Update: This post was recently published in TIE Online, a journal about international education. The online publication is free! Check it out for more resources and great information on educational travel. Click here.
I have been traveling with students to some capacity for 11 years. I have a background in ecology and environmental science. Before I became a teacher I was working on various endangered species projects around the country. I knew from that time in the field that the deepest learning experiences in my own life happened when I got up close and personal with my environment, not when I was reading about biology concepts in textbooks.
I knew when I became an educator that I wanted to work at an experiential learning school where students directed their learning and could use the world as their classroom. That is how I came to be heavily involved in the travel program at Jennings Community School, where I advised at-risk teenagers, taught using project-based learning, and took educational travel excursions with students over the course of a decade.
Traveling with students isn't easy, but the outcome is why I have dedicated so much of my teaching career to providing these travel opportunities for my students. I know the impact it can make on someone's life. Learning spans the entire experience from trip planning, to fundraising, to packing, to relationship building, goal-setting, and sharing and reflecting on the experience. Not many students get the chance to participate in something that encompasses all of these critical learning opportunities in one. There is value in traveling that cannot be gained through other means. Traveling is a unique and special learning opportunity.
Teacher and homeschoolers, if you are interested in incorporating educational travel into your curriculum, start here. Learn the benefits first, listed below, then make your next move. Check out my top reasons for traveling with students, and scroll to the bottom for tips on getting started.
Click here for more posts about student travel.
6 Reasons to Include Travel in Your Curriculum
1. Increase Cultural and Global Awareness:
Children, particularly teenagers, tend to be self-involved. They're not culpable. It's just the nature of their brains. Removing students from their "bubbles" and shaking up their lives a bit by pushing them beyond their comfort zones can have drastic and beautiful results. It is difficult for students to understand others and the world around them when they are not directly impacted. The teenage brain needs to connect concepts with real-life experience. When students view the world from a different angle, their worldview is altered. Literally. Traveling puts them in that environment.
2. Gain Content Knowledge:
Yes, content knowledge. I am a project-based teacher. One of the first projects I assign to students is planning a hypothetical trip around the world. I do this because of all of the skills and knowledge they gain from the experience. They learn how to budget and find deals. They learn how to read a map and plan routes. They learn about the environment, topography, culture, arts, religion, politics and more while exploring the places they hope to "visit".
When I travel with students, we travel with purpose. Because I am a biology teacher, my purpose is usually environmental in nature, but traveling naturally integrates subjects. Students that travel with me on school trips go through seminars and complete several student-directed PBL projects pertinent to the designated "purpose" prior to the trip. They also work on projects while ON the trip - group and independent - relevant to the trip purpose. Upon return, each student reflects and shares their work with a public audience. The amount of content absorbed is astounding, and it's all because the concepts are right in front of them. They are involved. They are actively learning through experience.
Try my Project-Based Learning Toolkit to get students started on student-led PBL experiences on any topic of interest.
3. Develop a Healthy Self-Concept:
I know it's cliche, but it's true, and anyone who travels knows it to be true. The phrase "I'm traveling to find myself" would generally trigger my upchuck reflex, but when it comes to children, "finding oneself" is often times a matter of life and death, quite literally, unfortunately.
Teenagers deal with a lot. Getting through the teenage years in one piece requires a strong, healthy self-concept that can be acquired by traveling. By getting away from the daily pressures of life, students can ask themselves who they really are. This I've seen time and time again. A student travels on a school trip and comes back a changed person with a renewed spirit and ultimate confidence. They had the unique opportunity to learn about themselves, discover their skills, dreams, talents, and hopes through a fresh lens.
4. Develop Critical 21st Century Skills:
Content is important to a degree, but at the rate society is evolving, what's more important is having the skills to navigate those changes. Careers will look very different 20 years from now. Technology is changing everything. Traveling puts students in a position to work at those life skills. As part of the trip planning process they practice organization, locating credible resources, goal-setting, and managing their time. While on trips they encounter situations where they need to problem-solve, think critically, work as a team and get creative.
If you've ever read my posts on "travel adventures and mishaps", you know these scenarios are inevitable. All mishaps (mostly minor) provide opportunities to build on these 21st century skills.
5. Build Lifelong Friendships:
The feeling of belonging is a basic need. It is something that many people spend a lifetime trying to attain with little luck. Feelings of loneliness are rampant in young people as well as adults. Everyone is a bit vulnerable when they are traveling. They are away from their homes, their friends, family and comfort zones. In group travel, everyone is in the same boat. My students cast aside their differences on trips and create bonds that last a lifetime because they are experiencing something new and profound together. Only they can understand what the other is feeling in that moment.
6. The Ability to Envision a Bright Future:
This is something that educators that work with high-risk populations will see in their students as an outcome of travel. Having a student travel program at a school with underrepresented students is powerful because students living in poverty do not have easy access to travel experiences. It's not an option for most. Many of my students don't look further than the moment. They don't consider their future career. Many of them don't even expect to finish high school. When traveling they gain a new perspective on the future. For the first time they can look ahead and envision something positive. They may not know what yet, but for the first time they are open to the possibilities. They see opportunity for a good life.
Well, now what?
Now that you know WHY incorporating educational travel into your curriculum is important and impactful (homeschoolers or educators), what do you do with that?
Homeschoolers have more flexibility to travel, one of the beautiful things about homeschooling! Home educators, if you're short on time, finances, or travel resources, consider starting small and encouraging your children to play a role. You don't need to sell your home, pack up your kids, and travel the world (as cool as that would be). Even an annual weekend camping trip away from the monotony of everyday life gets children excited. You can also ask that your children help plan the travel experience (FREE student travel planning resources in my store) and that they fundraise for trips.
Educators, especially those working in a traditional school environment, you have a challenge ahead of you. If travel is something that is important to you and you want that for your students, consider meeting with other educators at your school, parents of students, community members, and more, and put together a proposal for a school travel program. By creating a committee you'll have more ideas and a bigger voice. This is especially true if parents are involved. Principals and directors, if you're interested but unsure, try connecting with schools that DO have a travel program and pick their brains on how they make it work and the impact it has had on learning and school culture. You won't regret it!
I hope this has been useful. If you are a teacher that travels with students, I'd love you to share your stories and travel tips.
Thanks for reading. Happy Monday!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education. You can also follow me on LinkedIn and Experiential Learning Depot on TpT for student-directed, hands-on resources.
Summer is a great time for high school students to bolster their resumes for colleges and careers. It's even good for younger students to think about, not necessarily in terms of college and career readiness, but for developing life skills such as work ethic, team work, and responsible citizenship. Summer is a great time to do this simply because there is more time and there tends to be more opportunities available for young people, as it is assumed they aren't in school over the summer. This is obviously not the case for everyone. It doesn't have to be summer, nor do students have to be on break to work on personal growth and bulking up their resumes.
There are the obvious ways to build a high school resume such as gainful employment, volunteering, and a decent GPA or academic narrative, but there are many less obvious ways. I think it's really important for students to branch away from the typical or expected points on a resume for a couple reasons: 1) They will want to stand out amongst other applicants and
2) The skills desired in an employee have drastically changed from even 20 years ago.
I've listed resume building activities for students to do over the summer and added resources that might go well with each. All of the suggestions are student-directed and experiential.
Have a great summer! Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education. You can also check out my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, for more student-directed learning resources.
10 Summer Resume Builders for Students
1. Building 21st-Century Skills:
As I said above, having something to show for yourself other than the fact that you can get a decent GPA is critical. A GPA demonstrates limited capabilities, and isn't always accurate of intelligence or performance potential. Employers of today are looking for employees that can problem-solve, work well with others, work independently, navigate technology that is constantly changing, and more.
I recently created a project-based learning resource called "21st-Century Skills Portfolio" - this is a great student-directed, summer learning activity and resume builder. The idea behind it is that students essentially assemble evidence of skill building through skill-building activities. All of the following suggested resume builders could be added to this portfolio, which in theory could be shared with potential employers, college admissions, or even as a senior project.
2. Community Action Projects:
Community Action Projects are PBL projects where students explore community issues (locally or globally) that they find important. They research the issue, make an action plan, and take action. It is not as simple as a community service activity or volunteer experience. It requires research, commitment to the issue, and making long-term change in the community. Raising money, advocating for legislation, giving time, and raising awareness are some ways to go about this. What is cool about this resume builder is that it is student-directd. The student leads the project from start to finish.
Check out my Community Action Projects on TpT.
3. Online Courses:
There are so many free courses online today, many of them from highly reputable colleges. Not only does this resume builder increase content knowledge, but shows that the student has the skills to self-direct, and has interest in tech literacy, an important 21st-century skill.
Udemy, Coursera, and edX are some options. There are many others. Have students do a Google search before you let them out for the summer to find an organization and specific courses in line with their interests.
4. Start a Business:
This doesn't have to be elaborate. It could be as simple as a lawn mowing or dog walking business, or as elaborate as starting a skateboard clothing brand. I have had students do both. There is so much to be gained from starting a business. Students will learn about marketing, how to balance a budget, use spreadsheets, write a business plan, etc. Check out my FREE template for getting started with a business.
5. Service Learning/Volunteering:
Yes, I have suggested that this is an obvious choice. It is, but is no less important because it's obvious. Get students rolling on self-directed service learning experiences this summer through project-based learning. Going through the experience using project-based learning principles will help students with structure and organization, as well as expanding the experience beyond simply putting in clock hours. Elements of project-based learning includes working with community experts, demonstrating learning with an innovative final product, and presenting the experience to an authentic, public audience. Check out my project-based learning toolkit that includes templates for getting started on any PBL experience.
This is such a great opportunity for students to develop career skills in their line of interest. Not only that, it gives students a clear understanding of whether their "career path" is really what they want. I thought I wanted to be a doctor my entire young life. I even went through several years of pre-med while I was an undergrad, just to discover later that I was not only uninterested in the field, but extremely uncomfortable with many of the tasks that would have been required of me - working with blood for instance. I could have saved myself a lot of time, energy, and resources if I had volunteered in a hospital in high school or shadowed a nurse or doctor before commiting to a career that made me queasy.
