Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Making a long-term impact on students: Experiential Learning

Recently, I read about a Spanish teacher at Olentangy Liberty High School, Erica Vieyra, who had her Spanish V students take on a role playing exercise: they were to "assume a Latino identity, build an imaginary life in your home country and develop a workable plan to immigrate to the United States," as noted in an article by Holly Zachariah in the Columbus Dispatch.

The project has raised a fair bit of controversy amongst many, including some loud voices in the blogosphere. I think the critics are missing the point. This is not about liberal indoctrination or teaching students how to break the law; this is about getting students to learn through experience.

If I am representative of the typical American student when it comes to foreign languages, twenty-five years from now Ms. Vieyra's students will remember little, if any, actual Spanish. But, they will likely remember the many lessons learned from completing this project.

The same goes for the Newark, New Jersey, students who participated in the project pictured with this post. They spent three months building the boats and then launching them in the Passaic River. The project worked to integrate the usual academic disciplines with an experiential and hands-on approach.

I seek the opportunity to work in a school which embraces this sort of teaching and learning.

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