'll find a few critical moments in the learning process or specific learning experiences that necessitate reflection, which strengthens and reinforces learning that took place in that time. You might find some of the following reflections more relevant or suitable for your students than others. Scroll through, feel some out, and give a few a try.
Click on the "Experiential Learning" link in the archives for more on experiential learning.
6 Ways to Enhance Learning with Reflection
1) Any Given Time Frame:
I have had my students write daily reflections and quarterly reflections. They reflect on completed seminars. They write end of the year reflections. They even reflect on their high school careers before they graduate. The idea here is that students look back on a designated time in their lives. In doing this they develop important skills that they can apply in their lives over the course of a lifetime.
2) Learning Activities:
As I said above, my students reflect on all learning experiences. Projects, presentations, problem-based learning activities, STEM challenges, service learning experiences, science experiments, watching documentaries, reading novels are all examples of learning experiences that can (should) be followed by a reflection. ALL learning activities can be reflected upon, not just the ones mentioned, as long as there is something to ponder. If a follow-up reflection seems irrelevant or tedious, than a reflection might be necessary on your part to determine if it's a learning activity worth doing.
Check out my FREE learning activity reflection on TpT. It is generic and could be applied to most learning activities. Every resource in my TpT store (except inquiry bingo and Vice resources) includes an activity-specific reflection.
3) Educational Travel:
Travel is the mother of all learning experiences. I didn't include it in #2 because it is so much more than a "learning activity". Conducting a science experiment in the lab is a cool learning experience, of course. Giving a presentation for the first time is a huge accomplishment. Team STEM challenges help learners build many essential life skills. BUT TRAVEL. Travel is all of this combined and more. It is completely life-altering in a way that nothing else is; the experience and outcomes cannot be replicated.
I have found, in my own experience, that reflection comes naturally after travel. My students always seem to have epiphanies, not while on the actual trip, but upon reflection long after the trip has come to an end. That is the power of reflection.
Download my free trip reflection on TpT. All of my educational travel resources are free. You can also head back to the many posts I've written on learning through travel for tips and resources. Click on the "student travel" link in the archives.
4) Authentic Learning Experiences:
Authentic experiences are those that are relevant and are connected in some way to real-life. For example, rather than learn about habitats from a textbook, you might have students do a conference call with a wildlife field ecologist. My students were able to do this with adelie penguin researchers all the way from Antarctica. Reflecting on such unique and consequential experiences like this not only encourages personal and academic growth, but also boosts the desire to have more experiences just as substantial.
5) Group Work:
Reflecting on group work is SO important. Rather than have students "grade" their partner(s), I have them reflect on the experience as a whole. It helps learners navigate conflicting personalities, understand the role that they played in the experience, come up with creative and effective resolutions to challenges, etc. We all have to work side-by-side with others at some point in our lives whether we vibe with those people or not. That's the reality. The ability to analyze a group's dynamic, accept feedback from a teammate in a professional manner, DO something productive with that feedback, evaluate team progress, and modify when things aren't going according to plan are skills that are fortified through reflection.
6) Personal Growth Reflection:
This is a really important one in my opinion. "Behavioral issues" on a high school level more often than not lead to out-of-school suspensions; at least they used to. Look up "school-to-prison-pipeline" if you're unfamiliar with this phenomenon. This is a problem. In the case of my students, many either invited suspensions or feared them. For some, our school was their only safe place, so displacing them from it felt wrong and ineffective. About five years ago we stopped suspending students for this reason, among others. Instead, students reflected on their "offense". They either wrote reflections or participated in a restorative justice circle, depending on the situation. The results can be really powerful.
I know many homeschoolers read this blog, and although suspensions do not apply to your children, growing up does. ALL kids do things in the process of growing up that we wish they wouldn't. I'm not a child psychologist, so I'm not going to tell you how to parent, but I do suggest asking your children to reflect on those frustrating behaviors. Reflecting helps kids develop a healthy self-concept, figure out who they are and who they want to be, determine whether their relationships are healthy and positive, build self-confidence, establish a moral compass, and more.
I want to add before I go that "reflecting" can take many forms. Not all reflections have to be written. Get to know your students and what works well for them. I had many students who needed to verbally reflect. This was especially true after travel experiences. I often had one-on-one reflection meetings with my travelers. Just do what works well for you and your students! Good luck and happy reflecting!
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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.