Experiential Learning Activities for the Classroom
This week many of our posts have illustrated the benefits of experiential learning. Now it’s your turn to take this engaging approach to your own classroom. Here are a couple ideas – with free downloadable materials included.
The Outdoor Classroom
Age Group: Elementary or Middle School
On a budget? Do what our Spotlight school, Inly, does: create a classroom out of nature – by simply taking your students outside. No matter what region of the world you’re in, you’ve got something out there to learn about: plants, soil types, rock formations, clouds, the shadows cast by the Sun, etc.
For details on science projects related to the Sun and shadows, see our Fall Equinox article from last month. Other outdoor ideas include:
Scavenger Hunt – Kids engage quickly when there’s a little friendly competition involved. Divide the students into groups (make sure there’s an adult available to accompany each group) and set them in search of a list of specific items. You can create a list that’s tailored to your specific grade level and region, or you can use the one we provide in our free download. Feel free to add to our list with any of the myriad of ideas available on Google Images.
Growing Conditions – Different plants thrive in different conditions. Lead an activity in which your students plant seeds or seedlings both outside and inside. Vary the conditions, so the students may observe and report on which conditions are most ideal for the variety of plant selected. Varying conditions may include:
- Plant outdoors in both a sunny location and a shady location
- Plant one plant outdoors, one inside near the window, and one in a dark place
- Water one plant every day and the other plant once a week
Be Like Ben – or Dan
Age Group: Middle School
At some point, your curriculum probably mentions Benjamin Franklin, who was almost as famous for his inventions as for his role in the American Revolution. The book Amazing Ben Franklin Inventions You Can Build Yourself is a great resource full of inspiring hands-on activities. We’ve included a few of Ben’s top invention ideas here.
Political Cartoons – Ben’s famous “Join or Die” illustration, as published in his Pennsylvania Gazette in 1752, was widely considered to be America’s first political cartoon. After a discussion of current events, ask your students to create their own illustrated commentary on politicians or world events.
Swim Fins – Is there a pool at your school? Ben credited his health and strength to swimming. He’s even recognized by the International Swimming Hall of Fame! At age 11 he invented paddles that could be grasped in the hands to improve thrust underwater. He later invented some rudimentary (and clunky) swim fins. Challenge your students to do the same, using materials they find at home, and then get in the pool to try them out!
Create a Thermometer – Of course Ben didn’t invent the thermometer – that was Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (alcohol thermometer in 1709 and the mercury thermometer in 1714). But Ben must have applauded the ingenuity, and used the mercury version when he helped map the Gulf Stream!
This hands-on project helps students understand the concepts of air and water pressure, as well as temperature. Step-by-step instructions, as found on Home Training Tools, are included in our free download. The only supplies you’ll need are plastic water bottles, modeling clay, clear plastic straws and food coloring.
Age Group: High School
One important concept for high school-level experiential learning is to give more control of the project to the students themselves. Empower them to use their own creativity to make the project as interesting and educational as possible.
We were inspired by Kris Bales and her hands-on activities blog, in which she describes the way students can create cell models out of cake (rather than messy plaster). We think your students will share our enthusiasm, especially when they get to eat the fruits of their labor.
Edible Cell Model – Challenge your students to recreate a plant or animal cell out of all-edible materials. Kris Bales suggests starting with a round cake, but a sugar cookie will work just as well (and Pillsbury can supply the dough, ready-made!) Fancifully colored candies of various shapes and sizes can represent cell elements such as lysosomes and Golgi apparatus. Frosting makes up the cytoplasm, with a different color for the cell membrane.
Step-by-step directions from Kris’ website are recreated for you in our free download. However, your high school students shouldn’t need much hand-holding. Whenever possible, let them select their own supplies and resources. Dividing the students into small groups will produce more exciting varieties on the final product.
Edible DNA Model – The infamous DNA molecule project becomes more fun when the students are challenged to use edible materials (think Twizzlers and miniature marshmallows, for example). But why stop with DNA? The edible concept can be applied to many types of model construction. With Halloween around the corner, maybe some aspiring zombies would enjoy making edible body parts and human organs?
For your convenience, we’ve created a free downloadable version of these activity guidelines, for you to print out.
Do you have an activity idea to share? Please comment below.