Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
Since schools have been closed I have been working with my young children while simultaneously working on high school experiential curriculum. My child is required to sit at his computer much of the day to work on his school assignments, so to break up the monotony, I have been adding experiential learning activities to the day.
Everyday we do a hands-on, subject-integrated, activity that follows a theme for the week. I have been adding those experiences and schedules here to inspire other parents and teachers in the same situation. I have also been adding modification ideas, particularly for high school students.
All About Pollinators Experiential Learning Activity Schedule
This is an awesome time of year to study pollinators in my neck of the woods. It's spring in the northern United States. Some pollinators are in the middle of lengthy migrations or are just arriving. Spring flowers are blooming. On top of that, we're all feeling really cooped up by this point and are needing some experiential learning activities to keep us going. My kids do, anyway, and so do I, frankly.
The great thing about this week's schedule is that every activity can be done from home or outdoors. Even in urban areas. Hopefully you can step into a courtyard or take stroll down the block. The only activity this week that helps to have access to some wildlife is the citizen science experience. I'll offer some modifications below. The others can be done indoors, although, I highly recommend trying to take them outside if that is an option. Good luck!
Monday: Pollinator Simulation
I chose honeybees as the pollinator for this experience with my own young children. They are three and six. I also planned the simulation. We started by observing the apple trees in our yard. They are just starting to flower so my kids were able to observe some of the reproductive parts of a plant such as the stamen and stigma. I made flower models for three separate apple trees, which is the situation on our block. My kids made bees out of cotton swabs and learned how bees cross-pollinate apple trees by carrying pollen from anther to stigma. I used the colorful sugar from Fun Dip as my pollen.
Modifications: Older students can turn this into a PBL experience by choosing a pollinator of interest, researching that pollinator, and creating their own interactive simulation on the mechanism of pollination by the pollinator that they choose to study. They could create a stop-motion animation, make a moving model, or even design and build a physical interactive simulation like I did for my own children. Check out my project-based learning tool kit to guide learners through this process.
Tuesday: Citizen Science
There are so many interesting citizen science projects out there that specifically focus on pollinators. Each citizen science project can be catered to work for a variety of ages and skill levels. My kids and I participated in Bumble Bee Watch. I wasn't sure if my kids would like it, thinking they may be do young to understand it. But my son loved the idea that his findings were sent to and used by real scientists. My daughter loved the process of finding bumble bees in nature and identifying them on the citizen science project page.
Check out iNaturalist for a variety of options. What citizen science project you do will depend on your geographical location, your access to natural areas, and time of year. For more citizen science project ideas head to my citizen science blog post.
Modifications: Consider having older students create their own citizen science projects on a pollinator of their choice. iNaturalist makes this possible. If this is not an option, consider turning citizen science into a project-based learning experience using the tool kit mentioned above. Another option is conduct experiments on pollinator behavior using my open inquiry tool kit.
Wednesday: Design a Pollinator Garden
My children and I have wanted to make a small butterfly garden on our boulevard. My son and I researched a variety of native plants that provide food and shelter for native butterflies. We spent a lot time on the University of Minnesota website perusing flowers. He chose plants that he liked and drew out a map/plan for flower placement in our blvd. He worked on research skills, reading, writing, science, and more. We ended up building this garden, but you do not have to for this to be a worth while experience. If you do not have access to a plot of land consider looking into urban gardening. Try pots and vertical gardens if you have acces to a porch or balcony.
Modifications: Turn this into a maker experience for older students. There are so many benefits to incorporating design thinking into high school curriculum. I am working on creating a maker PBL resource on this very idea and will post it here soon. In the meantime, have older students do the same project as my son. They can choose a pollinator to study, research plants that support the safety, survival, and reproduction of their chosen pollinator, and design a garden. Older students can/should consider plant placement, needed distance between plants, the amount of sunlight required, height potential for plants, and more. Check out my Pollinator Garden Design maker/pbl resource.
