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.
As someone with a background in biology, the first places I would think to go for scientific inquiry experiences is outside or in a lab. Next would be the kitchen. Winter weather in Minnesota can get extreme and those extremes tend to last awhile. Cooking is an indoor activity that is loaded with learning opportunities, particularly in science. Edit: Throw covid shelter-in-place orders in there, and it gets even more appealing!
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:
My husband and I made the goal of visiting every US national park as a family before our children turn 18. My children are also distance learning at the moment and my husband and I both work from home, which makes road tripping, especially to outdoor destinations, appealing. We are, as I write this, in Great Smoky Mountains National park. I am literally typing away as my two exhausted children are passed-out beside me.
I have been heavily involved in my school's travel program since I began teaching there 13 years ago. I have taken groups of high school students to California, Hawaii, Colorado, Florida, Texas, New York City, Costa Rica, and more. I have seen how travel can impact a person. Learning, relationship-building, character development and more emerge in a way that is entirely unique to travel.
I always pair travel experiences with student-led project-based learning. Each learner asks a driving question about their destination and explores that question while traveling. They organize authentic learning experiences, interview local experts, include the community, and so on.
For example, my biology students and I took a trip to Costa Rica to study tropical biology. One of my students focused her independent PBL experience on the problem of primate death from electrocution. She found a primate sanctuary called the "Sibu Sanctuary", organized a visit, interviewed the sanctuary staff, and used their expertise to develop an awareness campaign.
Try starting with the following FREE resources. You can also look back at the dozens of educational travel posts right here on this blog by clicking on the "Student Travel" link to your right.
Grab my student-led project-based learning tool kit, a guide that helps students design, plan, and execute their own project-based learning experiences
You can also subscribe here to get my digital project-based learning portfolio where students can showcase all of their project-based learning experiences and outcomes, as well as access to my experiential learning resources library. Here you can find an experiential learning activity planner, which would be helpful for educational travel.
10 Free Educational Travel Resources
1. Educational Trip Planner
This resource is a guide to planning an educational trip. I work at a school that is student-led and project-based, so our students often play a large role in planning the trips. They use this guide to do so. It includes purpose, budget, itinerary, fundraising plans, etc. You could also use this resource hypothetically and/or for family trips with your own children.
2. Trip Project Proposal
A project proposal is a template for designing a project. Students ask a driving question or choose a topic of focus, determine research questions or categories, plan the use of community experts and authentic experiences, choose an innovative way to demonstrate learning, and more.
3. PBL Cheat Sheet
This is a helpful tool for beginner project-based learners. It gives a few ideas for innovative final products and authentic presentations. This is helpful for any project-based learning experience, travel projects included.
4. Community Expert Planner
An important part of project-based learning is connecting with real people with real expertise. This is especially pertinent when it comes to traveling experiences. It makes learning more meaningful; more personal. A community expert might be an interpreter at a National Park, a museum curator, business owners, or even locals of whatever destination you happen to be visiting. This resource is a guide to help students plan community expert meetups.
5. Educational Travel Reflection
This travel resource is one of my favorites. As an experiential educator, I find enormous value in reflecting on learning experiences, especially an experience as profound as traveling.
6. Travel Brochure Mini-Project
this learning activity can be completed at home or at school. It does not require travel. Students create a brochure for one travel destination of interest. The intention is to get students excited about traveling.
7. Ecology Scavenger Hunt
This is another activity that does not require travel, but would be a great supplement to any nature trip, such as this family trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
8. Endangered Species Project
Yet another project that doesn't require traveling, but would be an awesome addition to an outdoor travel experience where students can connect with conservationists, naturalists, politicians, landowners, and more to learn about local endangered species and protection efforts. They might even collaborate with local experts. My family and I came across California condors on our hike through Zion National Park today. California condors have a long and complicated history and have been on the endangered species list for decades. If I were doing a project on this endangered species in Zion I could talk to the naturalists, hunters, landowners, park visitors, bird enthusiasts, and more to gather information from various interests.
We don't have condors in Minnesota, so traveling to where they are and studying them in their natural habitat makes the learning experience more meaningul.
9. Graphic Organizer for Student-Led Fundraisers
Get young travelers invested in the experience by asking them to play a role in fundraising. Traveling isn't cheap, which is one of the reasons my travel resources are free! Let students take some ownership by organizing their own fundraisers. They can use this graphic organizer to brainstorm ideas and organize details.
10. Project-Based Learning Check-In Form
This free resource is a digital check-in form for project-based learning experiences. Students can communicate periodically with their instructors about project progress from home or from abroad. This feels especially important right now when distance learning families are hitting the road for vacations and/or remote learning, like my family is doing right now. Consider assigning students self-directed project-based learning to do while traveling, and use this check-in form to communicate their progress with you.
Find many more PBL resources at Experiential Learning Depot as well as my PBL Toolkit with the necessary templates for unlimited student-directed PBL projects in school, in the home, out in the community, on field trips, traveling around the world and much more.
Good luck to you, and as always, feel free to reach out for questions or comments. Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Has anyone else binge-watched "Down to Earth" on Netflix since Covid began? If you haven't, do it! Down to Earth is the epitome of project-based learning on the road and/or abroad. Zach Efron (yes, I know), travels around the world where he focuses 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.
How to Write Deep and Meaningful Inquiry Questions
Introducing Driving Questions for Inquiry Activities:
Last week's blog post was about making detailed observations to inspire inquiry investigations. These observations lead to driving questions.
But what is an inquiry question? How is it different than any other kind of question? How do you write questions that lead to a deep and meaningful inquiry learning experience? Keep reading!
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.