Learning through experience highlights the difference between active and passive learning. The brain learns more, deeper, and with longer-lasting effects from life experiences. In one-way learning, such as listening to a lecture or merely observing, learning can occur but with less impact and fades more quickly compared to direct involvement and participation.
The experiential school places its students in situations where they have to think, solve problems, interact with others in situations as close to societal life as possible. Students establish goals, create learning plans, establish courses of action, and be held accountable for results. This happens most effectively through activities where students hold important roles and exercise responsibility, or what John Dewey called learning by doing. With experiential learning, everyone is a learner and everyone a teacher.
Teachers act as “facilitators of learning” to help students be responsible citizens, achieve fulfilling careers, become self-directed, lead healthy lives and become lifelong learners. The various items around this wheel show a variety of experiential activities followed by descriptions.
The advisor-advisee program is the heart of the school. Each student is assigned to an advisor with an advisory group, the major subdivision of the school. The advisor works with students to establish a Personal Learning Plans (PLP). This requires daily contact, regular meetings and parental involvement. The advisor’s role includes many functions: friend, helper, guide, counselor, appraiser, record keeper, critic, facilitator, expediter, and arranger. The advisor helps the student grow in all areas–intellectual, social, physical–and to develop talents and uniqueness. The advisor is an educational broker. Like a travel agent, the advisor asks students where they want to go and helps make the best educational plans and schedules for getting there. The advisor helps parents and students fashion and design programs that best fit the needs of students. The advisory group establishes a supportive home base where the group can plan activities and feel included.
Personal Learning Plans
Every student has a Personal Learning Plan. The PLP, tailored to student needs, learning styles, and school expectations developed by the student in consultation with their advisor and their parents. It contains goals, how to achieve the goals, progress toward goals, projects, and graduation. The student, advisor, and parents review and update the PLP periodically.
Project-Based Learning involves a student or several students working on a topic of interest. The process includes researching the topic, gathering information, organizing information, and reporting on findings. The reports may take the form of a written essay, a dramatic presentation such as a play or musical, discussion with adult resources, and always includes a public presentation before an audience of peers and adults. Student interest areas vary enormously and projects provide an outlet for exploring what may range from a passing interest to what becomes a lifelong career. Exploring a topic requires a fairly rigorous application and demonstration of many skills and knowledge areas.
An interdisciplinary curriculum removes the boundaries between school subjects and increases the likelihood that skills and knowledge from different subjects apply to solving problems or learning new topics. This departs from standard school curricula of separate subjects or what is sometimes referred to as “silos of knowledge.” The real world is not made up of just biology or just literature. Rather, the brain sees the world in totality with a mixture of understandings and learnings. It learns mostly from complexity. The mistake many schools make is to assume that dividing knowledge into separate areas will somehow combine in the brain as a more generalized picture of the world and knowledge. This does not happen for most people. Students need to see the broader picture of the world, its features, its problems, and its triumphs to better understand how the world works.
Service Learning Opportunities
Service-learning offers opportunities for students to make a difference in their school and the community through their efforts and applying school learning. This results in good feelings of self-efficacy or knowledge that “I can make a difference.” Examples include volunteering at a community agency, helping in a food kitchen, helping maintain the school’s computers, or touring visitors. Every student serves in a role that accomplishes important school tasks. Community- service is expected of every student.
Learning Through Travel
Trips to various places in the United States and beyond increase understanding of different cultures, history, geography, and other important areas of learning. Students plan trips by researching budgets, meals, lodging, maps, and using the Internet for learning about destinations and route highlights. Trips include journals, interviews, photography, and reflection. Students report that trips have been among the most important stimulating eye-opening experiences of their schooling years.
Courses, Seminars, Workshops
Despite an experiential emphasis schools still provide specific courses on topics of importance and standard school subjects, often in a seminar or workshop mode to increase active learning. These might include, for example, the science of nutrition or modern politics with students carrying out activities that stimulate interest and exploration or community action. Many seminars or workshops emerge from world, state, or local current news events. Community experts and local resource people share their experiences as “sparks,” to spur interest, and serve as jumping-off points to new vocabulary and concepts. The world and all of its complexity and variety need to be understood by students.
Restorative justice is a process where all people affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been hurt by the wrong and to decide what should be done to repair the harm. Three key ideas support restorative justice. First is the understanding that the victim and the surrounding community have both been affected by the action of the offender. Second, the offender’s obligation is to make amends with both the victim and the involved community. Third, and the most important process of restorative justice, is the concept of ‘healing,’ or the collaborative unburdening of pain for the victim, offender, and community. All parties engage in creating agreements to avoid recidivism and to restore safety for how the wrongdoing can be righted. This allows the victim to have direct say in the judgment process. This gives offenders the opportunity to understand the harm they have caused, while demonstrating to the community that the offender might also have also suffered harm. Healing by reintegration of offenders into the community strives to restore harmony, health, and well-being by comprising personal accountability, decision-making, and the making right of harm.
Students as Resources
The concept of Students as resources recognizes the worth and value of every student and that each has gifts and talents to share with the community. Schools short of resources such as money and staff often overlook the greatest resource in their midst, that of the students themselves. Students can instruct, coach, help, handle responsibilities, initiate, manage and make decisions given an environment where talents are given rein and appreciated. For example, students can tutor, teach about a passion to others, and participate on the school’s Board of Directors.
By serving an internship in an organization for a period of time, students learn how an organization works, how adults interact, and about their abilities and potential. These include internships and formal work experience programs. Both immerse students in community organizations and businesses outside the school. Students learn the importance of record-keeping, writing skills, and math skills that increase motivation for academic learning. Students learn that punctuality is critically important, schedules must be met, behavior must conform to norms, dress is important, and courtesy is essential to the organization’s bottom line. These are learnings of importance and have a lasting impact on students.
Technology gives every student the opportunity to work on any topic. Students value the Internet and other technologies for carrying out projects. Students become proficient at word processing, e-mail, graphic programs, presentation programs, and information searches.
Cooperative learning is one that small teams–often as an aspect of project-based learning—work together with students of different levels of ability and use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a topic. Students collaborate through the task until all group members successfully understand and complete the task. Cooperative efforts result in all participants striving for mutual benefit.
Exchanges help students understand how another community or culture works by exchanging positions for a time. For example, a student or several students go to a rural community for two weeks and live in homes and attend the local school. This is often followed by a reverse exchange in which the rural students attend the city school. Exchanges have occurred across town and across national borders. Students report these as very powerful and stimulating learning experiences. They learn how other families manage, how other schools work, and experience community resources. Often these involve values very different from their own and broaden understandings. Such experiences better prepare students for the world of diversity they will experience for the remainder of their lives