Thursday: Pollinator Shelter
This turned out to be a much more interesting activity than I anticipated. Last year, my son and I made a bat house. He enjoyed that so much that I thought he might also like to make one of these trendy bee "hotels" that I'm seeing all over Pinterest. As someone with a background in wildlife biology, however, I know the importance of building wildlife shelters that are safe for their residents.
After my son and I did a little research, we discovered that many of these bee hotels are not safe for bees. In fact, many of them kill bees if they are not made correctly and if they are not continuously maintained. We decided to modify a cheap, not very safe bee hotel that I got from a gardening center not long ago. We researched safe bee hotels and how to care for them. We modified the bee hotel that we already have and created a "how to take care of a bee house" guide sheet. We posted our bee hotel and care sheet on our blvd for passerby's to observe and learn from.
Modifcaitons: I have a maker PBL project on this exact experience that is geared toward high school students - Build a Wildlife Shelter. Another great option is doing community action projects. These projects are a cool mix between problem-based learning and service learning. In our research on bees we came across a pretty serious problem. Our final product, in a sense, was the result of a community action project. We identified a problem and worked toward solving the problem. Check out my community action project tool kit.
In the picture below my daughter is inserting paper straws into the tubes so that they can be removed and swapped out occassionally for cleaner straws. This reduces the chance of pathogens taking over the shelter, and causing potential harm to the bees. I've read that bamboo, which are the small tubes in this store bought bee house, are especially susceptible to problems.
Wind: Wind Pollinator STEM
This was a really fun one! I have my high school students do a cool STEM challenge on this topic to learn about adaptations. I attempted to have my own children to the same thing, but it turned into a more age appropriate activity, which was designing their own plants. My kids love to do anything that involves grabbing whatever crafting materials are around and making something out of it all. They made their own plants out of recyclables and crafting materials, each with a stamen and stigma to show the parts necessary for cross-pollination.
Modifications: My older students do the same thing, create plant models, that cross-pollinate using wind (anemophily). They design models, make a prototype, test their prototypes, make adjustments, etc. until they have a final product that effectively cross-pollinates using wind. Check out my resource - STEM Challenge: Wind Pollinator Adaptations. This resource is alined with NGSS and focuses on the concept of beneficial hertiable traits, in this case, as they pertain to plants that pollinate with wind.
Plant Science Experiential Learning Activity Schedule
Spring is such an awesome time to bring plants into any curriculum, and it is one of those topics that is experiential by nature. There are so many ways to get involved in learning when it comes to plants. Students could start and maintain a community garden, grow plants and sell them to raise funds for habitat protection, design a product that solves a gardening problem (design thinking projects), design and conduct experiments on any number of plant topics, develop a comprehensive plan to solve a local invasive plant species problem, and the list goes on.
Each of these experiences engages learners in the content, and helps them better understand and absorb the concepts because they are actively involved. These examples are all learning experiences that my high school students have undertaken, as have my own children, 3 and 5, with modifications. For the past few weeks we have been growing our own plants from seed, experimenting, baking, creating, writing, and more, all as they relate to plants. Check out the details of each activity below, try some out for yourself, and easily adapt them to a variety of ages and skill levels. Good luck!
Monday: Water Transport Demonstration
You've probably seen or tried the classic celery demo, where you place the celery in food-colored water, and observe as the celery leaves slowly take on the color of the water. The purpose of this activity is to demonstrate water transport from the stem to the leaves via xylem.
I tried this activity with my own children, but we used a variety of plants - celery, kale, a tree branch, asparagus, and a branch from a bush in our yard - which we then observed and recorded the similarities and differences between them. Try this with whatever plants you have on hand. Practice using senses to make observations. Pull out your magnifying glasses. Pair the experience by making a model of xylem and phloem using straws, toothpicks, toilet paper roles, etc. if you wish.
Modifications: This is a great opportunity for older students to conduct open-inquiry investigations. They can develop their own questions based on their observations, and design and conduct their own experiments. Click here for a self-directed scientific inquiry tool kit (printable and Google Classroom digital version included).