Check out a couple of these resources as potential student projects for summer, both of which require shadowing a community expert - Hometown Behind the Scenes: Local Business, and Hometown Behind the Scenes: Community Event. You could also check out my Career Exploration PBL project, which would help students reduce the chance of getting into a career that isn't right for them.
7. Gainful Employment:
Again, another one that I pointed out as obvious above, but nevertheless, it's an important experience for students to have. I had some older students that came to my school often after years of struggling in the traditional school system. Most of them, some 20 years old, had never had a real job. That is not a great way to head into life after school. Employment helps students practice teamwork, punctuality, work ethic, personal finance, and other life skills. Not only that, it gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride.
8. Start a Blog or a Podcast:
Have students identify something that interests them such as art, music, history, social issues, education, etc. and start a relevant blog or podcast about that topic. In theory, the topic should be relevant to their future. For example, if they are interested in music production as a potential career, starting a blog about the local music scene would make sense. Creating a blog or podcast is an experience in itself. There's a huge learning curve. I know from experience. It's also multi-disciplinary and helps build 21st-century skills. Another cool thing about doing this is that it could be referred to later on by employers or clients to demonstrate skills and knowledge on the topic. It would also illuminate personal character, which is a priority to many employers.
Students can get involved in community issues by attending town hall meetings, voting, meeting with legislators, participating in walks or protests, etc. Students can even search around for student government opportunities. Model UN is the first one to come to mind, but community education programs and YMCA's also offer options for students.
Getting involved in community issues through government experiences is one action plan option for community action projects mentioned above.
10. Start a Club
This is one of my favorites! Coordinating and maintaining a club would look outstanding on a resume. It takes organizational skills, follow-through, commitment, creativity, leadership skills, time management skills and more. Summer reading groups, a community clean-up group, a wildlife club, a skateboard club are all great examples. Check out my project-based learning resource, Start a Club, which includes a guide and all of the templates needed to get started.
I have a college and career readiness PBL bundle in my TpT store that includes most of the resources mentioned in this blog post. You can save a lot of money by choosing the bundle vs. each product individually.
Thanks for checking out 10 resume builders for students to do this summer break! There are of course many other options. I would love to hear your ideas and comments. Thanks for stopping by!
Building 21st-Century Skills Through Travel
The 6C's of education, developed by Michael Fullan, include creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, citizenship, and character. These competencies are essential for today's learners to be successful in the 21st-century. It is more important (in my opinion) for educators of today to provide opportunities for students to practice these skills than it is to teach content matter. It's great to have both, but ignoring 21st-century skill building doesn't do anyone any favors.
There are many ways to facilitate the development of these competencies in the classroom, which I will post on in the near future. However, opportunities for skill development exist beyond the walls of the classroom. Those learning experiences are profound in a way that classroom activities just aren't. Travel is one very powerful avenue for competency development, particularly the 6C's.
Whether it be abroad, a weekend camping trip, or even a day trip to a local park, traveling offers an opportunity to building these skills by nature. By removing children from familiarity, by changing up their day-to-day, they get exposure to input that inspires curiosity, exploration, and inquiry. They meet new people, have novel experiences, and make observations that challenge prior thinking.
Parents and educators, as summer approaches think about how you can utilize the world to help your children and/or students develop or amplify the 6C's. Travel presents these opportunities organically, but you can deepen the learning experience by adding input through new layers, added expectations or challenges. When I was teaching, I was highly involved in our school travel program. I took a group of students to Costa Rica, and rather than just hanging out like I might do on a family vacation, I added purpose, in this case, tropical biology studies. I facilitated student-directed project-based learning, open-inquiry, and problem-based learning activities, before, during, and after the trip.
Below I have detailed how traveling innately helps students build these competencies in addition to suggestions for how to add another element to strengthen the impact of the learning experience.
How to Incorporate the 6C's of Education into Travel
How it Comes Naturally:
Getting away from the same old exposes students to other creative avenues that they may never have seen or experienced before. Art, music, dance, design, architecture, infrastructure, and so on, vary from region to region and culture to culture. If students are observing and experiencing more of the same day-after-day, they're limiting their creative potential. Exposure to different cultures and ways of doing things inspires new ideas with new ways of thinking.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
One way to do this is to ensure exposure to diverse experiences, especially if you have something specific in mind. For example, you might plan a trip around a specific cultural event, such as the Merrie Monarch festival in Hawaii where students would be immersed in an authentic Hawaiian experience. Hawaii is an incredible learning lab by nature, but including a cultural experience like the Merrie Monarch festival would bring learning to another level. Provide input that ensures exposure to a variety of creative displays.
How it Comes Naturally:
Traveling never goes according to plan, not exactly anyway. I have been challenged in some way on every trip I've ever taken, school trips included. Take a look at some of those mishaps in my travel blunders series. Sometimes you just have figure it out. There's no option. If you get lost in a mountain valley and your phone doesn't have a signal, you have to figure it out (happened to me). If one of the campgrounds you reserve for a school trip has patrons offering your students moonshine, you have to figure it out (happened to me).
Another great thing about school travel is that you're stuck with a group of people, whether you like them or not. Group travel always presents opportunities for team-building, conflict resolution, problem-solving. In other words, critical thinking is a must while traveling. You as the educator can help facilitate opportunities for critical thinking.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
I love problem-based learning and project-based learning activities to help students build critical thinking skills. There are many ways to do this. One would be to have travelers problem-solve hypothetical scenarios, as they may turn out to be a reality. Getting lost without access to a GPS could have been prevented by simply having a physical map on hand. This is an example of a hypothetical problem that students could problem-solve solutions for before they take off on their trip.
What I often do is ask that students research their travel destination beforehand and design a student-led project around some aspect of that destination, particularly pertaining to local issues. For example, I assign community action projects to all of my student travelers, regardless of destination and purpose. This project requires that students identify a problem that exists at their travel destination, make an action plan to solve the problem, and then they take action. This is a great project to practice critical thinking because they are addressing real-world problems. Check out community action projects in my TpT store. Take a look at these earlier blog posts on community action projects for guidance - "10 Community Action Project Ideas to Wrap up the School Year" and "Four Ways Students Can Take Action Today".
How it Comes Naturally:
Communication happens organically while traveling, and a lot in the planning process as well. If your students are part of the planning process, they will likely be communicating with travel agents, friends and family for tips and advice, travel bloggers for ideas. They may have to communicate with home owners to reserve an Air B and B or tour guides to plan excursions. There is also a lot of communication that naturally takes place while traveling as well. My students tend to talk to locals for recommendations, directions, or even just to chat. Communication is another skill that is magnified on group trips. I need to communicate with my students when we will start the day, where we will meet back and at what time, and they need to listen and follow directions.
Team-building activities, such as kayaking with a partner, really tests one's patience, strength, and communication skills.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
If your students are not involved in the planning process, find ways to include them. This is a great option for homeschoolers and for student-directed project-based teachers. Check out this free educational travel planning checklist for guidance.
I highly recommend project-based learning in general to help students work on their communication skills while traveling. Working with community experts is an important part of project-based learning, among other things. Go back to any number of my posts on PBL for details if you're not sure what project-based learning is. My students are required to use three community experts on every project, travel related or not.
For example, one of my Costa Rica students did her community action project on primate electrocution. She researched experts on the issue and came across the Sibu Sanctuary, a primate reserve and rehabilitation center in Costa Rica. My student connected with Vicki, who started the organization, planned a tour of the sanctuary while on our trip, she interviewed Vicki while we were there, and utilized Vicki's expertise in her final action plan. The communication skills at play here are vast and comprehensive. Consider using my PBL toolkit to get students rolling on student-directed project-based learning today. Summer travel is a great place to start!
How it Comes Naturally:
Collaboration doesn't happen as organically while traveling as some of the other "C's". Collaboration while traveling or at home for that matter takes effort, planning, networking and organization. One could easily travel to an all-inclusive resort, lock themselves in their hotel for a week, and not talk to a single person. Collaboration can happen naturally on a trip, but open-mindedness is key. I have so many examples of this on school trips, where collaborations weren't necessarily sought out, but students made themselves available to the possibility by simply asking questions and inquiring.
For example, I took students to Florida to study marine biology several years ago. We stayed at a campground that had a little hut by the entrance where a man made decorative fish out of coconuts to sell to tourists. My students, for whatever reason, were so intrigued by this. They started off by drilling the poor guy with question after question. By the end of the week a couple of my students were sitting in his hut learning how to make coconut fish decorations. It mind sound like a meaningless experience, but my students not only practiced collaboration skills (without even realizing it), but they enriched their travel experience overall.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
There are a lot of great ways to promote collaboration while traveling. One way is to ask that students collaborate with their community experts for their PBL projects. Technically students do not need to collaborate with their community experts. They just need to use their expertise in their final product or authentic presentation. One of my students did a her community action project for Costa Rica on the issue of endangered sea turtles. She created a "tips for tourists" brochure and collaborated with hotels around the country to have those brochures placed in hotel lobbies and on hotel websites around the country (Costa Rica).
You or your students might also organize learning activities on the trip such as volunteering at an event, attending a cooking class, service learning experiences, and more. You might even consider collaborating with another youth organization where an "exchange" might take place. We often had exchanges with other schools where our students traveled to other alternative education schools in the state and spent the day as a "student" in their school, and vica versa.
These photos are from service learning trips where students not only helped the community but became immersed in it. The far left photo is a student playing in a community baseball game.
How it Comes Naturally:
It seems as if traveling to build citizenship would be contradictory, as you'd be removing students from the society in which they should be active in making a difference. The great thing about traveling when it comes to citizenship is that students see a variety of ways of life. Students gain a broader and more robust worldview. By having exposure to different people, different customs, and issues on a global scale, students are more apt to have an informed and comprehensive perspective, to then be more responsible citizens in their own societies.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
Again, problem-based learning and project-based learning are great ways to do this. Whatever you decide to do, facilitate a learning experience that incorporates a variety of perspectives. You can ask that students interview locals, organize storytelling experiences, connect students with penpals before the trip and meet with them when they arrive. Organize learning experiences on the trip that aren't excluded to touristy spots or expensive excursions. Plan a trip that requires students to see the destination as it truly is - the authentic version of their travel location.
