Imagine you walk into a classroom. You look around and see students spread out around the room. Some students are quietly lounging in bean bag chairs, reading or writing. In the center of the room you see a small group of students chatting around a large table. You find students sitting at desks, working away on computers. One of the students is creating an animation and another student is writing an email. You scan the room and see a couple of students watching a live webinar streaming from Facebook.
Relevance is important for students, not only to engage in learning but for them to care about the content. But why does it matter if they care?
Focusing on concepts that are part of the real-world, part of your students' worlds, helps them find purpose in the experience, which is an important piece of experiential learning.
I was heavily involved in the school travel program when I was teaching. I took students on a marine biology camping trip to the Florida Keys one year. A few months before the trip I began looking into campsites. Everything was booked and I panicked.
What is Personal Learning?
"Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid." I believe Albert Einstein said this, but it's been debated. This quote has also been criticized for a few reasons, one being that by calling everyone a genius, especially children, that they may believe they don't have to work hard in life. I don't really see it that way. What it means to me is that not all children are the same and shouldn't be treated as such.
I have had many people reach out over the past few months asking about experiential learning in k-12 classrooms. What are experiential learning activities? What are some examples of experiential learning? How do I transition to experiential learning in my classroom or home learning environment right now? I have even had educators reach out that are in the process of starting experiential schools. That is really exciting, and from what I'm gathering, also a little scary and chaotic for these educators.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.