Monday, May 7, 2012

Experiential Learning

It is clearer and clearer that incorporating active learning and incorporating experiential learning enhances the learning experience.  And I believe that any robust assessment program will underscore the importance of more such learning opportunities.  It is also clear to me that experiential or active learning shouldn’t take place only in higher education.  It should in fact be built into as much of the k-12 learning experience as possible. And of course, experiential learning isn’t just the province of the schools.  It should also be fostered in the home environment, though I recognize that in this era of two parents working or a single parent household (and a weak economy), these opportunities may be more limited or even severely limited.

Resources in support of experiential learning are all around, especially when you are near a major metropolitan area or a major college or university.  For example, and this is one of hundreds of different examples I could give when focusing on the New York area, the American Museum of Natural History is a fabulous resource.  Now I admit I am partial to the AMNH.  When growing up in Manhattan and being able to ride the subways alone with my friends at an early age, I often gravitated to Natural History.  I was fascinated by dinosaurs and there they were—not a picture in a textbook, not a small scale model but the actual skeletons.  No Hollywood special effects.  No Godzilla. No Barney.  Just the real thing in an outline form.  And I was also fascinated by the Hayden Planetarium and the look it gave us to the world outside of our world. 

If anything the Museum is even better today than it was then.  The exhibits and the programs provide an even more vivid involvement.  For example, the current show, Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence, highlights those organisms that generate their own light. I took my kids and their friends to the exhibit a week after it opened and they were fascinated by what they saw and what they experienced. Me too.

This blog is not designed to just praise one special resource. Resources that are worth experiencing are all around us.  Schools should do more to build in these resources on a regular basis, and schools and the media should do more to make all of us aware of the resources that are in or near our home neighborhoods.  I know, in this era of scarce resources for education and a decided emphasis (or overemphasis) on testing, that these experiences may be a casualty of our environment.  Serious mistake.  The world becomes more alive through experiences; we become more educated through experiences; and we become more passionate about education through these experiences. 

For us and our kids not to be dinosaurs, we need to keep the experiences alive.

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