How it Comes Naturally:
When I think of "character" in this context I think of traits like integrity, morality, responsibility, honesty, bravery. You know, admirable traits. Character building comes naturally in travel, again, because students develop empathy. They see more and experience more outside of themselves. Outside of their own bubbles. When they're out of their element, when there is discomfort, when their actions reflect the group and where they come from, when they open their minds to other perspectives and ideas, they can better understand and develop their own goals, priorities, values, and moral compass. Traveling puts students in the position to have to open their minds, reflect on who they are, modify, and continue forward as a better person.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
I think the 5C's already listed play a role in the development of character. Communicating and collaborating with others, exposure to new and different ideas and ways of life, access to new and interesting creative outlets, problem-solving, conflict resolution, etc. all shape someone's character. So try all of the things already mentioned with your students while traveling - project-based learning, inquiry, problem-based learning, student activism, service learning, cultural exchanges and more would all add significantly to character development while traveling.
I would love to hear about your travel plans for the summer, and if they're educational in nature. Worldschoolers, I'd love to hear your thoughts! How do you enrich the travel experience, or do you just let it happen naturally? Thanks for stopping by! Happy summer travels!
For more educational travel resource, stop by my TpT store, where you can find a variety of free student travel resources. You can also look back to previous posts on student travel.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education.
For those of you that follow my blog closely you are likely not surprised that I'm writing a post on my distaste for worksheets, and for you I'll be preaching to the choir. Others may be thinking "ugh, another progressivist posting about how terrible worksheets are." I assure you, ditching worksheets is not a progressive move anymore. You might be neither of those people and are just curious about why worksheets may not be an optimal learning strategy and what some alternatives may be. I hope to provide some insight to all and some alternatives to worksheets.
I have used "worksheets" before and will continue to use them occasionally in my teaching career. However, I use them sparingly, and I use a specific style of worksheet. When I use the word "worksheet" in this post from now on, what I am referring to is that of the "drill" variety: pages or packets filled with the same questions over and over again, slightly modified, that have a right or wrong answer. I'm going to tell you why I don't use worksheets, common excuses for assigning worksheets and alternatives. As you move into summer, reflect on your practices this year. Will you use worksheets next year?
Why I don't give my students worksheets:
1) I would be a hypocrite.
It's an integrity thing for me. I talk heavily about the benefits of experiential learning in this blog. If I were to say "yes" to drill worksheets, I wouldn't be practicing what I preach. I support and promote experiential learning because I have observed the benefits, and science supports it as an effective learning tool. The same can not be said for worksheets, at least not in isolation.
For more information about experiential learning check out this blog post -"What is Experiential Learning, Anyway?". You can also hear my thoughts in my interview about experiential learning on the podcast, A Teacher's Shoes.
2) Worksheets do not accommodate all learning styles.
Worksheets are a one-size-fits-all approach, and learners are not one-size-fits-all. This can leave many students confused, frustrated, and deflated. Differentiation is a popular approach to accommodating many learning styles. At a minimum, then, leave worksheets as an option, but beware that students may not be choosing to do worksheets because they learn best that way. They are likely choosing worksheets because they offer concrete right or wrong answers. It's easier than having to problem-solve, work together as a team, reach out to community members as a resource, as some non-worksheet learning activities would require of students.
3) Drill worksheets do not have a place in life outside of school.
The only time I have ever done worksheets in my life was when I was in school. It would never come up in life; not to get a job, not to keep a job, not to plan for a family, not to plan a trip. Drill worksheets serve no purpose in life, so why do them? I'm short on time as it is. Adding busy work that serves no purpose is not something I'm going to do. Prospective employers are never going to ask students in an interview how well they can fill out a worksheet. They're going to want to know if the student has a thorough understanding of the content necessary to succeed in their field. They're going to want to know if the student can work well with others, control their impulses, critically and creatively think, work independently. These skills aren't gained by completing drill worksheets.
4) Worksheets "decontextualize" learning.
Drill worksheets are loaded with questions or problems in isolation from the whole. For example, I would get worksheets in high school chemistry that were filled with chemical equations to be solved. We would practice over and over solving these equations with specific formulas, yet I had no idea how those formulas applied to chemistry or what they really meant. I wasn't learning chemistry. I only learned how to regurgitate information that had little meaning.
I think the Alfie Kohn quote below is referring to "schooling" in general, but it applies to drill worksheets, which tend to be tasks isolated from a bigger picture. Worksheets perpetuate this problem. By hammering in discrete units, students are collecting piles of bricks but not building a functional home.
5) Worksheets do not ignite a passion for learning.
Worksheets are boring! Some may say, "who cares, students don't have to like it. That's the real-world. Life isn't always fun and games. Better to prepare them for that now." That is something I hear a lot and it's very frustrating to me. Students can quickly lose their passion for learning if worksheets are the norm. What I want for my students is to love learning. You will never have students seeking you out years down the line to thank you for your worksheets or to share with you the incredible impact those worksheets have had on their lives. They will thank you for building a relationship with them, creating opportunities for them to pursuit their interests, challenging them, and giving them autonomy and choice, because it's those things that make a real and important impact on their lives.
I assure you that the student comments above are not in reference to all of the worksheets she was given in school. She is talking about experiences she had. Worksheets are not life-altering. To hear more about this particular student's story, listen to my podcast interview. Link above.
6) Worksheets train students for careers of the past.
Drill style worksheets don't teach Important 21st-century skills such as tech literacy, creativity, social/emotional skills, collaboration, communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and other skills employers of today desire. Rote memorization is no longer a skill worth spending a lot of time cultivating because information is so readily available. It wasn't 50 years ago, at which time worksheets made more sense. Now drill worksheets are an archaic practice.
I have talked to a lot of teachers and parents that defend drill worksheets. Below I have listed some common answers I get from parents and teachers when asked why they give out or support the use of drill worksheets. I have included some alternatives to satisfy those justifications:
1) " I assign worksheets to students as content review."
Many teachers give worksheets to students with the intention of hammering in an idea or concepts covered that day in class or in that unit.
What's the problem with that?
Unless that content is tied to life, the real-world, or something personally meaningful to the student, that content won't be remembered, regardless of how many times they repeat repeat repeat.
What to do instead:
If your purpose for using review worksheets is to help students memorize content, consider doing an activity that will leave a lasting impression. Then students will not only remember the content long enough to pass a test, but may remember it 20 years later, and say to themselves, "Hey! That's an example of commensalism! I remember that from that ecology vocab scavenger hunt we did in Ms. Segar's bio class! Remember that egret we saw sitting on that cow?" (scavenger hunt free in my store) As an experiential educator, I believe "leaving a lasting impression" requires that the learner be involved in some way. A scavenger hunt where students can observe and experience the ecology vocab in action is more memorable than copying definitions onto a worksheet. Even a combination of an activity and a worksheet would be more effective than a worksheet alone (if you insist that the worksheet is necessary).
2) "I sometimes give out worksheets as a formative assessments."
Sometimes teachers just want to see if students know the material that they've been taught. I do understand why teachers would do this. It's quick, it's easy, it's cut and dry.
What is the problem with that?
The problem is that drills are typically in isolation from the whole. It's difficult to see how drill problems connect with the an overarching concept. You often miss misconceptions that students have developed, and you wouldn't necessarily know if students understand the concepts or if they are just great at memorization.
What to do instead:
Try other versions of formative assessments. I get a lot of mine from the book "Science Formative Assessment" by Page Kelly. It gives a ton of quick, easy formative assessment strategies that are designed to reveal where students are having trouble or forming misconceptions. There are so many creative formative assessment strategies out there. Do a simple Google search or head to Pinterest. You can even simply ask students to write a reflection, which is what I do with my students, as reflection is an important part of experiential learning.
3) "Worksheets give students practice."
I hear this one a lot, and understand why someone might think this. A drill worksheet likely does give students practice, but what is it that they're practicing exactly, and is it something we want them practicing?
What is the problem with that?
What students are practicing is memorization for the purpose of passing a test. This just isn't necessary anymore. They have access to information all of the time. The internet is not going away. I would argue that using worksheets to "practice" is doing more harm than good. If students are doing drills for practice, and they are doing the drills incorrectly or don't understand the material, the "practice" is just reinforcing misconceptions and confusions.
What to do instead:
Again, if the purpose for drilling is to get students to memorize the information, try making it experiential. Get your students involved. Not only are they more likely to remember the concepts, but they will have a clearer understanding of it. There are so many great ways to do this like inviting speakers to talk about their research, taking students on field trips, collaborating with the community, inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning, STEM, STEAM, maker education and more. These are all effective strategies for practicing and understanding content, while providing opportunities for students to build important life skills. For student-directed problem-based learning, project-based learning, maker, and inquiry resources, check out my store, Experiential Learning Depot.
This is much easier said than done for some teachers. I have math teachers in mind here. For math teachers, check out a previous post here written by Tony Geraci. He is a high school math teacher that incorporates 21st-century skills into his curriculum. Check it out here.
The series of photos above illustrates a STEM project where students worked cooperatively to build a treehouse for LEGO people as an extension of a book we read on citizenship. Not only did students learn about citizenship, practice team building, and work with their hands, they also learned math and physics concepts. They are more likely to remember and understand those concepts, as they had to actually apply them to be successful.
4) "Sometimes kids have to do things they don't want to do. That's life."
I hear this one a lot, "That's life", as if drills prepare students for life. I myself have said this before, especially when I'm frustrated with my students and their lack of productivity.
What's the problem with this?
I have to take a step back and remember that life is hard as it is, especially for teenagers. My students have experienced a lot in their short lives. They are tougher and more responsible than they should have to be at 16-years-old. Worksheets are also not a real-world reality. Students will never encounter a job in which they have to sit at a desk and fill out worksheets for the purpose of rote memorization.
What to do instead:
There are many things that our students do in life that they don't like. You don't need worksheets to teach them about hardship or work ethic. Encourage students to prepare for the real-world by getting a job or starting a business. Facilitate learning experiences that are student-directed so they can practice desired career skills. Problem-based learning is a great example activity. Promote community relationships with your students such as starting a mentorship program or organizing service learning experiences.
