Our purpose at Arches Academy is to provide individualized, interactive, whole-child education to a diverse student body. One of the main ways that we accomplish this purpose is by providing our students with experiential learning opportunities. Experiential learning is “an active, learner- centric methodology where learners put knowledge and skills to use in a meaningful and relevant fashion.” In short, learning through hands-on, real life experiences.
An example of what experiential learning looks like at Arches Academy is a PK activity surrounding the well-loved book If You Give A Moose A Muffin. The teacher will read the book aloud to the children and engage them in a fun discussion about the story. Then get to embark on a fieldtrip to a local bakery to see firsthand how muffins are made and how a bakery works. Back in the classroom, students get the opportunity to apply what they learned by baking their own muffins. During this activity, they learn about the importance of each ingredient in the recipe (like Where does the flour come from? Where do blueberries grow?) and how to work together as a team. After the muffins finish baking, the students will get to taste their recipe while learning about moose—their appearance, the habitats they live in, and the foods that moose really typically eat. To further extend their learning, the playhouse in their classroom becomes a pretend bakery where kids can take on different roles as they pretend to be the baker or pretend to buy goods. Of course this then extends to the idea and use of money, which extends into math concepts, and so on.
This type of learning creates an opportunity for students to discover knowledge firsthand, instead of simply hearing or reading about others' experiences. Experiential learning offers several benefits, including the opportunity to immediately apply knowledge, having access to real-time coaching and feedback, and participating in experiences where teamwork and communication skills are developed.
Imagine another example of what this learning looks like as our 4 th graders learn about American history. During their unit on the Civil War, students choose a persona to research and then portray in various ways and re-enactments. They divide into two groups—the North and the South—each child being on the side of the historical figure they are playing. As a class, they read about the issues at hand at the time, engage in discussion and debate, the most significant battles of the war, and the specific details of each one. Then on a designated day, the entire class heads outside to the ‘battle’ field in their “battle dress” (blue or gray blazers with various ‘medals’ sewn on—by the kids!) to re-enact these battles.
Of course this activity is super fun and exciting for the students, yet it is not a free-for-all. It is a carefully structured activity where the students show what they have learned about the historical figures and events. In addition to the re-enactments, each student has an opportunity to share relevant information about their characters. These student presentations lead into a class discussion about the positive and negative attributes of their characters, and how these attributes helped them succeed, or contributed to their failure.
Lastly, this experiential learning enables students to gain experience working in teams, communicating effectively, and thinking deeply about moral issues and other difficult issues
involving war, and analyzing the positive and negative characteristics of real people from history. Learning about the Civil War this way teaches the students much more than they would have learned from simply reading a textbook chapter on the subject.
As you can see, experiential learning also creates lots of connections between subjects. Picture our Spies and Codes Mini-Course lesson on code breaking: Students who choose this course learn about the First and Second World Wars and the important role that code breaking played in these wars—think the Enigma machine, for example. They learn about how spies operate and the different gadgets or practices they may use. Students are shown different kinds of codes and are given a chance to break them themselves. They share their ideas with each other and if the secret is not figured out, the teacher will guide them to figure it out. Students also get to create their own code for a peer to try to break and translate the message. The culmination activity is a ‘treasure hunt’ around the school. Each clue was given in a different code that the students had to work together to break. Each clue let to the next, and the last clue took them to the final destination where they were rewarded for their synergy and hard work.
We believe in experiential learning because it is far superior to didactic learning, or simply learning through lectures in a classroom. While there is great value in a qualified teacher sharing his/her knowledge on a specific subject, students will always remember a hands-on learning experience more than a lecture. These kinds of experiences are unforgettable. If you’re wishing you were a student again and could learn this way, don’t hesitate to give it to your child! Call and arrange a tour, or just drop by. We would love to show you more examples of how experiential learning is making the difference for so many kids here at Arches.