Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
Do you ever wonder how to use experiential learning in the classroom, and not just in any classroom, but in YOUR classroom? In YOUR school? In YOUR homeschool? How do experiential learning schools, homeschools, or programs, do it? How do they structure the day, the week, the year?
It might be difficult to wrap your mind around adding experiential learning to a "school like yours”, or envision how that would even work in your learning environment whether that be a classroom, outdoor school, homeschool, etc.
You might not have the support of admin, your colleagues, or if you are a homeschool parent, your partner. They are skeptical or feel it is a daunting undertaking. You might not have the flexibility that you think you need such as bringing students out into the world. You might think your learning day or your teaching structure is not conducive to experiential learning.
But experiential learning is personalized for schools and teachers just as it is personalized for students, so there is no one right way or one universal requirement for how much or how you use experiential learning in your classroom.
If any of the obstacles mentioned resonate with you, understand that you can be experimental, exploratory, and flexible with how you use experiential learning in the classroom. In YOUR classroom.
Experiential learning schools have their own methods of delivering and implementing experiential learning opportunities to their students. My high school had a very specific schedule that took years of trial, error and adjusting to arrive upon, and that schedule or that learning day is still always evolving.
A variety of factors play into how we have determined an experiential learning schedule for our experiential learning school. A neighboring experiential learning school does things very differently than we do, for example, because they are in a rural area, we are in the city.
They have access to different resources than we do such as proximity to public transportation, museums, natural spaces, etc. Our student populations are very different coming from a diverse array of backgrounds and life experiences. So again, our learning days are personalized for our situation and our students.
The same goes for teachers that work at traditional schools. Project-based learning, for example, is experiential in nature, and it is taking traditional schools all over the globe by storm. The difference is in how they use experiential learning in the classroom and how much.
Don’t let your situation stop you from adding experiential learning (or project-based learning specifically) to your curriculum or learning day. The benefits and importance of experiential learning are too good to pass up. Don't bypass experiential learning because you think you can't in your teaching environment. You can. There are no rules.
Look over some of the different ways teachers and experiential learning schools use experiential learning in the classroom. Get inspired by them. Try some of their experiential learning methods out, reflect on those experiences, and tweak as you go.
My experiential learning weekly schedule is mapped out for you below. Again, this schedule has taken time to develop and very much reflects my situation. Use it for inspiration, grab that free schedule template, and tweak it as you see fit.
Some Ways that Experiential Learning Schools Schedule and Use Experiential Learning in the Classroom
As I’ve said, there isn’t one specific way of launching or using experiential learning in the classroom or one universal schedule for experiential learning schools, homeschools, or more traditionally operating schools.
Add as much or as little experiential learning as you can. Regardless of how often you include experiential learning experiences in your schedule, just make sure what you’re doing is actually experiential.
You might remember from past experiential learning blog posts or training videos that I’ve done that experiential learning isn’t just hands-on learning. It might be, sure. But it might not.
Experiential learning gets learners involved in the content. It is self-directed, giving students choice and autonomy in process and outcome. Experiential learning is personalized to each individual student. It is real-world and authentic. It is reflective. Make sure that your experiential learning activities incorporate these elements.
How often you do that, what time of day, what tools you use, how flexible you can be, whether experiences are done independently or in groups, whether you leave the building or bring authentic learning to you is all entirely up to you. Do what WORKS for you and YOUR students.
The following are some ways that different experiential learning schools, homeschools, traditional schools, outdoor schools, etc. have structured their learning schedules to include experiential learning to SOME degree.
Experiential Learning Schedule Option 1: Experiential Immersion
A lot of schools, such as the one I taught at for 10 years, are 100% experiential. The day, the week, the quarter, the year, the entire academic career of these students is completely immersed in experiential learning.
Lecture, worksheets, and recipe labs happen on occasion, but very rarely. The day is saturated with self-directed projects that involve community collaboration, sustained inquiry and in-depth research, authentic learning experiences, internships, creative problem-solving, experimentation, outdoor learning, service projects, and more.
All In and Open-Ended Experiential Learning Schedule:
Being “all in”, however, can take different forms. For example, some schools have the ability to be completely open-ended and fully personalized. This is how the school that I worked at was structured when I first started teaching there 15 years ago.
The entire school day (other than the morning meeting) was dedicated to self-directed learning experiences; independent work time on student-designed and -led project-based learning experiences. Basically passion projects all day every day.