Want to toughen kids up and help them understand the value of hard work? Have them spend nine days working on an off-grid chicken farm in the middle of the mountains. Everything takes effort. I never heard "that's doing too much" from one of my students because saying that wasn't an option. I understand that these experiences aren't realistic for all. Consider then bringing the challenge to the classroom. Use the community to make your point.
5) "Worksheets are quick and easy to plan and implement. Sometimes I just need a break from rigorous lesson planning."
This is completely understandable. Teacher burnout is real and powerful. Sometimes teachers just need a breather. There is no problem with that.
What to do instead?
Like I said, I get it. If you must give out worksheets to give yourself a break, try to do it sparingly. There are other ways to take breaks that are better for everyone:
Put on a movie! I know this can be frowned upon, but there are so many educational movies out there. There are documentaries galore about any subject you can think of! I love throwing on news series for students because they are relevant and promote citizenship. Check out my Vice News episode activities. Note: I call these resources "worksheets" in my store only because I don't know what else to call them. I assure you, they are not drill worksheets.
Find resources that are quick and easy to plan that are applicable to life. For example, rather than giving students a drill worksheet on basic math principles, ask them to write a travel budget. Rather than giving students a vocabulary worksheet where they copy down definitions, have them create a slideshow with vocab definitions along with a photo that represents the definition. One of my coworkers used to do this with her students. It helps students make real connections with the words in a more interesting and effective way.
One final method of limiting intense lesson planning is to incorporate student-directed learning activities into your curriculum. Your students direct the learning experience while you facilitate. No lesson planning. Check out my store for student-directed learning resources AND refer back to blog posts from my student-directed learning series for guidance.
As you drift into summer, reflect on your year. What did you do well? What could have gone better? What changes do you want to make? What kind of people do you want your students to become? How do you want your students to perceive learning? Does your current approach support your teaching goals? Are drill worksheets working for you, and more importantly, are your students getting anything out of them?
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Spring is the perfect time of year for citizen science! It's warming up outside, students are getting antsy and exhausted, testing is underway, breaks are badly needed. On top of that, things start to get active in the world of wildlife, especially in temperate regions like Minnesota. Animals emerge from hibernation, migrating species begin their long journeys to their summer sanctuaries, and it's breeding season for many organisms.
Citizen science is when citizens, like your students, have the opportunity to play an active role in wildlife studies or projects going on around the world that benefit from participation by citizens. Hawk Watch International, for example, hosts hawk counting events at their migration sites that anyone can participate in. Volunteers count passing hawks and record their count to an online database.
Citizen science is a great learning tool for many reasons. One is the application of science concepts to the real-world. Participating in citizen science also shows students that they can play a role in improving the community and the world around them. They are active citizens, an important 21st-century skill.
I highly encourage organizing classwide citizen science activities or taking a project-based learning approach to citizen science. Take a look at my PBL Toolkit to get students rolling on citizen science PBL projects. Using my Community Action Projects resource is one project-based learning approach that makes sense in this case, as students would be actively participating in projects that better the community.
The following is a list of some of my favorite citizen science projects to use with my high school students AND my own young children. The projects listed below are appropriate for ALL ages. You could get students involved either part of school curriculum, at home for homeschool projects, on a family camping trip, or over the summer to keep students busy and sharp, among other things, There are many more citizen science programs out there other than the 20 listed below. I'd love to know about others that you've done with your students!
20 Citizen Science Projects for Students of All Ages
1. Globe at Night
The purpose of this project is to raise awareness about light pollution and its impact on communities. Students can report their night sky brightness observations daily. All they need is a computer or phone. This would be a great supplemental learning experience to a broader PBL project on light pollution.
This website has a variety of projects to get involved in, which is nice when it comes to student-directed learning. Students can pick a citizen science project in line with their interests such as insects, mammals, migrating species, invasive species and more. What's really cool about this website is that is promotes communication and collaboration with naturalists and research scientists.
3. Project Budburst
Project Budburst focuses on plant observations. The intention of the program is to understand human impact on wildlife, particularly plants. One area of focus right now is determining how plants are and will continue to respond to climate change. This site has a tab for educators with age specific learning activity recommendations.
4. Project Noah
Project Noah is another citizen science option that emphasizes wildlife observation and inquiry. There is a section for educators that has a "classroom" feature where teachers can set up and manage class citizen science projects. The education section also provides investigation ideas from mimicry to backyard ecology. This is a great option for homeschoolers as well. You can add as many students to the "class" as you wish. It would be a great independent PBL project because citizen science naturally collaborative, an important element of PBL.
5. Project Squirrel
This citizen science project seems a bit dull. I mean, squirrels? They're so ubiquitous and kind of a nuisance. They aren't rare. They aren't large predators. They are a slightly cuter version of a rat. Squirrels, however, can tell us a lot about the health of the surrounding environment. Students can get involved in this project by recording squirrel observations and photos. It's a more interesting and hands-on way to learn about ecosystems. There is also a special experiment students can get involved in that looks at food patches.
This resource is incredible. What's different about Zooniverse compared to the other citizen science options mentioned so far is that the projects cross disciplines. There are projects on climate, history, literature, medicine and even art, not just natural science. One of the projects on there right now is called "Anti-Slavery Manuscripts". This project was added by the Boston Public Library to include citizens in transcribing their collection of letters written by anti-slavery activists. I think the best feature of this website is that students can create their own citizen science projects to add to the site, which citizens from all over the world can then contribute to. That would be a really cool PBL project and deep learning experience for older students or as a class project. I used to do large group projects like this with my advisory.
SciStarter is similar to Zooniverse in that there are a variety of citizen science projects available to choose from AND students can create their own. It is essentially a massive catalog of citizen science projects. One of my favorite things about this website is their blog. The blog articles illuminate the impact of citizen science on our understanding of the world.
This is a super black and white, straightforward catalog of citizen science projects in the U.S. It is not fancy and does not have a special section for educators like many of the websites mentioned so far. However, the catalog is exhaustive. If you are having your learners do student-directed PBL projects, this website is a great place to start. They can search for ideas relevant to their interests.
9. World Water Monitoring Challenge
This project is fantastic for raising awareness and educating students on water issues across the globe. Students monitor their local waterways by performing water quality tests. Consider implementing scientific open-inquiry labs on water quality in your area (check out my inquiry-based learning toolkit for guiding materials - I also have several student-directed water pollution activities in my store including inquiry, PrBL and PBL..) Students that are especially passionate about this issue and want to get more involved can apply to be ambassadors on the website. The downside to this citizen science project is that it is not free. Specific water quality kits need to be purchased to participate. One upside (of many) is that it's global.
10. The Great Backyard Bird Count
This citizen science project is only open for participation a few days per year. There are four designated days for citizens from all over the world to count birds. This year (2019), almost 33 million birds were counted. Students can count birds, submit observations, and explore the data. There is also a photo contest students can take part in! Your students will need access to smartphones and the eBird app to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Hawk Watch International, which I mentioned above, is a similar program, but specific to hawks.
11. Journey North
Journey North is a citizen science option that specifically focuses on migrating species such as the monarch butterfly and whooping cranes. There are many organisms to choose from as well as specific projects. The Symbolic Migration project is one example where students from around the world create paper butterflies and send them to students in Mexico. Those students then care for them through the winter and return them in the spring, symbolizing butterfly migration. This is a cool way to integrate art, geography, science, history, and culture, as well as to encourage global learning and collaboration. My kids and I participate in the loon program each spring, which is the MN state bird (my place of residence).
12. Butterflies and Moths of North America
As the title of this citizen science option suggests, this particular project is specific to butterfly and moth sightings across North America. Students can take photographs and record sighting locations of butterflies, moths, and/or caterpillars to the database. Students can open and analyze data maps. This is another one that is easy to participate in as long as you're in North America. Migrating moths and butterflies use the north as a summer sanctuary and the south as a winter sanctuary. They can be found in most environments from urban gardens to national parks. My students and children take part in this project every spring.
13. WildCam Gorongosa
This project can be found and your group managed through Zooniverse (#6). Scientists and conservationists need help tracking and identifying species in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Students scroll through photos taken by wildcams placed in the park. Students identify organisms and their behaviors IN the photos. That's one interesting thing about this citizen science project; students can participate from anywhere in the world, including in a classroom. I understand some educators don't have the flexibility to get out of the building everyday to view wildlife. This is a great option for those in this situation. The "lab" tab in the upper right corner of the homepage is a place for educators to compile class data, which might come from an inquiry investigation for example. Students can also discuss what they see with other volunteers and scientists. It's highly collaborate, and pretty addicting once you start!
14. Nature's Notebook
This website is geared toward educators. Nature's Notebook focuses heavily on phenology monitoring, but what's cool is that you can create your own phenology monitoring program with your students that is relevant to your community. Your students could consider starting a citizen science program as an upper level project-based learning experience.
15. The Wildlab Bird
The Wildlab Bird is another citizen science opportunity offered by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Students observe birds near their learning spaces and report sightings of GPS-tagged birds to Wildlab. One thing that is unique to this citizen science option is that they promote STEM. They put a strong emphasis on integrating technology, so much so, that they will provide iPhones to your students for this project. They will also visit your school or other learning environment free of cost to help you get started.
16. Celebrate Urban Birds
This project encourages urbanites to observe their surroundings and appreciate wildlife. You don't have to be in the middle of a national park to find wildlife. This is a great project for urban students that don't have easy access to natural areas.
17. Project FeederWatch
I love this project! There are so many learning opportunities built into it. It is not simply a matter of counting birds in your school yard. You could take advantage of design thinking by having your students build their own bird feeders. The shape, structure size, color, and food included will all be dependent on the bird they're hoping to attract and count. In order to find this information students will have to do some research on the natural history of birds in their community. You could split your students up into groups, have each team determine a bird of focus, design a birdfeeder specific to the species of their choice, and then observe and count the birds to report to Project FeederWatch. This would be a great PBL experience.
18. School of Ants
The purpose of this program is for citizens to help create a thorough map of ant species and their ranges across North America. This is a great supplemental activity or could be a PBL project in itself. Students would learn about the natural history of ants in North America, what they eat, their behaviors, distribution, and more while contributing to real science. This website has many resources for educators as well.