Tuesday: Green Sun Butter Cookies
Chlorophyll is an important plant feature. It's vital for photosynthesis. Chlorophyll (chlorogenic acid) uses light to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and gluclose. My young children and I baked sun butter cookies, which are a beautiful golden brown color on the surface and green on the inside. What happened? Sunflower seeds contain chlorophyll, so when chlorogenic acid reacts with baking soda in the baking process, the green pigment of the chlorophyll emerges. For my own young children, this activity was mostly done in fun. But it is also a good way to introduce chlorophyll and it's function in a plant.
Click here for the recipe that we used.
Modifcations: Older students could take this a step further by experimenting with different ingredients. Chlorophyll isn't the only plant pigment. Others include carotenoids, anthocyanins, anthoxanthins, and betalins. Carrots, red beans, cauliflower, beets, sweet potatoes, and eggplants all have pigments in them.
Self-directed inquiry experiments are always a great option when it comes to science topics. Look for my tool kit link above. But there are many directions older students could take this concept, such as project-based learning. An example is developing unique recipes that result in fun science lessons for kids. The student could then compile those recipes onto a blog or webiste and share the link with parents and teachers. This ONE example of project-based learning. The options are endless when you have the right guiding materials for self-directed PBL. Check out my self-directed project-based learning tool kit here (printable and digital options).
Wednesday: Grow and Experiment
We sprouted dry pinto beans from the grocery store using a plastic bag and a wet paper towel (instructions). But we didnt' stop there. Once the seeds sprouted, we planted the seeds, and added a couple of experiments to the mix to hammer in plant parts and requirements for growth. One of our experiments was on different types of soil and their affect on plant growth rates. The other experiment was similar, but we changed the amount of water added to the plants vs. the types of soil. This was a good opportunity to talk about the nature of science and experimental design.
Modifications: Because my kids are so young, I setup and directed their experiments. My kids made predictions, observations, practiced taking measurments and graphing, and more. But older students could self-direct these experiences and elaborate significantly, focusing on skill and age appropriate content. For an environmental science class, for example, they might test the growth or success rates of plants using different types of fertilizers. They could then connect their results to a larger problem-based learning or community action project on water pollution.
My experiential water pollution bundle includes a scientific inquiry and problem-based learning activity on fertilizers, as well as a community action project. Each resource in this bundle can be purchased independently as well.
Thursday: Phototropism Maze
This is such a cool experience to observe directional growth of a plant toward light; otherwise known as phototropism. There are so many ways to see this phenomenon first hand, but one way is to create a maze in a box and block out all light except for one small opening at the top of the maze. Check out our pictures below. The point is to see if the plant will change direction and grow toward the light. You could do this using a cardboard box. My children and I used a cardboard doll house that we made a few weeks ago. We are still waiting for the results. I'll post on the results either when the plant reaches the roof or when it dies! Cross your fingers.
Modifications: High school students could easily turn this concept into self-directed inquiry experiments. Example investigations include how light intensity affects the rate of directional growth, the differences in phototropism rates of different plant species, the role that different parts of the plant play in phototropism, and so on. Check out my latest scientific open inquiry resource that guides students through self-directed experimentation ON the topic of phototropism.
Plants are such a integral part of the balance of nature. They are food for a variety of organisms, they provide essential natural services, and shelter. Plant communities provide habitat, which I wanted my children to see first hand. Not only that, I also wanted them to pay close attention to the dynamics and activities of nature taking place in a seemingly quiet and barren landscape. I took them to cattail marsh. We sat quietly and observed the habitat before us. We identified a variety organisms using this habitat for food, shelter, mating, and more. We then went home and made a moving model of the habitat that we visited.
Modifications: This exact experience could be done by older students. They can be given a lot more independence and autonomy, but the general idea is the same. Check out my project-based learning experience on habitats.
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.