Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
The last several blog posts have been around self-directed project-based learning and how to plan such an experience. Last week I talked about writing a driving question. This in important part of the project design. The next step would be identifying community experts and organizing authentic learning experiences to enhance the experience.
So before moving on, if you do not already have my free project-based learning printable and digital calendar, grab it here. Use it as we continue on through this post and series on self-directed PBL.
An overarching theme of project-based learning is community, from generating projects ideas to the final assessment. Students use community experts to gather information, create innovative final products that impact the community, and present their projects to an authentic audience, one that is relevant and often public.
All of the PBL components just mentioned involve the community in some way or another.
You might be thinking, how am I suppose to have my students utilize the community when the community is basically shut down? I write this post in the middle of a pandemic. Interacting with the community looks different now, yes. But it is still there, and it is more important than ever to get learners acquainted and connected with the community.
This can be done in a variety of ways, even if you can't get your students to an in-person event or bring a speaker into your school. Continue reading this post, and if you are looking for ideas that are specific to utilizing the community virtually, check out this post.
How to Use the Community as a Resource in Project-Based Learning
1. Shadow or observe experts in action out in the community.
Spending time on site with a community expert is a graduation requirement for our students. Students reach out to a community member of interest and spend some time experiencing their day alongside them in their place of work. It could be career related, but doesn't have to be.
2. Invite community experts to your learning environment:
Ask experts in the community to come into your place of learning to assist with projects or other learning activities. This could be ANYONE and could be incorporated into ANY learning activity.
For example, my students created awareness campaigns for an endangered species PBL that they were assigned. I invited a graphic designer to come into the building to assist with final product creation.
3. Include community experts in self-directed PBL design:
My students identify and connect with their own experts in the community as a source of information for their projects. Students can interview their experts, shadow them, have the expert teach them a skill, or work with them on a concept in-person or virtually. Students organize experts in the design phase of PBL.
All of my project-based learning resources (teacher and student-directed) incorporate community experts into the experience. This step is included in my resources and outlined in my free planner.
4. Invite community members to come speak to your students.
Ask community members to come speak to students about a topic related to a project or to introduce a topic. This is a great option for those of you that can't leave the building.
5. Invite community members to teach your students a skill.
We have invited artists, chefs, architects, self-defense instructors and more to work with our students on a variety of skills. These experiences are usually related to a PBL but I have occasionally invited experts in simply to mix up the day and inspire ideas.
6. Use the world as the classroom (if you can).
Take students on field trips and travel experiences. There are a variety of benefits to travel, and immersing students in other communities is a big one. Look back on some of my favorite posts about learning and travel, such as "45 Project-Based Learning Experiences for Student Travelers".
7. Gather feedback of community members.
One way of using the community as a learning resource is to ask that community members weigh in on student work. Invite the student's community experts to evaluate their work periodically as well as provide formative feedback.
You can also ask community members to observe and evaluate student work at presentation or exhibition events. You don't have to only include community members that have been actively involved in student projects. Invite everyone in the community so that they can see what your students do.
8. Get students actively involved in community issues.
Have students get involved in community issues. For example, I have my students do two projects that directly involve participation in the community.
One is to study a local business. The other is to shadow the organization and execution of a community event. Students could also take direct action on a community issue. My students do community action projects every year, where they take action on one community issue that is important to them.
Check out this post for more information, tips, and tricks about community action projects - Community Action Projects in Four Easy Steps. My free planner would work really well for these projects as well, as they include many of the same components.
9. Incorporate service-learning in your curriculum.
Encourage students to get out in the community and provide a needed service such as providing home maintenance for the elderly, volunteering at a food shelf, cleaning up garbage in the neighborhood, or reading to local elementary students. This could be done as a group activity or as part of a student-specific project.
10. You could also do service learning projects right from your classroom.
This may not make as much of an impact depending on your delivery, but if you can't get your students out in the community, serve the community from your classroom. Examples include creating holiday cards for veterans or making blankets for a homeless shelter.
11. Utilize community resources.
There have been many instances where I've used equipment or learning spaces outside of our school for project-based learning experiences.
The University of Minnesota has been amazing in this way. I have done science lessons using their greenhouse and we have used donated wind turbine kits to study wind energy in their biotechnology lab. A neurologist from the U of M has come in to my school with an actual human brain for students to study. A nearby church donated all of their leftover garage sale items to our school for our own sale. One of my students was building a go-kart for his senior project. He worked with a mechanic the gave him half of the parts he needed.
The list goes on.
12. Organize student/community mentorships.
I left my teaching job to stay home with my children as this program was really starting to take off at my school. We now have a mentorship program thanks to some dedicated staff and board members. This is so critical, especially for teenagers.
These are only a few options of many. When planning community involvement in your curriculum, consider the topic of study. Take constraints such as time, your own skills, equipment and space into account. Think about your needs and how a community member might be able to fill that role or provide that resource.
It may seem like an additional task to an already demanding load. But if you plan well and put some of the responsibility on your students, it may actually feel like you're saving time, and the end result is worth it. The benefits are worth it.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
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.