19. The Lost Ladybug Project
Another one on insects! The Lost Ladybug Project asks citizens to help them collect ladybugs, photograph them, and submit the images along with some basic information such as location, date, habitat, etc, to their database. This could be a great supplemental activity to a larger discussion or unit on topics like invasive species, habitats, competition, evolution, genetics, and more. Be creative, or let your students get creative by having them conduct student-led scientific open inquiry investigations.
20. The Great Sunflower Project
The Great Sunflower Project emphasizes pollinators, a hugely important topic and one that has been in the spotlight for quite some time, as our pollinators are at risk. There are a few ways to get students involved in this program. One way is to have them grow sunflowers, monitor pollinator visitors, and test the effects of pesticides on the pollinators. Students can also participate in pollinator counts anytime, anywhere, even in the school yard or in their home gardens. As a project-based teacher, I think this final option is the coolest way to get involved; students can learn about important habitats for pollinators by literally creating their own pollinator habitat such as a bee or butterfly garden.
Thanks for visiting! I hope you're able to get your students involved in at least one of these citizen science projects this spring. By introducing them now, they can take over and continue to stay involved on their own throughout the summer and into next year. I'd love to know about anymore citizen science projects not mentioned here that would be worth looking into.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources. There are a couple free ecology resources available to download.
Photo Credit: Many of the photos above were taken directly from the citizen science websites cited. The quote photo, blog cover, butterfly photo, bird photos, butterfly art piece, and child looking at butterfly catalog were taken by Experiential Learning Depot.
Spring is here, the weather is warming, and students are getting antsy. The school year is wrapping up. Teachers want to end the year with a bang, but we're also exhausted and don't know how much more we have in us! It's testing season, prom season, graduation season, grade report season! Ah! May is bonkers in the world of education.
What better way to go out with a bang AND cruise through the rest of the year than with community action projects (CAPs)? I did a post on this a while ago. Feel free to go back to that post for details. In summary, students choose a local or global issue, design an action plan, and take action. It's a great mix of project-based learning, problem-based learning, and service-learning. Community action projects are interesting, multidisciplinary, and mine are designed to be student-directed, which means there is little to no preparation on your part other than introducing and facilitating the project.
Here's how it works: Students choose an issue that they'd like to get involved in and do some research on the problem. After students have chosen and thoroughly investigated an issue, they brainstorm solutions, design an action plan, and act. Hosting an exhibition night to showcase projects is a nice way to wrap up the experience.
You could allow students to choose any issue of interest or keep it within parameters pertinent to goals or learning objectives for a class. For example, I have done an entire seminar called "community action projects" where that's all we did. I have also incorporated CAPs into specific courses such as a final project for my environmental science class. Students focused on issues pertinent to the environment such as water pollution. Check out this community action project designed specifically to the concept of pollution.
There are a couple important distinctions between this kind of project and any other school project. My community action projects follow the principles of project-based learning, so one of the most important distinctions is that these projects make an impact on the community, preferably long-term. Check out my post on the elements of project-based learning for more details. A student could create an elaborate awareness campaign with beautiful illustrations and a catchy slogan, but if their final product isn't shared or never reaches a relevant audience, then learners aren't reaching their full potential. The project wouldn't make a real impact if not shared with a meaningful audience and the student is robbed of deeper learning, particularly of opportunities to build important 21st-century skills such as networking, communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and citizenship. The purpose of a project like this is not to theorize solutions to hypothetical problems. It's to teach students how to be responsible and active citizens, to have the tools to fight injustices, or simply know how to solve real-world problems.
The following is a list of community action project ideas that could apply to most issues. Students can refer to this list when designing their action plans or you could choose an idea from the list to assign to the class. That would be the more teacher-guided approach vs. student-directed where students design their own projects. You choose!
***I have a community action project toolkit in my store that includes all guiding materials and templates needed for students to carry out projects on issues of their choice.
10 Community Action Project Ideas To Wrap Up the School Year
1. Awareness Campaign:
Students design a campaign that would educate the public on the issue. They could create posters, t-shirts, a video promotion, etc. They can get super creative with this one, and the options are endless, especially with social media and other technologies having come onto the scene.
2) Design and Make a Product:
The idea behind this one is that students design and make something that raises awareness and provides a tangible outcome. The product should be usable or sellable to raise money for the cause. One example would be starting a philanthropic business. The shoe company, TOMS, was founded on this idea. They observed that kids without shoes were developing health problems such as hookworm. TOMS business model then is one-for-one where they give a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair they sell. Check out this free business plan organizer from my store. Another example would be taking an invasive species, like buckthorn here in MN, and using it as material for a product to sell such as a bracelet or waste basket. This action plan physically removes the problem and brings in money (selling the product at a school function, in boutiques, or on ETsy) to use toward a permanent, long term solution (ex: donating the funds to the DNR.) This is a great option for the makers of the world.
3) Innovative Strategy to Raise Awareness:
Imagine a student is interested in the issue of teen pregnancy. One way to raise awareness would be to create a brochure with some info and stats on the isse and pass it around town. Okay. That is technically raising awareness, but it's not a head turner. There is nothing creative, interesting or shocking about it. Brochures are overdone and overlooked. To truly make an impact, the student's audience needs to be intrigued.
For example, a student of mine did her community action project on teen pregnancy. Rather than a simple brochure, she created a website with information about teen pregnancy. She then assembled HUNDREDS of fortune-tellers (paper origami game). She put information about teen pregnancy on the fortune-tellers as well as a link to her website. Near the website link was instructions for entering a drawing for a prize. She then discretely dropped hundreds of these fortune tellers around the city - on city buses, in community center bathrooms, on the bleachers at school football games, etc. In order for a reader of the fortune teller to get their name in the drawing, they had to go to her website, find the contact page, and send her a note that included three facts that they learned from her website. There are several cool things going on here. One is that the fortune teller screams to be picked up. It would be odd to see a fortune teller sitting next to the soap dispenser in a public restroom.
4. Organize a school club or community organization:
I have had several students start and organize clubs for their community action projects. One group started an environmental science club. Enough with the science examples already! I'm a science teacher, what can I say? They created objectives and goals and organized club events related to their community action projects. They put together a community wide clean-up day where they walked the school neighborhood picking up trash. The club organizers invited speakers to come in and educate students on local environmental issues and give them tips on how they could help. I have a PBL project specific to starting a club, which includes templates helpful for getting one started.
5. Community Volunteer
One way to take action on an issue of importance is to give time to a cause. That often takes the shape of volunteering. Students find an organization relevant to the issue they've chosen for their project and give their time to that organization. Leaving it there would be a typical community service or volunteer experience. A community action project doesn't stop at giving a few hours of their time. Students also need to document their experience and share that experience with an audience that is meaningful or relevant to the issue.
One student was interested in trafficking. She connected with a shelter that took in trafficked survivors to help them get back on their feet. They asked her to organize a food and clothing drive for women in the shelter. In order to collect a substantial amount of food and clothing, this student needed to get the attention of the community. She invited some of the women from the shelter to speak at the school. She opened the event to all students and community members. The women's stories were powerful. More people were willing to donate food and clothing once they were aware of the issue. This wasn't a simple volunteer experience where clock hours logged and signed by a supervisor. This student not only gave her time to cause that she was passionate about, but she was able to raise awareness about the issue a the same time. Deep learning took place here. Volunteering has a been a popular action plan. Other projects have included a student helping dog shelters at adoption events. Another group of students observed elementary teachers needed help, so they connected with a local elementary school to come in and help, which included reading with kids.
6. Host a Fundraiser
Raising money is a great way to take action for a community action project. The outcome makes a direct and tangible impact. Several of my students organized a holiday pie fundraiser at the time when the Syrian refugee crisis was front and center. They not only learned about the Syrian conflict, but also how to organize an effective fundraiser. They had to learn which organizations were reputable and would get the money into the right hands. They learned how to make homemade pies and how to market their fundraiser. They had to figure out how to make a profit, not lose money! They knew pie ingredients could get expensive (particularly apples), so worked with local orchards to work out a reduced price. They created a survey to determine how much money people would pay for homemade pies so they could price them appropriately and effectively. See this free student-directed fundraiser organizer from my store.
7. Write Letters and Meet with Legislators
Advocating for legislation is a really powerful learning experience, not only because students make an impact on their community at the time, but they also develop the skills to continue to do so long after they've graduated. It's important for students to know their rights and how to advocate for themselves and their communities over the course of their lives. I had a student that was frustrated with the lack of job prospects for ex convicts. She wrote letters to her local legislators expressing her interest in the issue and invited them to come to the school to meet with her and talk about possible solutions. One of her legislators called her back, came to the school to meet with her, where they brainstormed solutions at the legislative level. Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs (MAAP) also organizes a statewide legislative day every year where students from all corners of Minnesota come to the state Capitol to discuss the importance of alternative education with their legislators.
8. Artistic Production
This is another way to raise awareness about a local issue. This idea here is that students create some kind of production such as a skit, play, documentary, music concert, etc. that raises awareness in an interesting way. They then bring the production to relevant audiences around the community or host an event. For example, a group of students doing a project on the issue of bike accidents might create a skit that demonstrates bike safety and perform that skit at local elementary schools or community clubs in the area.
This is when students organize a walk or demonstration to raise awareness or put pressure on politicians to act. Our students have participated in the Science March, March for Immigration, and the Women's March. They create original signage for the events. They document the experience via vogging, a documentary, photojournalism, blogging, etc. I have also had students organize walks, which is what the photo on the cover of my Community Action Project resource illustrates. Some students read a book for their book club called "Am I Blue?", which inspired them to organize a walk for gay rights. They recruited participants from the school and community.
10. Host a School Event
This is a fun one but might would take significant effort on your part. I have had students organize screenings of documentaries that are only available to educators. One specific example is the documentary "Sold", which is a movie version of the book "Sold", which I read with students for a women's studies seminar. I have also had students host environmental science fairs, fundraisers (carnivals, cook-offs, car washes, etc.) We have had students host a speaker series from community members relevant to the issue at hand. The list goes on. Let kids get creative!
There are many more options for action plans, but these are the most common with my students. This particular project is really powerful, inspiring, and is a great way to end the year, especially if you host an exhibition or presentation night to show off their final products. Good luck! I would love to hear of student projects and outcomes. Feel free to send me photos or comments to email@example.com. I'd love to feature them on my blog.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources. I am participating in the sitewide sale 5/7-5/8. The whole store is 25% off.
