Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
There are some aspects of project-based learning that can be daunting or intimidating. Connecting and collaborating with community members was one of those things for me at the beginning of my PBL journey. But putting that fear aside is a must for several reasons:
Those of you that have dabbled in project-based learning know that bringing an expert to your students is common practice, as is bringing your students to the expert (Ex: A research lab). Community experts come into a place of learning for many reasions such as to speak, work with students directly on their projects, offer feedback and assistance, and occasionally play a role in final evaluations.
That has changed a bit with Covid. Distance learning presents an obvious challenge to connecting experts with students face-to-face, as does classroom learning. Even those students that will be back in a classroom will be experiencing a different learning environment than before, with understandable precautions put in place.
So how do you continue to incorporate community expertise into project-based learning mid-pandemic? Technology! Thankfully we are living in a digital era where communication is not a problem. My students engaged with community experts digitally even before Covid because there are so many cool ways to do that these days.
Before moving on, click "Get in Touch" right here on this website to sign up for my email list. You will receive my free project-based learning assessment e-portfolio where students can showcase their project outcomes, including community experts/collaborations. Grab my PBL Tool Kit to help with designing projects that include community experts.
Connecting with Community Experts Virtually for Project-Based Learning Experiences
How to Utilize Community Experts for PBL During Covid:
Students should use experts to gather information about their project topics. I am a biology teacher, but I am not an expert on colony collapse disorder, for example, a topic that came up during out pollinator study. The U of M had a CCD research program at the time. I was able to bring my students to their lab to discuss their research on disappearing bees. But how could students have gathered information from this expert team without being face-to-face?
I have been able to get my hands on so many unqiue resources by connecting with the right people. My favorite of all time was a human brain. A neurology student conducting research and writing her disseration on addiction came in to speak to my students and brought with her a real human brain. She then donated sheep brains for us to dissect. Connect with these community members however you see fit! She could have shown us the human brain on a video call and sent us the sheep brains to dissect together.
Collaborate with experts! Organize experiences that are mutually beneficial to your students and your community expert. There are so many amazing online programs that offer sharing and collaborating capabilities. For example, lets say students are coordinating a fundraiser. Students collaborate with local chefs to create a cookbook filled with recipes using only local ingredients. They then sell the cookbook.
FlipSnack is an online magazine/book creator that can be shared. Canva is another example, as are Google Apps. This entire cookbook could be created by a variety of collaborators without anyone ever seeing each other face-to-face. Of course that is not ideal, but that is the situation we're in, and it's a good option considering.
Start Building Your Network:
Keep an eye out for awesome community experts, especially if you will be the one coordinating these collaborations. My students self-direct their PBL experiences, so my students often find their own experts, but it's nice for you to have a log of potential connections to offer your students. Start with these steps:
1) Brain Dump: Grab a piece a paper, pull up a Google Doc or planning program, and dump all of your ideas for connections and collaborations into it.
2) Reach Out: Connect with a few people a day. Connect with someone of interest on LinkedIn, email a few people here and there, put a post on a Facebook group or Instastory.
3) Log Connections/Develop a Network: Jot down those that you make connections with or work with. Once you have worked with them, stay connected and keep them posted so that there is potential for future collaborations.
What are some of your favorite ways to bring community collaborators into your curriculum? How about digitally? I am gradually learning about amazing educational technologies, but have a lot more to learn. Fill me in!
For more details, tips, tricks, and resources on community experts, head back to to some earlier blog posts. Try this post on using the community as a resource and keep checking back for more posts in my PBL digital series.
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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.