Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Get out of the Classroom! Experiential Learning

AT EdCamp Birmingham, I had the good fortune to meet many passionate educators who are making a different in their classrooms and schools everyday. One of these educators is Bob Dillon (Twitter: @ideaguy42). He is a principal at an experiential middle school in St. Louis, Missouri. The students there spend 30% of the time outside of the classroom. I love that students are given the experiences that only firsthand learning provides.

Although they do have some big  trips  to Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the Smoky Mountains, much of their time outside of the classroom is spent close to their school. The students ride the light rail system to visit other areas of the city. Several of these experiential learning activities are walking distance from the school. They get involved in community projects like cleaning up Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world. The students are gaining a sense of community and ownership with their neighborhood walks where they help local organizations distribute important information.

It set my mind to thinking. I used to take my own students to Dauphin Island Sea Lab and to an outdoor environmental camp until my administrators told me that they felt like it interfered with the standardized test prep. Yet the learning that students can grasp from just those few days of experiences is almost indescribable. How can I still give those life experiences and sense of community to my students in a system that has cut all field trips because they have lost millions of dollars of funding and can't afford to run the buses for field trips in order to save as many jobs as possible? - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more The answer is simple...we WALK. Within walking distance, we have a shopping center. Think of all the things my students can learn firsthand from local business owners, retail shops and restaurants... managing money, percentages, marketing, measurement, chemistry, nutrition, elapsed time, communication. These are just the few that come to mind. I'm sure my students will design a much better list of what they want to do and learn on these trips.

Also, a bit farther from there is city hall and the police department. How much more would it mean for them to see how the laws play out in their own community? Talk about authentic learning!

As a result, my students would gain a real understanding of what it takes to be successful outside of the classroom. They would connect to the relevance of the content that they are mastering in school. Also, they would have a sense of community, names and faces of the people who work and improve the area where they live. And it would filter down through the collaboration that they have with the students from across the country giving the students outside of my classroom a real understanding of where my students live and spur some amazing conversation and connections between all of them.

I'm excited and ready to get started. Now, where are my walking shoes?

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