A year of experiential learning …

Previously I have written a list of edu-dreams for 2011. One of the most prominent features of this list was the desire to give my students what I’m calling ‘learning experiences’. I am entering my seventh year of teaching English and feel that I can not face another year of worksheets. I spent a week of my school holidays writing out a summary of my teaching plans for 2011, ensuring each unit I teach has an accompanying ‘real-world’ driving question. Why? Because I hope to infuse all of my students’ learning this year with the essence of Project Based Learning. Why just the essence, you ask? Well I’m not ready just yet to take the plunge fully into a year-long program of PBL, so I’m taking what I can to enhance my teaching and the learning of my students.

So what do I mean by ‘experiential learning’? For me, I simply mean learning that encourages students to interact with the world outside of school, typically in the form of engaging with a real-world question/problem (How can citizen journalism shed new light on world events?) and sharing learning discoveries with people from the real world who are invested in this issue (i.e journalists, writers, bloggers)  Well – I’m no education philosopher and thought I’d just ‘made up’ this term – haha – but it turns out it’s something real and a lot has been thought and written about it! So if you’re interested, check out this site – it looks pretty cool: Experiential Learning
& Experiential Education

Because I’m honest, I’ll tell you now that I clicked on the first search result for ‘experiential learning’ – wikipedia. It was a nice short entry with a couple of great quotes from a couple of greats:

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Aristotle

“”tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” Confucius (supposedly)

Hopefully you haven’t left me yet for the shallows of wikipedia or the depths of the other link, because I thought I’d share with you some of the driving questions for my classes this year as well as excerpts from a wonderful article by Edutopia blogger Susie Boss that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.


Year 9:

Persuasion: How can people use their voices to bring about positive change?

Choices: How do our choices impact our lives and the lives of others?

Communication: How can citizen journalism shed new light on world events?

Why is Shakespeare still so popular?

What is the appeal of the horror genre?

Can we see the world through someone else’s eyes?

Year 10:

Human Nature or Nurture –Are we inherently good or bad?

Resilience – How do we survive?

Power – What makes an individual powerful?

Does the individual have the right to challenge authority?

Is it dangerous to pursue freedom?

Year 11:

What are the consequences of encountering conflict in our lives?

Should art imitate life?

Can the voices in a text shape our perception of Australia?

Susie Boss of Eduptioa touched on some of my ideas in her article. She writes:

In the K-12 classroom, a variety of practices can help to build digital and media literacy. Socratic questioning, for example, promotes critical thinking about the choices people make when consuming, creating, and sharing messages. In particular, Hobbs encourages teachers to help students assess the credibility of information. She offers three “simple but powerful” questions to encourage deeper thinking: Who’s the author? What’s the purpose of this message? How was this message constructed?

I’m particularly pleased to see this:

Hobbs suggests having students design their own games instead of being immersed in games as consumers. “By becoming authors, game programmers, and designers, students deepen their awareness of the choices involved in the structure and function of technology tools themselves.”

I also think it’s great that Hobbs has identified the reality of teaching in public schools, something I had considered in my edu-dreaming and that (thankfully) has been solved via social-networking: (see the comments on my blog post here)

Although finding funding for new programs is likely to be challenging, partnerships between schools and the entertainment industry or technology companies could offer a way to leverage available resources, Hobbs suggests.

I’m interested in this idea for a PBL and wonder where I can fit in into my already bulging teaching program:

Her suggestion to map local technology resources, for example, seems like an ideal project for engaging students in a community research project and using digital tools for authentic purposes.

And this concluding comment from Hobbs is exactly why I have found technology-enhanced Project-Based-Learning so appealing:

“When people have digital and media literacy competencies,” Hobbs concludes, “they recognize personal, corporate and political agendas and are empowered to speak out on behalf of the missing voices and omitted perspectives in our communities. By identifying and attempting to solve problems, people use their powerful voices and their rights under the law to improve the world around them.”

I have to say that this year my planning has been highly unusual for me. But maybe it’s something you’ve been doing for years?

6 thoughts on “A year of experiential learning …

  1. I really enjoyed your edu-dreams post and this follow up is also enlightening for me. Like you, I too am at that stage in my albeit short english teaching career (i started in 02) where worksheets and the “norm” aren’t cutting it with either me or my students. I haven’t had time to really look into PBL so i’ve been using your thoughts on it to stimulate my own ideas and what you’re describing is something i have heard of in various guises over the past few years where every unit has a “hook” or guiding question. When i used to teach the old History syllabus it was all about answering questions within the unit, although what you’re doing is making it more ‘real’. Thank you for your posts and your help – they’re appreciated. I also introduced my year 7 class to the “mythic classroom” and i hope to pursue this idea you’ve talked about previously: i’m excited! 😉

    • Thanks Brendt 🙂

      I am so glad that my post may have inspired you to give this ‘alternative’ teaching method a go – it’s hard work but so far it seems to be worth it 🙂

      Let me know how you’re going with your mythic classroom!!

      • The mythic classroom is only in the beginning stages but my students are already catching on with “Are we in ‘cave-time’ now?” sort of questions. I plan to extend the concept from the abstract to the physical space soon.

  2. ah-ha! found and bookmarked.

    This links and driving questions you listed here are really helpful for developing my understanding about how this pedagogy differs fundamentally to the traditional teacher-led classroom paradigm.

    I wonder if you will come across the most difficulty with the ‘sharing with an authentic audience’ part. I only ask because the end of a unit can sometimes end up a mad scramble to get loose ends tied up, meaning you can end up regretting having planned a public display of work in the end. I’m going to go back to your ‘teething problems’ post now to find out!

    Perhaps there is a need to collect ideas for a range of less ‘high stakes’ ways to provide an authentic audience for student work. For example:
    * Head teacher comes into the class to appraise the products and give out awards
    * With short products classes can view each others’ work in a gallery set up
    * Creation of a class ‘zine’ that is copied at the end for all students to take home. (No, not an ‘anthology’, a ZINE! Waaaay cooler…)
    * …? what else?

    • Hey Kelli …

      Yep, writing the driving question is REALLY hard – and I can’t wait until my students are so familiar with PBL that they design their OWN driving questions and assessment tasks – woot!! 9Isn’t that the teacher’s dream?)

      I had a LOT of difficulty with the authentic audience for BOTH of my PBL projects this year 😦 I wanted a poet to come to our poetry presentation evenings – couldn’t find one, even tried through Red Rom Company 😦 (Aside – we did the papercuts program last year, a form of PBL) Eventually I settled for parents and a ‘zine’ as you suggested above. I’m going to blog about the experience – some positives and negatives to cover and share.

      My Year 11 are creating visual texts ala Inanimate Alice to education children about conflict and they will share these with students from the local primary school, which should be cool. Year 10 are redesigning the SC and will ‘present’ their alternative to our English Head Teacher!

      All of your suggestions are great and will be done in varying levels this year. Who will you authentic audience be? What about your PLN? Put your students’ work on a blog or wiki – this will be another ‘audience’ for my students this year 🙂

  3. Pingback: Put your money where your mouth is | Kelli McGraw

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