Experiential learning is not a new notion. The idea that students should experience historical situations in order to fully understand their ramifications is not a novel concept, but it is still rare. Now don’t get me wrong, experiential learning can be very difficult, especially when you are trying to re-create situations from ancient history that are so far removed from students’ current conceptions of what society looks like. Nonetheless, we should encourage historical exploration and get our students out in the real world as frequently as possible.
Spending these last few months in Boston has made me realize just how important it is to get students out of the classroom and into their local communities. Granted, Boston is glorious city full of historical significance, but every local community has a history that should be shared with students.
Whether I am on the Freedom Trail or in the Museum of Fine Arts, the best part of my trip is watching student groups ask questions, analyze primary sources, and be thoroughly excited about being outside of their classrooms. Now I realize this is in part due to the fact they are running around and getting ice cream, which is not a usual occurrence in their school day, but the learning and things they experienced will stick with them. To this day I can still remember my trip to the San Juan Bautista Mission when I was in the fourth grade. Even though I don’t remember every particular detail, I do remember the glorious feeling of seeing the pictures in my textbook come to life. I was on the same land the ranchers and missionaries stood hundreds of years ago, and although this is just one of my favorite learning experiences, I firmly believe that many peoples’ most influential learning moments are characterized by field trips or other truly experiential learning opportunities.
In order to continue to bring history alive and foster experiential learning, I encourage history teachers to check out some of these beneficial resources. Despite the fact that organizing a classroom full of students on a field trip is a very daunting task, it is one that shows students that history is all around them and part of their everyday lives—and that learning is a lifelong process that they can continually seek out in a variety of avenues.