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!
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Raise money for learning activities this Halloween with these spooky and spirited student-led fundraisers:
Approaching holidays make great excuses to fund raise for your school or organization. People love Holidays. Get into the spirit of Halloween this year by organizing some fundraising events that are not only fun, but help you raise big money for your school.
Happy Halloween, and happy fund raising!
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Earlier this week my two children were walking around outside collecting colorful fall leaves off of the ground that were already beginning to fall. I LOVE fall, but in Minnesota, the fall season is fleeting, and that means WINTER IS ALMOST HERE! Right now is a great time for schools to fund-raise, as many of the best fundraisers happen outdoors. So let's get to it before our fundraising is limited to shoveling snow!
As you know by now I was heavily involved in our school travel program. I have traveled with students to Costa Rica, Hawaii, Colorado, Texas, California, Florida, the U.P., and many very close to home. These trips are not free, nor are they cheap. They weren't possible without significant fundraising efforts by my students. I have been traveling with students for 9 years, so have a lot of experience with fundraising at this point. A lot of trial and error! A LOT OF ERROR. What I have found is that the best fundraisers are those that are student led - entirely planned and executed by students (with some guidance and a few seeds planted here and there.) There are enormous benefits to student-led fundraisers, one of which is the load it takes off of your already spread-thin plate, especially if there is one or two really ambitious, organized, motivated students that can take the reigns. There are also many benefits to students that participate in student-led fundraisers. They invest their time and put hope in the outcome, so see to it that it goes well and goals are met. Fundraising where students can get involved also provides opportunities to build important life skills such as marketing, communication, team-work, budgeting, conflict management, and organizational skills. A bonus? Kids love fundraising! I'm not sure what it is, but I won't argue with them if they're willing to participate in the effort.
I had many students that wanted to organize fundraisers, so I created a graphic organizer to help them streamline the planning process. That template is available at my TpT store (Experiential Learning Depot). Download it here for free - Graphic Organizer for Planning a Student-Led Fundraiser.
Now for the fundraisers. Some fundraisers are better than others when it comes to those that are student-led. I have listed the top 11 student-led fundraisers in my experience. I'm certain there are many great ones, and I'd love to hear about those!
Student-Led Fundraiser Tips:
1) Great fundraisers for students to lead are those that require little money upfront, are local or require light travel, the fundraiser location is easily accessible, the product for sale is made by the students (baked goods, candles, t-shirts, etc. - people are more likely to buy when they can see the effort put in), or the service provided is by that of the students.
2) Encourage students to connect with their community - hugely important. That might mean students spending some significant time just setting the stage for future fundraisers. Their neighbors will be their biggest allies when it comes to raising money because those neighbors could be their "customers" and they can spread the word.
3) Encourage students to collaborate with the school board - ideally you will have members on the school board that are well connected with potential big donors. Keep them in mind when fundraising. Ask student fundraisers to speak with or present to their school board, and ask the board to support student fundraisers.
4) Marketing! Planning and having a fundraiser is just a small piece of the big picture. Students must also get the word out there. There are a variety of ways to market fundraisers. Students know better than anyone how to use social media as a marketing tool! Work with that. Creating a marketing plan is one feature of the free graphic organizer already mentioned.
5) Students should have a specific project in mind - donors want to know where their money is going. Students should create a portable presentation (poster board) that they can put on display wherever they are fundraising. The board should lay out the purpose of the fundraiser. Whether it be a field trip, student travel opportunity, chemistry lab equipment, robots for a robotics class, iPads for your class, or simply notebooks and pencils, donors want to know. It makes it more personal.
6) Encourage students to start planning early. Marketing takes some time, and you don't want to spring a fundraiser on anyone. Give people notice so they can plan to be there!
Ok, here we are. Finally to the guts of this post. I have tried A LOT of different fundraisers with my students. The following 11 were the most successful in terms of student-involvement, money raised, and efficient use of time.
Easy to do Student-Led Fundraisers
1) Donors Choose - if you are an educator and you have not yet donated to a project on Donors Choose OR created a fundraising project of your own, you are truly missing out! Donors Choose is crowd-funding for educators. The best part? The website is deliberately designed to get students involved in their own fundraisers. For example, there might be a "project" created on an educators site to raise $1,000 for classroom Chrome Books. Students can create the project, market their project to friends and family, and are required to write a thank you letter if the project is fully funded. I have used Donors Choose for several school traveling experiences. One of my students created a "project" on Donors Choose asking for enough money to pay for student passports to get to Costa Rica. She met her goal in only two weeks. Passports paid for. The interesting part is that corporations looking to fund interesting projects surf the site. Our passports weren't paid for by donations only from friends and family. A big chunk of the money was donated by businesses.
The projects below are the fundraising projects, written by my students, that have been fully funded.
2) Hometown Calendars - several years ago my boss, a long-time loyalist to St. Paul, MN, noticed a lot of changes happening in our school community. A light rail was going in right in front of our building that would connect the two major downtown areas. He asked students to take photographs of some of the work, then had them go back into archives to find photographs of those same areas from decades ago to see how it has changed over the years. That is how the JCS calendar fundraiser got its start. The students formatted their photos into a calendar to sell. The students take the photos, find old photos to compare and contrast, create the calendars AND sell the calendars. They work closely with the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce as well. Check out their latest calendar below!
3) Class or school t-shirts - the last few years of my time teaching, my advisory students created school t-shirts to sell to students, teachers, parents and community members. All t-shirts were designed and created by the students. This type of fundraiser involves students from a variety of backgrounds with various talents, and it's fun if you make it an annual thing that the school community can look forward to each year. The picture below is a student-taken and edited photo of the St. Paul skyline that was printed on sweatshirts and t-shirts. It's a great student-created product for a student-led fundraiser.
