Which came first, the worksheet or the egg? Hands-on learning. Experiential learning. Active learning. Whatever you want to call it, the act of learning by doing is a powerful tool in an educator’s toolbox. Giving children, and adults for that matter, the opportunity to actively engage in the learning process — to live a topic, versus merely reading and hearing about it — takes learning to a whole new level. This real-life approach engages students of all ages and learning styles, and fosters excitement, interest, and motivation for the subject at hand.
Recently, I had the opportunity to help teach a unit on life cycles to a class of second graders. Instead of using the traditional teaching materials, this year by reaching out to community resources, the teacher was able to get chicken, frog, and butterfly eggs to raise in the classroom. In the matter of days, it went from a typical classroom to a living lab and observation station. You have NEVER seen such excited children — or a more excited teacher. While she had taught this unit before, she had never taken it to this level.
Amid the fish tanks, incubators, and brooding boxes, children learned by seeing and doing. Yes, there were still worksheets and projects, but the heart of that classroom became the active role of these children as scientists, as writers and story tellers, and ultimately, as proud parents to critters they had only seen on TV or in books until this moment. Hands-on, minds-on learning at its finest.
As I read a story about chickens and asked the kids questions, I was not surprised that they could answer them all. How long the gestation period was, the role of the yolk, what the chicks use to get out of the egg, and on and on. When we took Leonard and Kitty, our first surviving baby chicks, out of the brooding box for the first time, I saw such wonder and pride on every face in the room. “We did that,” those faces were saying. Yes they did.
As we did the chicken dance and sang Happy Birthday to Leonard and Kitty, I couldn’t help think that these children will remember this lesson long after the chickens have gone, and certainly longer than any lesson they might have gotten merely from a book or a lecture. I know I will remember their love of learning, which is, after all, why people go into to teaching in the first place.
See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru