We can call it experiential learning, project based learning, inquiry driven explorations, the nomenclature almost doesn’t matter as much as what it represents.
Some of my favorite experiences with my students have been when we have broken free from the litany of mandates coming from the county and instead took a step back and said, “Yeah, but what if we could?” When we’re working on communication and clarity of thought, we are crafting podcasts and YouTube style videos that force us, by their very nature, to understand our material so deeply that we can now use our knowledge to persuade, inform, and entertain our audience in a meaningful way. When taught in isolation, we learn of these ideas of author’s purpose but have little way for them to take root in our systems, and we end up just regurgitating memorized ideas. When we’re working on researching, note-taking, and executive functioning/organization, we’re building websites, creating a Wiki, or, yes, trying to make a TikTok go viral by examining the systems that make it go. We have built social media profiles for planets, used our knowledge of the water cycle, erosion, and soil conservation to design (and build, of course) water collection systems and culverts around our school playground (and just like that, no more muddy classroom floors!)
That is what our work is all about. We place what we learn in the context of action and product. It is authentic, engaging, purposeful, and best of all, it reinforces the retention of acquired knowledge.
This all sounds wonderful, I hear you saying to yourself, but how does my elementary schooler get to take advantage of this while learning both online and remotely? Whenever we build and design these experiences, we start with two simple questions: What do we need to learn? and What tools do we have available to us? That frames our adventures in an appropriate context so we don’t spend all our time planning hypothetical projects. Virtually, we have never been in a better place with the tools we have available to us for creation. Blogging, video, audio, knowledge management – we’re swimming in them. But keep in mind that just because our work happens virtually, the student’s tasks might not always be in front of a computer. Maybe we’re working on persuasive writing and so decide to craft a flyer campaign to convince people in our neighborhood to be more deliberate with their recycling. Part of that is producing and distributing actual flyers. Maybe we’re studying poetry and writing a song that we hope to perform at a local talent night or kids coffee house. Maybe we’re even designing and (with your help, of course) building a brand New American Ninja Warrior training course in the back yard, using our in-depth knowledge of geometry, elapsed time, and measurement.
When our learning is inextricably tied to doing, we set ourselves up for a lifetime of wonder, experiments, informed risk-taking, and, best of all, joy.