Education systems across the globe face a common dilemma in how to ensure that students are prepared to compete in a global economy that is constantly seeking ways of breaking new ground. It is my belief that by creating opportunities for ‘Experiential Learning’ in the Science classroom we can offer students a rich and rewarding learning experience, which in turn will enable them to develop 21st century skills of life-long learning, needed in today’s work place.
So what exactly is ‘Experiential Learning’?
‘Experiential Learning’ is a process that develops knowledge, skills and attitudes based on consciously thinking about an experience. Thus, if carefully constructed by the teacher, it engages students’ direct and active personal experience combined with reflection and feedback. Its intellectual origins date back to the works of Dewey (1920), Lewin (1939), Piaget (1936) Kolb (1984) and Gardner (1989)
‘Experiential Learning’ is personal and effective in nature, influencing both feelings and emotions as well as enhancing knowledge and skills. The crucial aspect of teaching is seen in the opportunities that teachers provide for students to reflect on their learning experiences in relation to their initial hypothesis. The student is not seen as an empty vessel that needs to be filled but rather as a fully functioning human being enriched with life experiences that can be used to enhance learning.
What is certain, is that as educators, we need to offer our students the opportunities to acquire skills that equip them for keeping up with the ever increasing demands of fast moving economies that demand flexibility of thought, resilience in problem-solving and the ability to thrive in in a multi-cultural and multi lingual setting, whilst at the same time meeting the demands of traditional examinations.
So what exactly are ‘21st Century Learning Skills’?
These can be summarised as follows:
• ‘Critical Thinking’ including focused, intentional ,logical ,systematic linear opportunities for learning.
• ‘Creative Thinking’ including divergent, intuitive, emotional organic opportunities for learning.
• Collaborating including developing high levels of social skills including emotional intelligence to ensure that team work is productive.
• Communicating at all levels with firm self belief, confidence and knowledge of social networking.
• Flexibility in all undertakings.
• Initiative to try out new ways of approaching problems.
• Productivity in being able to start and finish a task as well as evaluating its success.
• Leadership of self and others.
Providing opportunities for Experiential Learning in science enables students to develop 21st century learning skills but only if the teaching methodology moves from being didactic to collaborative. This is one of the biggest hurdles that teachers need to overcome as the shift of power is not something that all teachers are comfortable with for fear of thinking that this will lead to loss of discipline in the classroom.
Nevertheless, this is a risk worth taking as in Experiential Learning students are not waiting for the teacher to provide an answer ; instead they are actively seeking solutions to real life problems based upon collated evidence. They learn how to problem solve, make observations, collect analyse and synthesise information, drawing conclusions and testing their findings.
This does not mean that the teacher has no role to play in orchestrating the learning on the contrary, he/she becomes the ‘artistic director of learning’ using all the information he/she has on students’ prior learning to guide them into new discoveries through setting up real life problems that need to be solved, supporting their confidence in managing uncertainties enabling them to find record their findings in a variety of ways.
It would therefore seem appropriate to continue to emphasise the importance of establishing and maintaining classroom environments that are:
* • learner centred — identifying, confronting, and resolving preconceptions, and beginning instruction with what students know.
* • knowledge centred – focusing on how something is know as much as what is known, and providing examples of what mastery looks like.
* • assessment centred – making frequent attempts to make students’ thinking and learning visible as a guide for further instruction.
* • community centred – encouraging a culture of questioning, including risk taking in identifying how science can contribute to the development of communities .
By enabling students to develop an experiential approach to learning that includes a strong emphasis on interaction with phenomena teachers can engage students in challenging, authentic and interdisciplinary tasks which encourage them to consistently apply and test their hypothesis against evidence collected. This encourages the students to use their imagination, logic and open-mindedness giving due regard to both the affective and cognitive domains of learning. This way of teaching would be consistent with student development, as it would include real-world applications in the learning process.
The skilled science teacher would be able to move fluidly from presenting opportunities to learn from the concrete to abstract by employing learning cycles of observation, generalisation, verification, and application of old knowledge to newly constructed meaning.