Should Experiential Learning Be a Bigger Part of Traditional Classrooms?

Before I entered the Rivers program, I was accustomed to education in its most traditional form. I never had a problem with school; I enjoyed the rigor and appreciated the knowledge I gained from a structured classroom. However, in the subjects where I was less adept, I struggled. I could not find ways that worked for me to grasp the material, and because of this, I felt frustrated and at times, less intelligent. I wished there was a way that math and science, my weaker subjects, could be connected to the real world, or could be taught to suit a kinesthetic learner.

Upon beginning Rivers, I was introduced to an entirely new approach to learning. The incorporation of the outdoors in the curriculum excited me, and for each subject, even math, we were out in the field, immersing ourselves in the content. In a synthesis paper, I explored the question of “Does Experiential Learning Create a More Lasting Effect than Traditional Education?” Though there is not a clear answer, I believe that a combination of experiential and traditional learning could create a well rounded way to educate while also accommodating all learning styles. 

In the beginning of our Rivers unit, we learned about the water table with Peter Nichol. In an earth science classroom, we may have looked at slides and have taken notes from a textbook; I am not arguing that this method is not beneficial for anyone, for some it could be the best way they learn. For me, sitting still for long periods of time causes my mind to wander, so if I am up and about participating in an activity or engaging in conversations with my peers, I am the most focused on the material. On this day Mr. Nichol did show us slides and described our SuAsCo watershed, but the second half of the day was dedicated for those who learn better kinesthetically. The plan was to visit our local pond to provide a real-life example of what we were learning.

Then, it began to pour. Torrential downpour, to be exact. On a traditional teaching day, this would have been the cue to head back inside. Mr. Nichol instead saw this as an opportunity. He could now show the water table rising before our very eyes. As a class, we ventured into the woods, being pelted with thick droplets of rain, and being subconsciously surrounded by science. Not only did we get to see an empty storm drain become gushing and full–displaying our water cycle– we bonded as students and learners. For me, the sciences have never been my strong suit. When talking about cell makeup and chemical formulas, it was difficult for me to connect it to a bigger picture.  The most I ever learned in a science classroom was when we identified rocks by their streaks and hardness because I was able to work with my hands and see immediate results. Somehow,  I remember everything from that day with Rivers out in the woods, including what we learned in the classroom, because the examples I saw in the field tied it all together and made the information easier to grasp. The lesson was well rounded and thus made it easy for someone like me to understand.

The answer to this thought provoking question is not to completely dismantle our current education system. I, for one, love to learn, and structure is not something I am against. I also am aware that it is not easy to seamlessly incorporate the outdoors in to day to day curriculum. However, I do believe that if there was a way to include more project based learning in classes, including the maths and sciences, students with a wide array of learning styles could reach their full potential.