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In a field or outdoor setting, learning is enhanced when students are exposed to hands-on, inquirybased experiences. Called “experiential education”, this teaching method engages young people, creates a fun, hands-on environment and helps students apply their new knowledge in other settings. “Experiential learning takes place when a person is involved in an activity, then looks back and evaluates it, determines what was useful or important to remember and uses this information to perform another activity” (John Dewey, 1938). The five step experiential model includes: (Pfeiffer & Jones, 1981)
Teaching becomes an interaction between the leader and student, awakening the learner’s curiosity and intelligence. Just providing the experience alone does not create experiential learning. Hands-on activities can provide a way for un-motivated youth to become engaged in learning. It acts as a catalyst or spark to a cognitive mind-set. When combined with high levels of choice, hands-on activities encourage learning.
“This is great,” said Tony, a third-grade teacher. He continued: ”You see, Jessica is a quiet kid, not a self-motivated student inclass, but doesn’t cause trouble either. Her first station is about macroinvertebretes, and I overheard her complain to Lisa that it would be boring. Then, suddenly out come thirty pairs of rubber boots, dip nets and specimen trays. Her face lights up!” The boots slipped on and into the water went Jessica. She found many creatures and was totally engaged in the session. When it was time to share what the participants in the group found, she was one of the first to raise her hand and want to share. Tony laughed, “I have to compliment the presenter, Denise, for her energy and enthusiasm.” Denise answered, “I decided not to play the talking head this year. I flip-flopped my presentation instead, planning it according to the Experiential Model. I asked the kids to do the activities first, then tell me what they learned. No lecture, they seemed to really enjoy it, and learned a lot!”
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