Monday, August 17, 2015

Experience Matters

From the first day of committing yourself to be a teacher you learn about lesson plans and we tend to develop a negative association with them. Dare I say, that most of us have probably not done something because it wasn't in the lesson plan. So, it's time to shift your mind set on what a lesson plan actually is. Before you write your next one think of this, what experience do I want my students to have? It's that simple. Every teacher should be focused on the experience. The activities that kids can't get out of their heads for years to come. I remember my high school Biology teacher and all of his crazy activities with Scat or the time he arranged a hiking trip and took us to the edge of a cliff....literally. Those are the lessons in which we learn the most. Students learn best from engaging experiences. Not pointless worksheets or activities where they are stuck in their seats. It's really simple to plan this way. In one of my summer courses I read this, "Design backwards. Deliver forward." Decide what's really important to learn in your class. Yes, the state will give you a book of standards you must teach. It's our job as educators to turn them into experiences or take the experience and relate it to the standards.

Take this picture of my daughter Ava. Looks like a picture of a typical ten year old sitting on the computer. If you look close enough you will see that she is wearing a white lab coat. She has a high tech piece of equipment out on the table, a map. She is using google as she conducts her research. Now, this is not part of one of her classes. This is happening in the middle of the summer. We just returned from a family trip to Lake Erie where we visited the Marblehead Lighthouse. Ava spent a few hours experiencing history. She heard the waves crashing onto the rocks and felt the water rush over her feet. She watched as boats went by and looked up at the lighthouse with a curious mind. As we visited the museum, in the former keepers house, she discovered the history of shipwrecks in Lake Erie. She was hooked! A ten year old didn't ask to buy candy or souvenir cups. She wanted to buy a map of all the shipwrecks that have occurred on the Lake. For the rest of our vacation she studied the map and asked me questions that I had no answers for. When we returned home she unpacked and immediately made her way to the computer. She put on her Private Investigator outfit and got to work. I was later informed that she wanted to solve the mystery of the two missing ships that she had discovered. She spent hours researching and discovering the history of as many ships as she could. She wants to go to the library to find more resources. None of this was for a grade. She wasn't completing any worksheets or trying to meet a deadline. She took an experience that fired up all her senses and actively engaged her curiosity. 

This is how we should be teaching. Students learn from the experiences we create and from reflecting on what they experienced. 

“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” 

― John Dewey

Better yet, involve them in the creating and planning process. According to Professor Jerome Bump, at UT Austin, there are ten reasons why experiential learning is more meaningful:

  1. While you are participating, you are paying more attention.
  2. It can be dynamic, engaging, and fun. 
  3. It allows students to practice roles unfamiliar to them and fully immerse themselves in experiences that generate authentic knowledge.
  4. It activates both sides of your brain:  the heart as well as the head, emotion as well as reason, nonverbal as well as verbal knowing, the visual as well as the verbal, intuition as well as logic, holistic as well as linear thinking, synthesis as well as analysis, metaphor as well as abstraction, the personal as well as the impersonal, creative imagination as well as academic thinking, and the playful as well as the serious.
  5. It appeals to multiple intelligences: not just the abstract verbal and the mathematic-logical, but, depending on  the circumstances, also the spatial; the kinesthetic; the musical; the interpersonal; etc.
  6. Because both sides of the brain and many intelligences are engaged, active involvement results in processing of information deeper than mere memorization; it results in "episodic memory," a deeper kind of memory specific to an event so that if you cannot at first remember the idea or technique you can reconstruct it from the event.
  7. It makes use of your own personal associations as a basis for remembering and understanding vs. parroting back the instructor's version of a concept.
  8. It can be more motivating, incorporating the pleasures of creating your own environment.
  9. It can force you to confront your current ideas about the subject, many of which may be misconceptions, and reconcile them with what you now observe to be the case.
  10. It can make the value of education more obvious because you begin connecting  information to the "real world."

The Experiential Learning model is simple to incorporate. Click here to see a sample of an experiential lesson plan.  When using this model to plan you will want to focus on five phases:

  1. Experience- This is the "Do" phase and is the exploring phase for the student. 
  2. Share- "What happened"-students reflect on what they experienced and share it with others.
  3. Process- "What's important"-breakdown and analyze the experience. Critique and reflect on what was important.
  4. Generalize- "So What"-this is where students will draw connection to the "real world"
  5. Apply-"NowWhat"- Students take what they gained from the experience and put it action. They can now apply it ti future situations. 
It's time to bring back curiosity and engagement to the classroom. Don't over plan each day and be willing to stray from the plan when the opportunity arises. Just let students experience learning through a different framework. Let them struggle as they try to make sense of the world around them. Don't hold it against them if they fail at first. It's part of the process and a huge step in learning.



Extra Resources to check out: