Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
Has anyone else binge-watched "Down to Earth" on Netflix? If you haven't, do it! Down to Earth is a 5 star example of project based learning on the road and/or abroad.
Zach Efron (yes, I know), travels around the world focusing his energy on ONE global issue. For example, he visits Paris, where he dives deeply into the issue of clean and healthy drinking water. He talks with engineers, city planners, and local political figures. He talks with locals and visits a water treatment facility.
Zach confronts a problem and gets involved in the concepts by arranging authentic learning experiences and talking directly with community experts. He educates the rest of us about his findings. That is a brilliant project based learning example at work. This is a good framework to follow when planning your own project based learning experiences to go along with educational travel experiences.
Project-based learning is a fun and interesting way to enhance learning on any trip. Below is a list of end product ideas for PBL projects on the road. However, project-based learning is much more than producing an innovative final product. In addition 1) students reach out and engage with the community, 2) organize relevant learning experiences, and 3) share their new skills and knowledge with the world through an authentic presentation.
Encourage learners to participate in service learning projects on their trips, engage in cultural experiences, immerse themselves in ecological and human ecosystems, set up interviews/shadowing experiences/exchanges with locals, and more.
Grab my free project based learning tools to get started with educational travel PBL projects, and check out my self directed project based learning blog series if you're looking for more details.
I suggest starting with my self-directed project-based learning starter kit, which includes all of the templates and planning tools for student-led PBL, perfect for student travelers. It includes design materials, walking students through topic brainstorming, writing a driving question, determining authentic learning activities to go along with PBL's, choosing an innovative final product to demonstrate learning, etc. It also includes execution materials.
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45 Project-Based Learning Experiences for Student Travelers
1. Travel Journal:
Have students write a travel journal as they go. Have them publish it for personal use and as a keepsake for later on in life.
2. Travel Blog:
Students can keep a blog of their adventures, posting at the end of each day. I like this one because they can share the link with friends and family from home who can then follow along on their travel adventures. My students kept a school wide travel blog. Check it out at thejenningsexperience.weebly.com.
3. Climate and Culture Project:
My students did a group project on this in Hawaii. They coordinated interviews with locals, business owners, tour companies, surfers, park rangers, and more about how climate influences Hawaiian culture. Check out my Climate and Culture PBL project on TpT.
Students can create their own trivia games with questions relevant to their trip and share it with a relevant audience. It could be cool for a student to pair up with a travel blogger to get their trivia questions on the bloggers website.
5. 21st-Century Skills Portfolio:
This is a project that my students do regardless of whether they travel or not. The idea is that they make a portfolio with evidence of skill-building and reflect on those experiences. Travel would significantly bolster this portfolio. Check out that 21st century skill-building portfolio here. I also recommend checking out this blog post about building 21st-century skills through educational travel experiences.
6. Open Inquiry Experiments:
Have students design and conduct ecological open-inquiry experiments. They can test water quality from various water sources (this is a good one for road trips), conduct animal behavioral studies, edge effect experiments, soil experiments, and more. Because I am a science teacher, my students do this almost everywhere we go. Their final product is a lab report or science fair style presentation. Check out my open-inquiry tool kit to help guide students through the process.
I like using Rite in the Rain notebooks because they're waterproof. I used these notebooks when I was working on endangered species projects in the field. They're great for making observations and recording data, especially outdoors because they're made to withstand natural conditions.
7. Google Maps Tour:
There are so many cool things to do with Google Maps. Students can drop points anywhere in the world, add descriptions and photos from those points, and publish the "tour".
Check out my blog post dedicated to all of the ways kids can use Google Maps as a final product for PBL projects.
8. Behind the Scenes Projects:
Students go behind the scenes of specific communities. This type of project is a great way for students to immerse themselves in the place they are visiting. They connect with residents, businesses owners, city planners, etc. to fully experience the inner workings of the community.
Host, produce, and publish a daily podcast on the trip for friends and family to follow along on the adventure.
10. Student Exchange:
Connect with another school, student organization, homeschool co-op, etc. to arrange for your students to experience a day in the life of a local student. Have them journal, video document, or blog about the experience.
11. Write a Memoir:
Have learners document their experience by writing a book about it. My writers love this option. While traveling they can make notes and/or journal about the experience and when the trip has wrapped up, organize those notes into a memoir.
