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  • Greg Benedis-Grab

The small ways to bring experiential learning to your classroom every day

Experiential learning means making student experience the basis for what is learned. In other words, instead of students being told information by the teacher, or reading about a topic in a book, they experience it first hand. Experiential learning can be a powerful way to learn. It can happen in the classroom and beyond the classroom walls. When teaching a group of 7th grade students in New York City about the built environment I showed them a slideshow of pictures I took in their neighborhood.



When I showed this photo I asked the students what they noticed.


"those are bricks"


"the bricks are stacked up"


"Say more about how they are stacked"


"there are rows of bricks on top of each other"


"But the bricks are not lined up"


"The are off to the side"


"If you look at one brick it is sitting over two bricks below it"


"Why do you think they stacked the bricks that way?"


The conversation about this photograph allowed students to make observations based on evidence, share what they already knew from prior experience, and get motivated about our new topic of study.



This photograph shows the back of a building that could be seen from the school yard space. The students noticed the unusual pattern of bricks over the window and presented hypotheses about why they would be laid out in that way. I proceeded to show the students ten more pictures of their neighborhood to get them thinking about the built environment they passed through every day. When the students recognized the location of the photograph they were excited to tell me where it was. Each photograph pushed their thinking on a particular aspect of the built environment that I planned to return to in subsequent lessons. For example the picture of the window highlights the fact that windows do not typically play a structural role in a brick building and can therefore be thought of as holes in the wall of the building. All buildings must somehow compensate for this gap in support in some structural way.


Buildings are designed to support the weight of the structure as well as other forces that act on the building. In my unit on the built environment we explore the structure of buildings and the resources that are needed by buildings. Showing a few photographs was a simple way to bring experiential learning into my classroom. Later in the unit I have the students build structures in groups and explore the neighborhood on a walking tour to take the experiential learning further.


The important point here is that there are many small ways to bring experiential learning to your classroom every day. When students learn from experience they are more likely to remember what they learned and connect it to their current understanding of the world.


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