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Experiential education and its unparalleled benefits to student success

The term “experiential” is not just a buzzword in education – it's a lived reality. 

There is nothing more enjoyable than going to school on a designated field trip day; heading out and departing for what is to come – both as a student and an educator. As special and sporadic as they were in a pre-pandemic world, nothing rings truer than the nostalgia of a trip to the local museum or attending a performance at the Stratford Festival. If there is something we have come to learn over the past two years, these are among the most critical moments that we cherish the most in education. 

Experiential learning is about engagement: students are consumed by a concrete experience, content and learning is synthesized, connections are made, and reflections occur. The learned cycle continues where opportunities present themselves and are applied to future studies and lessons. Simply put, you must live it to learn it, much like driving a car or learning how to cook.  

Take it from someone who once taught and travelled the globe while living out of airports and hotels with students for four years. Picture this: waking up in Rome, enjoying an espresso with students and colleagues, conducting research in class, then heading to the Colosseum to synthesize and reflect. Moreover, I once coordinated a field study in sociology where students conducted interviews on adolescent development patterns in Cambodia while meeting with local youth. The afternoon was followed by a trip to the markets and a dip in the reflecting pool. Those were the days. 

Where specialty programs exist for specific experiential opportunities, such as internships and co-ops, these enrichment lessons happen far more often than you may think. In fact, many of us have been immersed in experiential learning in one form or another that is not limited to a field trip or conducting an experiment. As you may have guessed, it is deeply rooted in the experience and the aftereffects that engagement has on development. In London, we like to call it the “a-ha! moment." 

At Blyth Academy, this is but one of the several cornerstones to our pedagogy that can be both fun and experiential. Our science classes have made trips to golf courses and aquatic spaces to study the laws of physics on the green and in the water. Business classes have attended a series of seminars with professionals in the community while also attending job shadows at local marketing agencies to provide input on case studies and learn from those in the field.  

History classes have veteran guest speakers, and our English classes always strive to attend a performance where possible, either virtually together or in the theatre. As I have always stressed, plays, such as those written by Shakespeare and Sophocles, were never meant to be read by students in a classroom. The essence of theatre is designed to be experienced for full and total immersion in the discussion and themes presented, a treat that comes second to none – a mere tidbit from a former theatre critic.  

Just last week our LaunchPad students made a special trip to our next-door neighbours at Eldon House. We received a personal tour of the museum and heritage property as we learned about the history of our neighbourhood dating back to the early 1800s. As told from one of our grade nine students, “I liked learning about the different manners and expectations. I didn’t know that women and girls had different rules to follow.” Another student mentioned that they were highly “interested in all the obscure and cool collections by the Victorians.” This inspired him to research and learn more.  

As hands-on as experiential learning can be, the benefits extend far beyond academics and translate into a variety of social and personal transformations for students that transcend beyond a textbook. This form of learning pushes students to take risks and encounter the unfamiliar which they may not have been accustomed to, allowing them to develop the necessary social and career skills needed in any industry or field. It helps to build their self-confidence when asking questions and making connections to theory and content while broadening their horizons to new opportunities.  

Experiential education has always existed. It simply consists of the time, planning, and care that we provide for students to demonstrate and realize their true potential.

Nicholas Catania
Vice Principal, Academics of Blyth Academy London

 

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