12. Plan the Trip:
I don't plan our school trips. Our students plan them (with my guidance). Trip planning is a profound learning experience that involves a variety of essential skills such as planning, organizing, decision-making, communication, and collaboration, to name a few. It includes lessons on finance, fundraising, geography, culture, geology, biology, etc. etc.
Take a look at my educational travel resources, including planning templates and a travel PBL tool kit.
13. Biography Project:
Read a biography or memoir about one person from or relevant to the destination and arrange authentic learning activities around that person while traveling. Check out my Biographies PBL project for guidance and templates.
For example, a students might be visiting Arlington, Virginia. A student might be interested in Jane Goodall so your students/class might read about her and then visit the Jane Goodall Institute. A students might be interested in Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher to go to space, getting there on the Challenger. You might then visit the Challenger Memorial at Arlington Cemetery.
I like to take reading on the road with Kindles. Carrying big books around on road trips or on plane can be a pain. I also have Kindle Unlimited for my own children, so they have access to any book they want, which makes personalized learning much easier.
14. Pinterest Profile:
Students create a Pinterest profile about travel. They create boards related to traveling such as budget travel, travel bucket list, authentic experiences while traveling, etc. Learners designate a board per destination visited and design and create their own pins to add to those boards on their travel experiences.
15. Tour Guide:
Students write a tour guide about their travel destination. They can add photos of their experiences, write reviews (restaurants, excursions, lodging, etc), and add insider tips for future visitors.
Try using my free resource on creating a travel guide.
16. Make a Travel Product:
Students design and make a product that solves a travel problem such as young kids kicking your airplane seat. They test their prototypes on the trip and even consider asking other travelers around them to test their products. Check out my Maker Tool Kit for any maker project, which includes a guide and design templates.
There are so many directions kids can go with this. They will choose a theme such as landscapes or environmental portraits, work on a specific camera function or photography technique, or do a photojournalism project, photographing an event taking place in their travel destination.
18. Habitats Project:
Students visit different ecological landscapes in the area they are traveling and design projects around these habitats. My students have conducted biodiversity surveys in Costa Rica. Another group gathered and mapped out climate data from various biomes in California. Check out my high school ecology project based learning lesson plan on habitats for guidance and templates.
19. Artistic Performance:
Students write a song, poem, skit, screenplay, etc. about their travel experience or specific content relevant to their travel destination, such as climate in their region.
20. Digital Animation:
Create an animation on any number of things related to the trip. Students can create a cartoon of their experience or an animation about something specific that they learned on their trip.
Students create a physical or online storyboard about their travel adventures. They could also create a storyboard about some aspect of their destination's history.
22. Learn a New Skill:
This could be something that is specific to the place or the culture. For example, when we visited Cambridge, England, we learned about punting and how to do it. When in Costa Rica we learned how to make traditional, wood-fired, pottery. In Italy we learned how to make authentic cannolis.
Create quality infographics about some of the concepts learned on the trip. If students spend a lot of time in national parks, for example, they might create infographics on what they learned about each the park's geology, history, biodiversity, etc. This can be done with any number of subjects. They can post infographics on a blog, Instagram, Pinterest board, etc. day-to-day as they travel.
24. Design a Set:
Upon return from a trip, students create a "set" that demonstrates where they were. It should be something that someone could walk through as if they were touring the destination themselves. Host an event for people to tour.
Students design and make their own postcards using photos from the experience. Students can later donate them to the places where the photos were taken such as a visitor center of a local park or gift shop of a museum.
26. Moving Diorama:
Students design and create a diorama that moves. It could be of an ecosystem, landscape, famous street, museum, etc. Use my maker tool kit to help learners through the design process.
27. Interactive Timeline:
Students design and make an interactive timeline on one piece of their travel destination's history. "Interactive" could mean moving, pop-up, reveal flaps, manipulating parts, etc.
28. Heritage Project:
I have my students do heritage projects in school all the time. They are asked to organize authentic experiences about one culture of their choosing. When traveling, authentic learning experiences are much easier to arrange because students are immersed in the culture they are studying. Check out my heritage project based learning lesson plan to get learners started.
