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Experiential Learning: Problem Solving as Education by Roger Lewis Fischel

Experiential Learning: Problem Solving as Education by
Article Posted: 08/19/2017
Article Views: 225
Articles Written: 25
Word Count: 886
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Experiential Learning: Problem Solving as Education

Schools in the age of standards and assessment rely less on experiential learning. They focus more on discrete knowledge as trivial facts than they do on meaningful education. By meaningful education I mean teaching and learning through experience. Why consider experience at all? The answer is quite simple, the things we learn best are those things for which we have experience. Let me share a brief story. When I was an 8th grade teacher, we took our graduating students on a lunch cruise on Lake Michigan. Serving the food buffet style was the norm on the boat. One year, immediately before the band started playing, I saw one of our students carrying her empty plate looking for the trash. I stopped her, "Why are you carrying your plate? "I am looking for the waste container," she replied. "Essie, (not her name)" I said, "you may put the plate on any table. They have people to clear for you on this boat." Essie's experience with eating out, she later confided, was to go to a fast food place. She had to bring her tray to the trash on her way out. If you think experience is not a good teacher then I suggest you are wrong.

What Counts as Experience

There are all kinds of experiences. For our purpose let's break them down into two fundamental spheres. The first we call the mundane. The second we call educational.

The Mundane

We all have mundane, dull, or unremarkable experiences every day. We don't necessarily give them much thought. Every mundane experience was once an educational one that at some time lapsed into boredom. We don't have to think about the mundane. We just do them as a matter of course. Brushing your teeth, walking up stairs, riding a bicycle, or even writing your name all count as unremarkable. They are the things we do without thinking much of the time.

The Educational

The educational experience, on the other hand, is one that is both new and important. Born often of curiosity, the educational experience begins with a specific problem to solve. The problem might be physical like learning to hit a baseball. It may also be something like trying to understand motives for actions. The main thing is that the problem comes first accompanied by a desire to know that one must satisfy. The educational experience is vibrant, exciting, and even obsessive.

Experiential Learning in Schools

Much of what we call experiential learning is not found in the classroom. But, much of all learning takes place in the 'real' world. But research shows that when confronted with solving problems, all learning is deeper and longer lasting than in other traditional forms of teaching. Bringing experiential learning to the classroom is a powerful way to encourage deep learning. One way to do this is to spend about 40% of your classroom time teaching through projects. Let me describe one such project I used with great success. While my middle-school students were studying the US Constitution in social studies, I asked them to address the following problem. They were to go into the community and ask as many people as they could the meaning of five words. Those words were freedom, fairness, liberty, equality, and justice. Then, working in groups, they had to make sense of the data they collected as they sifted through responses. While these 8th grade students often balked at the beginning, they often came up with extraordianry interpretations. One continues to stand out as a quite mature conclusion. They first suggested that freedom was not always fair. Equality. they concluded, was not always just. Liberty was neither just or fair or equal. Freedom finally did not equate to liberty. If they had stopped at this point their conclusions would be quite good. They, however, went further. In order to have a civilized society, all five of these parts had to work together in harmony. This group felt that because of the contradictions they could not. Therefore this group of 8th graders concluded we lived in an uncivilized society. This is an example of true problem solving experiential learning. They couldn't read this in a book. They had to figure this out for themselves. If I met any one of them on the street today, I would venture they would remember that project and their conclusions.

Experiential Learning: Final Thoughts

When one thinks of experiential learning, one must think of a commitment to solving a problem. By gathering data in solitary questioning and bringing those data to a discussion, these students drew reasonable conclusions. This is a powerful way to introduce students to the rigor of thinking. After all, the educated person faces problems in need of solutions quite often. Learning to think critically to solve a problem means they are less likely to be duped by anything or anyone.

Dr. Roger Lewis is the owner of Effective Study Tips where he introduces parents and their children to the most effective study habits we know of. Dr. Lewis is a career educator teaching in both middle-school settings and in university departments of education. His specialty is in the teaching of reading methods for k-12 students. He is now retired concentrating on sharing his knowledge with a broader audience.

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