'Tis the season for road trips! Whether it be a spring camping trip with students, a summer road trip with your own children, or a cross country trip with just you and your dog, take full advantage of learning opportunities along the way. Learning is powerful beyond the walls of a classroom. Hitting the road opens doors to learning experiences that couldn't be achieved from a classroom.
There are many gears working to make a road trip possible from the planning stages, to packing, navigating, financing, and more. Involving students in these steps gives them the chance to apply skills and knowledge in real-world contexts. Travel gives students the wherewithal to figure things out regardless of the situation or changing circumstances. If you get lost, you have no choice but to find your way. It might put a wrench in your plans, but this is a learning experience in itself.
Learning naturally happens all the time, especially when traveling. But you can still encourage students to plan PBL projects, reflect on their experiences in a way that is intentional, collaborate with locals along the way, do the trip planning, fundraise, and more. I used to take students on road trips for summer school credit. When leading an educational travel experience, having purpose, expectations, structure, and guidance is important. I require my high school student travelers to complete student-directed PBL projects that are relevant to the trip at hand. I have also done this with my own young children. You might recall a past post on a family trip to Denmark where my four-year-old documented the trip with my camera and edited the photos using a photo app.
I am a champion of learning, particularly when it is student-led and promotes lifelong learning. It doesn't matter if it's summer. It doesn't matter if it's not in a traditional learning environment. Parents and homeschoolers, this post is especially pertinent to you because you have more flexibility when it comes to using the world as a resource.
The following is a list of learning activity ideas to do for or on a road trip. They are intended to be adaptable, modifiable, and work across the board with all skill levels, age groups, backgrounds, and more. They are just ideas to bring learning and travel together. Project-based learning is one of the easier ways to incorporate intentional learning into travel experiences. Check out my project-based learning toolkit to help guide students through the process of student-directed project-based learning from the design stage through to the reflection and assessment.
Good luck! I'd love you to add any ideas not listed here. This list is certainly not exhaustive. If you have your students or children do any of these learning activities this spring or summer I'd l'd love for you to share the experience!
20 Learning Activities To Do On Road Trips
1. Create a tour using Google Maps -
I wrote a blog post a while back about using Google Maps in project-based learning. Check that out for more specific ideas. Learners could plot points and narrate a tour on Google Maps of just about anything from restaurants to overlooks to birding spots along the way.
2. Scientific inquiry experiments -
students could ask a question about their route and collect data as they go. For example a student may want to conduct biodiversity sampling from a variety of different habitats. I took students to California a few years ago to study the starkly contrasting ecosystems in the state. We traveled by car around the state collecting climate and biodiversity data. I also drove students through Florida studying the diverse marine ecosystems along the way. These are just examples. There is an infinite number of questions your learners could ask and test on the road. If you're interested in inquiry-based learning but would like some guiding materials, check out the toolkit offered in my store.
3. Scrapbooking -
Students could create a physical scrapbook by adding photos with captions and collecting and adding artifacts from the trip such as museum stubs or souvenirs. They could also find a digital scrapbooking program such as Shutterfly. Shutterfly is a photo program where you can create photo books. They can be costly. Students could use any number of free programs as simple as Google Slides or the free version of Canva.
4. Photojournalism -
Have students document some relevant current event using photography as their medium. This could be on any number of topics in politics, art, culture, humanities, etc. An example would be documenting evidence of an upcoming election. There may be events taking place in towns along the way, campaign signs littering yards or billboard advertisements splattered along freeways.
5. Budgeting -
Have your students create a trip budget that includes lodging, gas, food, activities or tours, etc. I have many travel products in my TpT store, most of which are free. One of these products, free, includes budgeting guidance. Challenge students by encouraging them to keep the trip under a certain amount of money. It might also be cool to have students create a blog post on tips and tricks to pinching pennies on the road.
6. Design and create a road trip game -
Road trips can get long. Ask your students to create a game before the trip begins that they can play in the car. The challenge is making sure the game is road trip appropriate such as keeping it compact, limiting small pieces, and making sure it can be played while seated. You could also have students create a game that is inspired by the trip such as gathering information about small towns on their route and writing trivia questions about their stops.
7. Journaling -
Students could also keep a written journal. I have done this on every trip I've ever taken, even as an adult. It's fun to look back on them years later. I have had students do doodle journals instead of written journals as well where they articulate their experience through pictures, or doodles in this case.
8. Make a cookbook -
All cities have cuisine unique to their region, or types of food they are known for. Determine food staples in different towns/cities along your trip, learn how to make those dishes, and create a cookbook. For example, if I did a road trip through the midwest I might learn how to make deep dish pizza (Illinois), pasties (Michigan), hot dish (Minnesota), and cheese curds (Wisconsin).
9. Photography -
Capturing the travel experience with photos is an obvious road trip learning activity. Just because it is obvious doesn't make it any less valuable. When taking pictures you see things differently than you would if you weren't trying to get the perfect shot. You notice more, learn to ask questions, and go to greater lengths (such as climbing this hill just a little bit higher) to get that perfect shot. Students would experience the trip from a unique perspective. Try landscape photography, wildlife photography, environmental portraits, etc.
10. Create a trip inspired playlist -
This is more of a trip reflection as it encourages students to look back on the trip and connect music to meaningful experiences had on the trip. Click here for a free travel reflection.
11. Creative writing -
Students could write a book of poetry, a short story, a children's book, a graphic novel, a song(s), a comic, etc. inspired by trip experiences.
12. Make postcards -
Students can make their own postcards of stops along the way with any number of art mediums such as photography, drawing, painting, charcoal, etc. They can then send their postcards to friends and family as they travel.
13. Social media documentation -
The great thing about technology today is that students can share their experiences in real time. Students can document their trips as they are on them and post updates for friends and family to follow along on their journey. I had my students do this on school trips with me. We published a blog post at the end of each day of the trip. My students have mostly blogged in the past, but they could have also vlogged, made a podcast, a documentary, or simply provided updates on their own social media sites. I took students on a bio trip to Costa Rica a few years ago and we blogged about the experience right here on Experiential Learning Depot - check it out.
14. Volunteering/community involvement -
Before students take the trip, ask them to contact organizations along the route that reflects their interests. For example, students interested in environmental science or nature may be interested in cleaning up road litter along the way or plastics washed up along beaches.
15. History projects -
Have students do PBL projects on the history of places they stop on their trip. They might want to know how the infrastructure of towns has changed over the past 100 years, the history of the people and changing demographics, the history of specific monuments located in each town they stop, or even the history of particular buildings such as lighthouses, factories, schools, or abandoned buildings.
16. Economics projects -
Have students explore certain aspects of the economy along the route. One example is to investigate the unemployment rates in different towns along the way and mapping the rates. Another option is exploring major markets or industries in the cities that they visit such as tech startups, logging companies, hospitality, tourism, etc. They could visit some of these companies, tour factories, interview employees, etc.
17. Art portfolio -
Students can create a portfolio of art pieces inspired by trip experiences such as drawings, watercolor paintings, a collage, etc. The portfolio could be art pieces based around a theme such as landscapes, water towers, lighthouses, bridges, barns, etc. or the portfolio could just represent the trip in general. One of my students created an adult coloring book, her coloring pages inspired by experiences or things she saw on her trip.
18. Journalism -
Interview people along way on any number of topics and write a "news article". I took some of my students to the Big Island of Hawaii last year, and as we circumnavigated the island over the course of the week, several of my students interviewed locals, farmers, business owners, and more on whether they've felt any impacts of climate change or expect to in the foreseeable future. The students then wrote an article summarizing their findings. Again, this is just one example. I am a science teacher, so many of my examples will be science related. It doesn't mean they have to be. Let your students get creative!
19. Collecting and analyzing artifacts -
Have students collect and catalogue any number of artifacts they find during their travels such as insects, leaves, shells, soil, rocks, flower petals, etc. They can even map their findings and examine how environmental factors might play a role in what artifacts were found where. For example, they may find very different rocks at one stop than they do at another. Students can research and analyze why this might be.
20. Maker projects/ STEM -
Have students observe a problem associated with car travel, such sore backs from sitting too long, and design and create a solution to the problem. I saw a video on Pinterest a while back of students games that could fit in the side pocket of their backpack to bring on an airplane. The pieces had to be small, they had to have three games in one, and the whole game needed to fit in an Altoids tin. The final products were astounding. This is an example of a product engineered to make travel easier.
Thanks for stopping by! Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education. Check out my TpT store - Experiential Learning Depot - for student-directed resources. Most of the educational travel resources are free.
Again, follow up if your students have done any of these learning activities on road trips or if you have any learning activity ideas. Feel free to contact me through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Parents and students, if spring or summer travel is unrealistic because of time, money, or any other obstacle, check out some of these creative ways to get your kids traveling this summer!
Happy road tripping!
I'm so excited to introduce Eliot Kersgaard from Myra Makes as my guest blogger this week! I've been interested in STEAM for a long time, but do not feel at all equipped at this point to write about it. I'm lucky to have connected with Eliot, a STEAM rockstar, who was kind enough to share his thoughts and expertise with us.
Eliot Kersgaard is the cofounder and director of Myra Makes. He was born and raised in Colorado and has a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Colorado. He has experience in nonprofit management, urban agriculture, STEAM education, physics, metaphysics, design thinking, permaculture and multimedia art.
5 Ways STEAM Can Improve Learning Outcomes
STEAM is one of the new buzzwords on the block in the experiential education movement. But what does it mean, and why should we care?
In most circles, STEAM education is a modification to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), which includes the A for the Arts. Some organizations, like Maker Bolder in Colorado, switch out a couple of the STEM letters and call STEAM Science, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Arts and Making. To avoid confusion, we’ll think about STEAM in this article as the traditional STEM subjects plus the Arts.
