Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
I pride myself in creating classroom culture in my experiential learning community that is strong, positive, and trusting.
I don't claim to be fantastic at everything related to experiential learning, but I place priority on building strong classroom culture from the beginning because it plays such an important roll in the experience as a whole.
My students are like a family. They respect each other, take each other under their wings, support one another, impact the community together through impactful and learning experiences, and more.
And how do I do that? How do I get that strong classroom community?
I prioritize classroom culture-building from the beginning and continue maintain to maintain it throughout the course of the year with specific learning and community-building experiences.
I'm going to take this blog post to share some of those experiences with you!
Creating Classroom Culture in Your Experiential Learning Community
Create goals as a class. Examples:
Create advisory rules and/or expectations together. It may seem counterproductive to have students weigh in when it comes to class rules. Their rule would be “the rules are there are no rules!”, right?
Surprisingly, this is not how students respond when you tell them they will participate in creating and implementing their own group expectations. These expectations will in part reflect their class goals.
For example, if one of the goals is to cultivate a safe and productive learning environment, one rule might be to respect everyone’s space and physical boundaries at all times.
A favorite thing to do with my students at the beginning of each year (and periodically after that when we need a little pick-me-up) is to take them out of the building to do something together, preferably something challenging.
I usually take my students to climb a fire tower, hike to a breathtaking view or lookout, or hit up a city skyscraper, taking the stairs to the top. Each of these activities are both physically and mentally challenging, especially if those participating have a fear of heights. Therefore, it is a great accomplishment for students to achieve together.
Theme Class PBL:
Ask students during the first week of school to complete mini-projects (independently or in pairs) under a specific theme, and have them present to the other classes at the end of the week.
Theme ideas: make a short documentary, upcycling projects, family traditions, cooking, create a game, hobbies, try something new. The options are endless. This activity gets students on the same page, working toward the same goal. They feel united by a common objective.
I usually have my students come up with a class name at the beginning of the school year. A name is fun, but useless in the long-run if it is never used. Try the following add-ons:
There is no better way to build a strong group culture than giving. There are a variety of ways you could do this.
I have found these experiences to be most successful when I give the students voice, when they are passionate about the issue or purpose, and when the experience involves the entire group.
Plan and Host School Events:
Hosting school events and activities really bring students together. It is something that they can take pride in executing as a team. My students have planned some of the following school-wide activities.
Student-Led Class Fundraisers:
Every year my students choose to plan several fundraisers with the intention of raising money to add to the class budget.
The money we raise almost always goes towards field trips or fun learning materials. They could also donate the money to a charity. The process of planning and executing an event is such a great way to build a strong community within your advisory.
Large Group Project:
Unlike the theme project that is done independently or in small groups, this is a project done as entire class. It takes quite a bit of coordination on your part but is worth the time and energy spent. Each student of the advisory plays a role in the bigger picture.
My students have done all of the examples below. There are so many more options! Talk with your group.
Sparks and Community Experts:
Invite community members into your class periodically to speak. It can be on anything. It could be related to a current event you’re discussing in class. It could be related to one of the life skills seminars you are giving. It might just be an interesting speaker that you think your students might like. It could be ANYONE. Examples:
The experiential school where I have been my entire teaching career highly values and encourages relationship building. Creating classroom culture where students feel safe, are inspired to learn, excited to be there, support and encourage one another and so on is essential.
If you are sensing apathy, discouragement, behavioral issues, conflicts between students, etc., start to remedy those situations by building that classroom community back up. Hopefully there is something here in this post that you can start with! Good luck!
I love the quote below, for one, because Amy Poehler said it. I also like to use it as the goal for my advisory: to create a space for my students where they are "challenged and inspired".
More Resources for Culture-Building
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Observe. Question. Explore. Share.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.