Leaning over the banks of the Wenyu River, students carefully lower their water collection devices, created last week as part of an innovative design challenge to collect water samples. Some manage to collect surface water, while other devices plunge deep in the abyss with a reminder from the Science Facilitator that “sludge doesn’t make for a good sample.”

“Ours doesn’t reach the water!” Exclaims an excitable student as he leans over the uncertain railing.

“What’s the black stuff floating on top of the water?” A boy inquirers, tapping the shoulder of his friend.

While half of the group collects samples, others jot down observations of what might be obstructing the river’s flow. Some spot the dam where the river meanders to the West, while others note the algae blooms where the river joins the banks.

This particular experience is just one of many experiential learning activities planned for “Project: We are One:” A collaborative project between students of the International School of Beijing and NiuLanshan to make a positive impact on a local waterway. Each student has been paired with a partner from the other school to analyze causes of water pollution, and to serve as a resource as they explore possible solutions.

This day is not unlike others for students of The Futures Academy; a program that engages students in real world pursuits. At this point in the year students have already created their own small businesses, posted and published short stories on the web, and learned to grow and produce their own food. They are in complete control of their learning with four facilitators who help point them in the right direction.

What is Experiential Learning?

This captures the true essence of “Experiential Learning” in Futures Academy.

As facilitators, when planning experiences for a unit, we work backwards from what we are asking students to produce and understand, to the types of experiences that will be crucial in allowing for this understanding. With only four facilitators, each with their specific subject expertise, we can ensure that the experiences we offer are rich in learning.

We ask questions like:

What will students create in this project?

What will students need to know to be successful?

What kind of experiences will enhance their understanding?

What connections can we make to adults and experts in the real world to make the experiences more authentic?

These guiding questions help ensure we are able to scaffold learning according to the the needs of the project. With a series of staggered experiential learning opportunities, we can also ensure that the learning we conduct in the classroom has an appropriate context. For example, prior to conducting water tests in the local Wenyu River, we asked students to research major causes of water pollution while also exploring how the geography of Beijing impacts and compounds the problem. Students were also responsible for learning about the various chemical elements found in water, from phosphates and nitrates to dissolved oxygen.

While it is important to front load information prior to the experiential learning opportunity, it is also important to engage in deeper learning after the experience. When students returned to school following the trip to the Wenyu, after a brief lesson by our science facilitator, they each conducted water tests for the various chemical compounds they learned about prior to the trip.

Additional Experiential Learning Opportunities

Students will engage in three additional experiential learning experiences over the course of the project:

  • A trip to the Chaobai River to conduct and analyze additional water samples

  • A visit to a nearby wetland to learn about natural water filtration processes 

  • An extended experience at the Great Wall to learn about sustainability 

  • An exhibition of student action plans at the NiuLanShan School 

By the end of the project, students will have created a simple, repeatable action plan to help make a positive impact on the river.

Want to learn more about how you too can provide experiential, real world opportunities for your students? Click on the link below…