The idea behind STEM and STEAM is not merely that these subjects are important, but that they are best taught together, as complementary subjects. And while STEM might conjure a picture of kids making robots or learning to code, the aim isn’t about getting more kids to build robots and make video games. And adding the “A” isn’t about making those robots prettier. The inclusion of Arts in the mix is a recognition that creative, divergent, and aesthetic thinking are key ingredients to success, innovation, and communication in STEM and life in general. The fundamental objective of STEAM in my mind is to help create a more technically literate society that better understands how science works and is able to think creatively to adapt to these changes and leverage them for the best.
STEAM is part of a growing movement of integrated education, and most in the STEAM movement also recognize the importance of other educational philosophies and tools into their approaches. These include problem-based learning, making, experiential learning, nature-based education, and social-emotional learning. Just as STEAM subjects are strengthened when considered together, these lenses and tools are strengthened when combined.
A collaborative brainstorming session focused on generating ideas to make a difference in our communities.
STEAM education is one way to frame learning during an impact-oriented project.
STEAM, along with other educational philosophies in the dialogue today, can seem intimidating to teachers, kids, and parents because it seems to demand more of everyone involved. This uncertainty and fear is valid, and the STEAM approach is fundamentally different from the educational system that has been developed in the West since the mid 1800’s. However, before that time, STEAM, Making, and problem-based learning, while not called by these names, were the standard for learning and learning environments. Prior to the industrial revolution, it was common for thought leaders in many disciplines to cross disciplinary bridges. Think Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, and Hypatia. In many ways, the STEAM and aligned movements are a rekindling of how education has been conducted for most of human civilization.
OK, but what does STEAM education actually look like? I’ll explain through an example of a STEAM project. Imagine that a homeschool family has decided to construct a small greenhouse and outdoor garden. They decide to use this project as a STEAM learning opportunity. The project is broken into five different elements, one for each of the STEAM letters. Note that while the project described is a lengthy project, STEAM learning can take place over shorter times and with less planning as well. See Myra Makes (and a future post here!) for some ideas of quick STEAM activities to do at home.
A garden project, real or imagined, can introduce STEAM topics (pictured: Journey to Cloud City by Myra Makes)
For science, the students will study garden and greenhouse ecology to decide what species to include and what they will need to thrive. For technology, the students will create automated systems of light, heat and water to ensure everything runs smoothly and to reduce the workload during operation. For engineering, the students will design and build the infrastructure needed. For art, the students will design the overall arrangement of all of the elements, create a mural on the side of the garden beds to represent their visions for the project, and write a summary of the project so others can learn from the experience. Finally, for math, the students will create a budget for the project and decide on the various purchases needed. The key factor that makes this project a STEAM project is that learning in one of the areas is connected to learning in all of the other areas. The technology element draws from biology to determine the appropriate light and water requirements for the plants. The engineering element must consider the technology that will be included as well as the ecology. The artistic element brings all of the other elements together to determine how to represent the project to the outside world and create an overarching design.
The results are improved learning outcomes across the board, beginning with:
Number Five: Increasing content relevance
In work, entrepreneurial, or home contexts, the STEAM fields rarely live in isolation from one another. The construction of a garden and greenhouse is one example of how they are likely to be found together. By teaching these subjects together, we are able to more closely mimic how students are likely to encounter them later in life. This strengthens the mental pathways that connect these subjects so that students will be better equipped to understand, analyze and design in situations they will encounter later in life. This increased relevance is the foundation for the other improvements in learning outcomes coming later on this list.
Number Four: Engaging a greater diversity of learners
In the normalized academic structure of having each subject taught separately, students can easily become alienated from specific subjects. Students can lose interest in a class and have a difficult time becoming engaged again as the content grows more difficult and they struggle to play catch-up. If a student is disengaged in math, it is unlikely that more difficult math in the context of another math class will be a gateway to interest. On the other hand, teaching multiple subjects together provides more avenues for learners to become interested in the material. If math is taught alongside art or biology, there are now routes for students interested in art or biology to become interested in math as well.
Number Three: Building creative, problem-solving and design skills
While it is true that careers in science and technology are becoming more plentiful, the most sought-after skills in the workforce are more abstract: problem-solving and creativity. These skills are fundamentally a blend between artistic thinking and scientific thinking. Artistic thinking is divergent, on-the-fly thinking, identifying many approaches to a problem, and connecting disparate elements together. Scientific thinking emphasizes analysis, optimization, and experimentation. As a simplification, the arts are the beginning, highly creative stages of a design process, while the sciences are later stages of analysis and optimization. By teaching them together, problem solving and design are embedded throughout the curriculum.
Problem-solving games can encourage kids to draw on their knowledge of STEAM subjects
to bring their imaginations to life (pictured: Inventure by Myra Makes (prototype))
Number Two: Increasing learner agency
As discussed in our Number Four, STEAM education increases the number of pathways to learning subject material. By mixing and matching subject matter, there are many entry points to the material and there are many ways of thinking about it. Just as this allows STEAM to engage a more diverse array of learners, it allows learners to explore their own personal learning style, connect the subject matter with their interests, and find new learning approaches that work best for them. These combine to increase the agency, or freedom, of a learner. This deepened agency is key to fostering lifelong learning, one of the fundamental aims of integrated education.
Number One: Improving content mastery
While each element on this list is valuable in itself, they also work together to increase students’ content mastery. In other words, their testable outcomes will improve. This is an emergent, almost accidental result of engaging more learners, increasing content relevance, and increasing learner agency.
About Myra Makes:
Myra Makes is a grassroots startup based in Colorado. We believe that every person has the innate capacity to contribute to a brighter future for all while meeting their needs and developing their passions. Our mission is to create a more playful and just society by enriching the lives of kids, teachers and families. To achieve this, we create books, games, and programs to engage the whole child in creative pursuits.
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I'm several posts into my student-directed learning series now, and I'm finding that I may never reach an end. 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. Student-directed learning, in short, gives students choice, voice, and autonomy. This approach to learning provides students with opportunities to develop important 21st-century skills, grow in knowledge, and develop the tools for lifelong learning.
The three learning tools of focus on this post do not necessarily have to be student-directed. They can all fall under teacher-directed if the teacher is making most of the decisions and directing the experiences. Guiding is much different than directing (check out my post to see what teachers do in a student-directed learning environment.) I chose the three learning activities that I did, not because they have to be student-directed in order to work, but because they have the framework in place to make student-directed learning possible and easy to implement. The following activities are great ways to start if you are looking to transform your classroom (and students) by way of student-directed learning.
3 Transformational Student-Directed Learning Tools
1. Project-Based Learning (PBL):
I have written a lot of posts about project-based learning because it has been my dominant teaching tool for the past 11 years. Project-based learning is when students investigate a topic or driving question, create an end product to demonstrate learning, and present the final product. What distinguishes project-based learning from other pedagogies or projects in general is that the community plays a large role in the research process, end products must be innovative, and presentations must be authentic, meaning the information gathered or the product itself should meet and impact a relevant audience. Self and peer-assessment is also important. For details on how to start student-directed project-based learning and for PBL examples, refer back to some of my other posts on PBL.
So then how do you make PBL student-directed? Give students choice in as many ways as you can. Students can choose their own topic and learning objectives if you have the flexibility to allow that. If you are restricted to teaching specific topics, then choose the topic and allow student choice in other aspects of the project process. Students can choose how they will gather information, which community experts they will use and how they will utilize their expertise. Students can choose how they will demonstrate learning such as creating a comic or building a website. Students can and should choose their authentic audience. Students can even choose their own grading criteria by writing their own rubric or designing their own formative assessment.
Teacher-directed project-based learning would mean you would be doing all of that work for your students. Not only is that a lot on you, but learners are then robbed of the opportunity to develop those important skills themselves such as networking, communication, and collaboration.
Most of my TpT store is filled with various project-based learning resources. Many of my PBL resources start with a specific topic but give students choice in every other way. I also have a project-based learning toolkit that provides all of the guiding materials necessary for student-directed PBL that can be personalized to any topic.
The photo on the left is one part of the end product of a large and ongoing student business project. The picture is of skate decks for his skateboard company, all designs done by students. The photo on the right is of a student taking photos as a way of demonstrating learning. Photography was a passion of his, so taking photos to document his project was his choice.
2. Problem-Based Learning (PrBL):
I love problem-based learning for so many reasons, but one is the creative solutions that students come up with. Kids come into this activity with a fresh lens! Problem-based learning is when students examine real-world problems. They investigate the problem, research existing solutions, develop novel solutions, and propose a comprehensive plan to mitigate or eliminate the problem completely.
Again, problem-based learning has the bones to be student-directed as long as students direct the experience through a series of choices. I often introduce a problem and then have students choose how they will examine the issue, who they will talk to, resources they will utilize, collaborators, etc. They can also choose how they propose their plan.
True student-directed problem-based learning would be allowing students to choose the real-world problem they want to investigate and solve. This route is so interesting because even the act of choosing their own problem to investigate requires certain skills such as making observations about the world around them or recognizing when there is a problem at all. Students will get better at these skills the more opportunities they have to build on them.
I just started a problem-based learning product line on my TpT site. I have a problem-based learning toolkit that provides the framework and guiding materials to do student-directed problem-based learning from start to finish.
I do a lot of problem-based learning activities on environmental science because I am a science teacher. I give them a water pollution problem about fertilizers (available in my store), and organized a field trip to a nearby organic farm to talk with the farmer about how she grows crops sustainably.
3. Inquiry-Based Learning:
I use student-directed inquiry-based learning quite often because I am a science teacher. It's very fitting for science concepts, as one method of investigation is experimentation. Inquiry-based learning, however, is multidisciplinary. It can be used in any learning environment, for any subject, and any unit (if that's what you're looking for.) Inquiry is simply asking a question and investigating it through whatever means available and effective.
Again, inquiry-based learning is not defined by giving students choice. It falls on a spectrum, as I said in my last post. Feel free to go back one week to see my post on student-directed inquiry-based learning for details on how to guide inquiry activities. If the teacher asks the question, designs the investigation, and directs everything in between, then it is teacher-directed inquiry. Open inquiry is the opposite end of the spectrum where students observe the world around them, ask their own questions, and direct their own investigations. Guided inquiry lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
I have a few scientific open inquiry activities in my TpT store. I also have an inquiry-based learning toolkit with the guiding materials needed for student-directed open inquiry.