4) School store - I like this fundraiser because it is mostly student-run, and they take pride it being a part of it. My students survey the student body asking for store product suggestions. It is where we sell healthy snacks, our school shirts, some quick and easy breakfast foods. The downside to the school store option is that the funds raised come exclusively from students. This worked for my students though because we didn't have vending machines in the building. We served breakfast and lunch and that was the only access students had to food throughout the day unless they brought their own snacks. The school store was the only place to get a quick snack in between meals. If the students aren't doing the bulk of the work for this fundraiser, it isn't worth doing. It is an enormous undertaking if you're doing it alone. The students can take charge of stocking, book-keeping, selling, etc.
5) Ready-bake holiday pies - the holiday season is upon us! Okay, I know that seems soon, but for Minnesotans, apple picking has begun already, and that means apple pies! It's never too early to get holiday pie fliers and order forms out to school staff, parents, board members, and neighborhood friends. Several years ago, one particular student who was raising money for a school trip to Hawaii, took charge of this fundraiser. We went to an orchard to pick apples, created fliers and order forms, spread the word on social media, and made freezable, ready-bake pies for pick-up. We wrapped them up and printed out holiday themed baking instructions. Making pies isn't cheap. The apples can get especially pricey. Work with an orchard in the community to arrange a discount or work exchange arrangement. Your fall-back could always be pumpkin pie. Canned pumpkin puree is fairly cheap. If you and your students are ambitious, consider extending this concept and start a school garden where you can grow pumpkins, blueberries, or whatever climate appropriate fruits would make for great pies! This fundraiser is great because it could be and should be almost entirely student-run (with some oversight on your part). They can create all of the marketing materials, design an order form, collect the ingredients (or start a garden), organize orders, make the pies, sell, etc. This was one of our most successful fundraisers because the community wanted to support student-driven endeavors. How good does that look!?
6) Venue events - there are a variety of venues and/or sports teams in the Twin Cities that support local schools and want to see them succeed. The Minnesota Twins and St. Paul Saints are two of the Twin Cities' baseball teams that have school fundraising programs. They put fundraising groups to work behind concessions at games and give them a large stipend at the end of the shift. Valley Fair is an amusement park in Minnesota that has a similar program. They take students behind the scenes to do various tasks in exchange for a large stipend after the shift. My students raised $2,000 toward their earth science trip to Hawaii from Valley Fair alone. This style of fundraising is great because the students did the coordinating. I just chaperoned. Check out local opportunities like this in your own community.
7) Rummage sale - before I talk this one up too much, I'm going to say that this one requires some serious work for everyone, even when it is student-led. However, if it is done well, you'll see serious payout. The reason for this is because it shouldn't cost you, students or the school a dime upfront. Items for sale should be donated. Students leading the fundraiser can ask students, teachers, parents and community members for donation items to sell at the rummage sale. A student of mine organized a rummage sale several years ago. She scanned Craigslist garage sale posts regularly, emailed garage sale hosts, and asked that they donate any leftover items to her rummage sale. We had so many donations, and ended up raising more money from this fundraiser than any fundraiser I have been involved with since. Last bit of advice is for student fundraisers to try to get their hands on baby and kids items!
8) Bake-off or cook-off - bake-offs and cook-offs are by far my favorite student-led fundraisers. Students get SO excited about these events. Bake-offs and cook-offs are both fantastic, however, our cook-offs have generally been more successful than bake-offs. Here is the gist of a cook-off:
9) Yard work service - basically a student fundraising team creates a lawn business. It's best to keep it simple. They can offer raking services, shoveling or weed pulling. This is a great student-led fundraiser for several reasons. One is that few materials are required, therefore it is cheap upfront. They would need rakes, shovels if for snow removal and some bags. They would also need transportation. That is why this is a great student-led fundraiser because students could advertise their services in their own neighborhood. My students usually made fliers and passed them out around the school community. Local businesses would have my student's shovel their sidewalks on snow days. The key to this fundraiser is marketing. A lot of folks are happy to do their own yard work. Others hire professional services. What we did was make it personal and meaningful. We advertised who we were and our fundraising goals. Most people want to support local schools. We also left "donation" amount up to the customer. Typically they give more than we would have asked for. This is also a great way for students to connect with the community, which is important for a variety of reasons.
10) Raffle - this is a great student-led fundraiser to add to any other fundraising event, such as a cook-off. My students wrote letters to local businesses introducing themselves, their fundraising goals, and their purpose for fundraising. They asked in their letters that these businesses donate gift cards to be used for a raffle fundraiser. The students wrote these letters and mailed them right before winter break. When we returned from winter break there were about 50 gift cards from various local businesses. We used the gift cards as raffle prizes at our cook-off fundraiser. It didn't cost anyone a dime, and the planning and prep was fairly straight forward. Students just wrote letters and mailed them to businesses. Simple.
11) Car wash - I probably don't have to tell you that a car wash is a great student-led fundraiser. We see them everywhere because they are straight forward, great money makers, and students love them. Do this before it gets too cold! Car washes are also great spring time fundraisers. I don't know about everywhere else, but in Minnesota, people are outside in shorts the second it hits 60 degrees. They flock to the outdoors, and are typically in good spirits, ready to give, because it may be the first glimpse of sunshine they have seen in 9 months! Have students check out Wikihow's simple instructions on having a car wash fundraiser. Encourage students to add smaller fundraisers to the car wash such as a hot dog stand, drinks for sale, and/or a bake sale.
Fundraisers aren't easy, but a little more manageable when they're student-led. The benefits of student-created, student-organized and student-run fundraisers are enormous, especially for the students.
What successful student-led fundraisers have you seen or been a part of? Please share!
Happy Monday! Have a great week everyone!
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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.