Notes on Experiential Learning
Imagine this: a group of 5th grade students are rolling dice and zipping from one corner of the room to another. They are focused and invested in the activity, which probably feels more like a game to them than an intricate lesson.
As they travel from station to station, their comments prove that they are making connections to the real Nitrogen Cycle that the activity is modeling.
“I’m being dissolved into surface water again?”
“Finally! I am falling as rain.”
“This Nitrogen Cycle never ends.”
Despite my background in experiential education, seeing how powerful it can be for students engage in activities like this always surprises me. As a teacher, it may feel more explicit to simply explain the movement of nitrogen between the atmosphere and the soil. Or maybe it seems more effective to have students read and write about how Nitrogen moves through nature.
Reading, writing, and listening are important tools for learning. But movement, discovery, and reflection are also very important teaching tools. Well-designed hands-on lessons engage students in activities where they are absorbing information, demonstrating relationships, and making connections with the academic content and with each other.
And the best part is how much students enjoy these types of lessons.Tracking the cycling of Nitrogen atoms through different reservoirs in nature might not seem like a way to spark joy in fifth-graders, but as one group wrapped up their reflection, I overheard a student saying, “That was way more fun than I thought it would be.”