Students spent the entirety of the day designing, executing, and sharing personalized project-based learning experiences on topics of their choosing. When one project was complete, another would immediately begin. They would work on several projects at a time, knocking out required grade-level standards and building a portfolio of experiences and competencies as they went.
I loved this, but in time we found that students were getting overwhelmed and confused and needed a little more structure and scaffolding.
All In With Structured Experiential Learning Schedule:
We moved to a more structured approach to all-in experiential learning. This meant that we did have open-ended, personalized, project time written into the schedule, but we also added needed seminars, reading groups, and math groups to keep students productive and excited.
We added these groups to reduce overwhelm, add routine, and provide more guidance, but all experiences within those groups and seminars are still experiential.
My seminars, even though they are based on a specific concept or theme, still predominantly consist of self-directed project-based learning. Rather than students choosing their own topics completely, they choose a topic and design project-based learning experiences around the theme of the seminar, reading group, or math group.
I am a trained high school life science teacher with a background in wildlife and ecology, so the seminars that I usually do revolve around life science, as do the experiential learning activities/experiences that we do within those seminars.
This is what our schedule still looks like today. Scroll down to take a peek at our exact schedule.
Experiential Learning Schedule Option 2: Experiential Learning Here and There
This experiential learning "here and there" schedule will likely be the case for you if you work in a large, possibly more traditionally structured school.
You may be required to use a very specific curriculum, for example. There may not be a lot of interest or support from your district to fully transform from traditional pedagogy to experiential learning.
You might not have the wiggle room to make experiential learning your main focus, and that’s okay. You can look at experiential learning activities as a supplement to the curriculum rather than the curriculum itself. A lot of teachers, schools, and homeschool parents that I have worked with do this successfully and enjoy the structure/schedule.
This is a great approach for those of you that do not teach at experiential learning schools or homeschools that are entirely structured around experiential learning (likely most of you reading this).
You might be a subject-based teacher, such as a 9th-grade biology teacher or 12th grade English instructor. You might be a homeschool parent that loves the curriculum that you’re using but wants to add some experiential learning here and there to mix things up and give your children the opportunity to gain the benefits that experiential learning has to offer.
Here are some experiential learning schedule examples for those of you adding experiential learning here and there:
Those are just a few ideas for how to use experiential learning in the classroom and how to structure those experiences. Again, you know your schedule. You know what you’re capable of. You know what your students need and the factors that play into how to use experiential learning in the classroom and how often.
My Experiential Learning Weekly Schedule:
The following example schedule is my weekly schedule for my high school students. Remember when I said some experiential learning schools are structured AROUND experiential learning? That is this school. So before launching into the details of my schedule I want to give you some context about what you’re looking at.
My role was “experiential learning advisor”. I advised around 20 middle and high school students at any given time. My advisory students were from different age groups. It wasn’t “10th-grade advisory”, it consisted of a variety of students between grades 8-12.
Those 20ish students are in my advisory from the day they begin school with me to the day they graduate high school. This approach has been an important way of relationship-building and developing a positive advisory culture, both of which are essential to personalizing learning experiences.
My advisory students spend the first hour of every day with me. That morning meeting looks a little bit different every day. The schedule that I have below details what I do with students during that time and on which days. Morning meetings are constantly evolving based on what is working and what isn’t. But this schedule shows the gist of it.
***Note: Click here for your own copy of this schedule that you can modify as you wish!
After the morning meeting, my advisory students have independent work time. This is when they work on their self-directed, personalized project-based learning experiences (passion projects if you would like to call them that.)
After that independent work time, they are off to a seminar that they CHOOSE to participate in. Those seminars are also experiential in nature.
Next are reading groups and math groups. Again, experiential!
Finally, students spend the last two hours of the day back in my advisory to work on projects. They might be working on their own self-directed projects, projects that were assigned to them in seminars, math or reading projects, etc.
You might have noticed that I’m saying “projects” a lot. Even though there are a variety of ways to make learning experiential, self-directed project-based learning is my go-to strategy.
PBL organically envelopes those experiential elements that we’ve talked about, and being that experiential learning is real-world, I would say that we are living in a project-based world. Teaching students how to manage projects, then, is a priority for me and the school.
I hope having this experiential learning schedule example is helpful! You can get your copy of this schedule to use as your own. Please let me know if you have any questions about it.
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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.