These photos are of my own children doing an inquiry activity on conduction. My daughter observed that a metal statue that she touched was cold and asked why. Her observation; her question. I guided the experiment. I do student-directed learning activities with my high schoolers, my preschooler, and even my toddler. It is an effective learning approach for all ages, skill levels, backgrounds, etc.
Of course there are other activities that can be student-directed, but these specific approaches to learning have worked well for me. Other popular learning activities right now that could be student-directed include STEM, STEAM, and making. You could even take something like reading and make it student-directed. Let students choose their own books to read and demonstrate learning in a way that works for them. I see lot teachers doing this on social media.
Student-directed learning is an exaggerated version of differentiated learning. Instead of "choice time" where students have choice for specific chunks of the day, or genius hour where students get one hour a week to choose a topic to study, or splitting kids up based on skill levels certain times of the day, transition to student-directed learning where students can choose to learn in ways that work for them for most or all of the day, not part of it.
If student-directed learning is simply giving students choices then you should be doing that with your students. You just should. I know that's blunt. You can still teach to the standards, you can still have structure, and should absolutely have high expectations of your students. All you have to do is give choice.
Project-based learning, problem-based learning, and inquiry-based learning are great ways to start doing that, and they are taking the educational world by storm. Implementing these types of learning experiences is not out of the question anymore. I got my teaching license 11 years ago. The teaching program that I was in insisted on heavy training in inquiry-based learning. The school where I was trained, the U of M in Mpls, is not ultra-progressive, the teaching program is not an alternative program, and student-directed learning activities like inquiry-based learning are not radical ideas. Not now, and not 11 years ago. Get on board if you haven't already.
I spoke with another teacher the other day that said her school is pushing project-based learning on her. She said she was scared, and I completely understood her sentiment. We as teachers are already spread thin. To take a teaching portfolio that she had spent her entire career developing to then be told that she won't be using that any longer is a blow. It sort of feels like starting over. Like going back to student teaching! Yikes. No one wants that. Just know that you don't need to start over. You just need to facilitate instead of direct. Your expertise, knowledge, network, etc. are incredibly valuable. Take the plunge, especially if your district is giving their full support. Keep coming back to this blog for tips on making the transition. You can do it, and I'm here to help!
P.S. I do have a bundle that includes all of the student-directed tool kits I mentioned above (PBL, PrBL, and inquiry-based learning.)
I would love to hear about any student-directed learning activities that you do with your students, or how your PBL, PrBL, and inquiry-based learning activities are working out for your students.
Getting Started with Student-Directed Inquiry-Based Learning
I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old. These two little ones are at prime ages for questioning. I get 1,000 questions per day, at least. Yesterday I was baking a cake and my son asked me why I was putting eggs in the batter. I turned this simple question into an inquiry-based learning activity.
Rather than tell my son why cakes need eggs, he investigated his own question. I guided him through a simple experiment. We made one cake with all of the listed ingredients (control) and another cake with all of the same ingredients except for eggs. He observed raw eggs before using them by moving the yolk and whites around with a fork. He noticed the consistency; that it was slimy and stretchy. He commented on the color. I asked him to tell me about his experience eating eggs. What do cooked eggs taste like? Feel like in your mouth? Do scrambled egg fall apart when handled? Based on what you're seeing here, what differences do you think you will see between the baked cakes? His prediction was that the cake with eggs would taste like, look like, feel like, and smell like scrambled eggs and the cake without eggs would taste like cake ;) And why wouldn't it? My four-year-old is drawing on his observations and previous experiences.
We then made the two versions of the cake and observed the final products in the same way that we observed the raw eggs. I asked if they looked how he expected and to observe the differences in taste, color, smell, texture, etc. My son thought that the one with eggs tasted better than the one without. The one without eggs fell apart when handled. The one with eggs was brighter yellow. So we determined (with open ended questions from me) that adding eggs to cake batter is probably important for structure, color, and taste.
This is an example of inquiry-based learning.
What is inquiry-based Learning?
Inquiry is simply finding information through questioning. Inquiry-based learning then is a constructivist approach to learning where students develop knowledge by investigating a question rather than through direct instruction (lecture.) Students ask a question based on an observation or are given a question by the instructor. Students then thoroughly investigate that question. The investigation could include experimentation, interviews with community experts, digging through literature such as books, publications and journals, experiential activities, PBL, PrBL, etc.
What are the different approaches to inquiry-based learning?
Inquiry-based teaching spans a broad spectrum from teacher-directed structured inquiry where the instructor gives students the driving question to investigate and designs the investigation, to student-directed open inquiry where students ask their own questions and plan their investigations. Varying levels of guided inquiry lie between the two extremes. An instructor might give students the driving question, for example, but the students plan their own investigations. You might guess, if you are an avid reader of my blog, which end of the inquiry spectrum my learning activities lie.
For more information on student-directed learning, go back to some of my previous posts. I am in the middle of a series on student-directed learning. All of my posts in this series so far can be found by clicking here.
How can I shift to student-directed open-inquiry?
The bulk of my teaching career has been at an experiential learning, student-directed school. I often had students come into my classes mid-year, some 18 years old, that had up until that point experienced a very different kind of learning environment, one where direct instruction was the norm, worksheets were handed out in abundance, and a lot of value was placed on having the correct answers. Throwing students directly into student-directed open inquiry, especially those that are accustomed to being handed "answers", may feel uncomfortable at first. This is especially true with high school students, as there is a shift in mindset that needs to happen.
You can tackle this problem one of three ways:
1) Start at the teacher-directed end of the spectrum and gradually move to the student-directed end of the spectrum. As much as I advocate for student-directed everything, I also understand that there is a learning curve. Making the transition gradually might work best for you and your students.
2) Another way to shift that thinking is to dive right into open inquiry. Be patient and forgiving with students at first, and watch their struggle and confusion transform into a profound learning experience. This is what I usually do. Student-directed open inquiry is where it's at.
3) If I have a population of students that are floundering with open-inquiry after diving right in, I might take a baby step toward the other end of the inquiry spectrum temporarily, providing guided inquiry experiences. This is what I did with my son and the egg experiment. He asked the question. I designed the experiment because, hey, he's 4.
Benefits of student-directed inquiry-based learning?
Why not just Google the answer? If I want to answer a question like why eggs are used in baked goods, I could look it up and find the answer in seconds. The purpose of inquiry-based learning, however, is not finding the correct answer, or finding an answer at all for that matter. The benefits of inquiry-based learning come out of the process, not the results.
A lot of teachers struggle to implement inquiry-based learning because it takes time. What's cool about student-directed inquiry-based learning is that it's multidisciplinary. Many concepts and skills are rolled into one activity vs. direct instruction where ideas are split up into discrete units. Take the egg/cake experiment for example. We practiced counting, colors, and for older students, fractions. We practiced a variety of skills such as communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and even fine-motor skills. We covered a variety concepts in chemistry and math.
The idea is to get students asking questions and finding information as one would in the real-world. Inquiry-based learning experiences provide students with opportunities to use higher order thinking skills such as making observations, asking their own questions, designing experiments, analyzing ambiguities of conflicting information or unexpected results, working through obstacles and coming to solutions to overcome those challenges. Those are skills that are important in life. Inquiry-based learning is a slam dunk when it comes to practicing the 6 C's as well - collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, citizenship and character development. Student-directed open inquiry teaches students the skills necessary for lifelong learning.
What do you need to start student-directed open inquiry?
Teacher-directed structured inquiry is easy. Pull out a recipe lab and ask students to do it. Open inquiry, however, requires that you provide input. If you want your students to ask their own questions and design their own investigation, you need to set a stage that stimulates the flow of observations, questions, and ideas.
You also need to be prepared to scaffold NOT give answers. Scroll to the bottom for a list of great go-to questions when facilitating a student-directed open inquiry activity.
Finally, student-directed open inquiry does not have to be and should not be chaotic. Structure is allowed and encouraged, especially for beginners. Students should have clear expectations and guiding materials. For example, I personally think it's important for students to reflect on their inquiry experience. Providing reflection questions doesn't dilute the learning experience for your students, it just adds an element of structure that some students need or desire.
Where can I find student-directed open inquiry resources?
I recently added a student-directed inquiry product line to my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. I currently have two high school level open inquiry projects in that line on water pollution in lieu of upcoming Earth Day. One is an investigation of water pollutants and their sources and the other is the impact pollutants have on aquatic life. Students will ask their own questions based on materials laid out and what they already know, design an experiment to test their questions, analyze results, and draw conclusions. These resources provide structure and guiding materials for students and teachers in what could otherwise be an overwhelming experience, especially beginners.
I hope to add more inquiry-based learning resources in the near future, including a student-directed open inquiry toolkit that would provide the guiding materials for any open inquiry project that is experimental in nature.
What questions can I ask to guide students through the inquiry process?
1) What do you think?
2) Why do you think that?
3) What do you predict will happen if...?
4) Why do you predict this will happen?
5) What would happen if you tried this instead?
6) How could you find out about this?
7) Who might know the answer to that question?
8) Is this source of information credible? How do you know? What source could you use that would be credible?
9) What does this information mean to you?
10) What does this remind you of?
11) Where have you seen this before?
12) What if you tried this?
13) What did you observe then? What do you observe now?
14) What else does this make you wonder?
15) How does this connect to that?
16) How is this different from that? How are they the same?
17) Tell me about what you're doing here and why you're doing it.
18) What could you do next?
19) What is another way you could ask that question?
20) What could you do next?
Who can implement inquiry-based learning?
My inquiry-based learning resources primarily focus on life science, as that is my licensure and background. Inquiry-based learning can be applied across the board, however. If students are asking questions, doing investigations to answer those questions, and constructing knowledge based on the experience, it's inquiry. You can even see that people of all ages can do inquiry-based learning activities. My resources are geared toward high school students, but I do inquiry all the time with my toddler and preschooler at home.
I would love to hear how educators are using inquiry-based learning across disciplines and age groups. How can you apply inquiry in a high school social studies class, reading class, or math class? How do you use inquiry-based learning in early childhood learning environments?
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources including project-based learning, maker resources, and now inquiry. I have a few problem-based learning resources in the works, and am excited to get that product line out in the next couple of weeks. Thanks for following!
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.