29. Video Promotion:
Create a short movie that summarizes your trip. Produce it as if it were a promotion for your school or homeschool. Or produce it as a campaign that encourages parents, educators, and students to embrace travel as a learning tool.
Students make mini-documentaries on their travel experience. This final product idea could go with any number of driving questions or research topics. The documentary could be about the travel experience itself. Or it could be about a political, social, economic, environmental movement taking place at their place of travel. It could be about specific content such as a piece of the history, ecology, geology, geography, art, and more.
My students and own children are so artistic and really embrace 21st-century tech. Video is it, right? There are so many amazing learning opportunities that involve video like documentaries, video promotions, vlogs, tutorials, and so much more.
I find that my students gravitate to video products even more when we're traveling. So I've needed to find a compact, reasonably priced, and quality video camera. My high school students and children travel with a small Kicteck digital video camera.
Make a calendar about the travel experience itself or about some aspect of the travel destination. Original artwork and/or photographs of the destination should be included for each calendar month.
32. Make a Magazine:
This is a great group project. Students come together to determine the theme of the magazine, what to include, student roles and tasks, and more. The content should reflect the travel experience as a whole or features of the place itself.
This is a fun one for 21st-century learners. Chances are your students already "vlog" to some capacity. Students will record significant moments, learning experiences, activities, etc. during their travels and post those videos to a blog, website, or social media outlet such as Youtube, Twitter, or Instagram. Family and friends from home can follow along.
Students should have a focus question or topic, as all project-based learning experiences do. Check out my free PBL Driving Question tool to help students write driving questions.
34. Citizen Science:
Turn any number of citizen science projects into a project-based learning experience. Have students look into destination relevant citizen science projects, connect with the organization that has started it, collect data on their behalf, and create a final product to demonstrate learning.
See this blog post for citizen science projects already in the works that students could get involved in.
35. Community Action:
My community action project is a combination of project-based learning and service learning. Students identify an issue in the community where they are visiting, plan a course of action that solves the issue, and act on it. Check out my community action project tool kit and community action project blog series for guidance.
Create a topographical map of your destination's demographics, species distribution, population dynamics, specific landmarks, parks, museums, or whatever else you're interested in mapping.
Survey members of the community about any number of topics. Your survey could be about how local's feel about tourism in their town, top hot spots for locals, favorite restaurants in their community and so on. Choose your own topic, make sure that it is relevant to your destination, and go with it!
Identify community events, issues, or developing news. Interview relevant experts and write a an article about the current event.
Interview locals about any number of topics. My students did this when we visited Hawaii to study climate. My students wrote a book of essays with perspectives from locals about if or how climate change has impacted their lives, businesses, etc.
40. Write a Lesson Plan:
Write a guided project-based learning lesson plan for an age group and topic of your choice. Try using the project-based learning tool kit mentioned in the intro of this blog. Make sure your plan gets into the hands of those that could use it such as parents, teachers, and students.
Write a cookbook with authentic recipes from your trip. Meet with professional chefs, farmers that harvest local ingredients, and more. Make the cookbook and donate or sell it to a relevant audience. Try this "Plan a Dinner Party" PBL maker experience, but focus the cuisine on YOUR destination.
42. Write a Historical Fictional Book:
Write a novel or children's book based on historical facts about your destination.
43. Product Creation:
My students do a lot of maker projects using design thinking. They create prototypes of a product that could fix a problem, test it, and tweak it, until they have a functional, effective product. Students could do this with any number of problems relevant to their destination. For example, if they are visiting a mountain town where buildup of ice on driveways is a consistent problem, students would develop a product that solves this problem.
44. Project-Based Reading!
Read a variety of books about your destination before you go on your trip. Your destination should be the setting of your book. Your book does not necessarily have to be non-fiction. For example, Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" is a fictional novel, but they cite a number of real landmarks in the book in Paris, London, and so on. When you are at your destination, visit a variety of the landmarks mentioned in your book.
45. Put them together!
Combine a variety of these to make a comprehensive, authentic, project-based learning experience.
For assistance planning and facilitating travel project-based learning experiences, check out my free project based learning digital planner sample It includes PBL specific elements with guiding steps for seamless implementation.
Helpful Educational Travel Resources:
Related Blog Posts:
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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.