What Do Puppies And Eleven-Year-Olds Have In Common?

We have a new puppy and I am marveling in all her new experiences. All the firsts. Her first bath. Her first rainstorm. Her first combat with a fly. Her first bone. Her first car ride. Then, the first time she got car sick.

All of this has brought me back to the memories of my tween daughters’ and teen son’s firsts. Memories of the marvels of infancy came flooding back. And, like that, it dawned on me that even my students, at eight and nine-years-young, are still experiencing firsts, as we all do throughout our lives. Firsts that are sometimes a bit more complicated as they are often accompanied by 
successes and failures, and all of the emotions that go along with it, but firsts nevertheless. So, I started listening and paying attention in a different way, and through this lens. 

I began to think, how can I allow these firsts to be memorable experience for my students, and the answer was in front of me. Experiential learning. Here are some experiential learning ideas that I’ve implemented in my class this year:

     1.    Multiplication made fun. Divide your class into two groups. The Shopkeepers and the Shoppers. Shoppers are randomly assigned an envelope with faux cash (with my pup as the face of the bills, of course). Shopkeepers are provided with small items to sell for a designated price (e.g., garage sale finds like dice, figurines, matchbox cars, beanie babies). The shoppers are tasked with making purchases and the shopkeepers need to write out a receipt with the purchase price (e.g., 3 matchbox cars and $5 = $15). Then the groups are asked to switch.
     2.    Composing a paragraph. My students were focused on mastering how to write a paragraph, focusing on not only meaning but capitalization, punctuation, and grammar. We decided to hone our writing skills while also spreading some sunshine. The students were tasked with writing a paragraph to residents of a local nursing home about friendship. Knowing that their letters were being read by someone else, enabled them to understand why the skills they were learning were so important.

     3.    Native American Culture. We are fortunate that we live in an area with a sizable Native American population. Students were graced with an assembly led by a local Native American who spoke about the rich culture of their tribe. The students were provided with dried corn husks and worked together to make dolls from the corn.

     4.    Electricity. We created a potato battery while learning about electricity. Each table of students was provided with two potatoes, copper coins, galvanized nails, crocodile clips and three wires. They were instructed to place a copper coin and nail into the potato (pre-made slits were placed in the potato). Potatoes were attached to one another using the wires and crocodile clips with the copper of one potato attaching to the zinc of another. I visited each table with an LED that we used the crocodile clips to light once the circuit was created.

This approach of experiential learning, which initially seemed remarkable to me, is really quite logical. Our children are learning new things each day. They are living in a world of firsts. But, firsts are so much more relevant when they jump off of the black and white text on a page, and they become real-life scenarios. We’ve seen the benefits of this through field trips and tactile lessons, but perhaps education would seem more exciting, more germane, and bring back the wide eyes of a toddler and wagging tail of a puppy, if we can allow these firsts to occur every day.