Category Archives: Experiential

Recreating Ancient Greek Ceramics



In the spring of 2015 Johns Hopkins University teamed up with Baltimore Clayworks to provide students with an experiential learning course that focused on researching and recreating ancient Greek ceramics. The course set out to put theory into practice. In the first few weeks of the course students learned about the historic significance of drinking cups to ancient Greek symposiums.   As the course developed students began working with clay while also observing the science that is involved in creating ancient ceramics. And finally, the students were asked to provide a finished product that replicated ancient works of art.   The only word that comes to mind as I explore the website documenting the students journey is WOW. This is truly an exciting example of experiential learning that needs to be shared and promoted.


Renovated Classrooms Lead to Innovative Learning



In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, librarian Brian Mathews wrote about the ways that new classroom designs are allowing his library to become a pedagogical incubator. Instead of setting up traditional rows of desks and computers, his institution invested in classroom furniture that is flexible: tables that can be configured in a variety of ways, rolling individual desks that can be grouped easily for team projects, flat screens and mobile tables that can be configured as a media lab, pictured above.

When students walk into a classroom environment that does not look the way that classrooms have looked for the past 150 years, they know that they are going to be doing something that goes beyond lectures and tests. The physical environment influences the activity that goes on within it. Innovative learning spaces should exist outside of library incubators. Our students deserve to learn in environments that encourage the best pedagogical practices.

Universities should recognize that students rarely see the interior of administrative offices. They might spend an evening in an auditorium, and the truly committed hang out at the library. The college spaces that influence them the most are the classrooms, and every university should invest in learning spaces that reflect their educational mission and encourage innovation.

Take a look at the animation for Verb classroom.

And here is the Node Classroom


Don’t Rely on Grades Alone by David Gooblar



Don’t Rely on Grades Alone by David Gooblar in Vitae on April 15, 2015 is a refreshing commentary on the merits of developing intrinsic motivation to get students to learn.  In my day-to day conversations with educators in an attempt to promote student-centered learning, in lieu of the “traditional” classroom lecture that was the status quo twenty years ago, I normally observe a slight hesitation.  Especially when it comes to “group work” which I prefer to call “team work” because the term sets a different tone in respect to work dynamics.   Critics of team work seem to be either concerned with grading such assignments or with the lack of participation that some times occurs with particular team members.  As the article points out, decades of research dismisses extrinsic rewards in the achievement of learning outcomes, and effective student participation depends on student motivation.  The key to effective team projects begins with course design and proper implementation.  Mr. Gooblar notes that the educator needs to “sell” such projects on the first day of class while reviewing the syllabus.  Educators need to spark an interested in the students to get them to want to learn.  This can be done by focusing on fascinating problems that intrigue students inviting further inquiry, but also by following up on assignments and putting the learning process in context to the course.  It is important to communicate the learning process to the students because it might not be something that at first appears intuitive.  Finally, the article concludes by reminding the reader of the importance of giving students ownership over the course and acknowledging a concern for their work.

It is Never Too Early to Start Productive Habits of Mind

Southwest Baltimore Charter School

Southwest Baltimore Charter School

Ten years ago I helped start Southwest Baltimore Charter School in my neighborhood. As the current board chair,  I’ve learned a great deal from the dedicated K-8 teachers and administrators who work there.  SBCS is an Expeditionary Learning School where students engage in hands-on extended projects as they work their way through the Common Core curriculum.  I’ve found that the practices that SBCS instills in its students, especially EL’s Core Practices, would serve college students as well, especially in a general education context.  You can find the practices below and read more about Expeditionary Learning here.

1. The Primacy of Self-Discovery

Learning happens best with emotion, challenge, and the requisite support. People discover their abilities, values, passions, and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected. In Expeditionary Learning schools, students undertake tasks that require perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline, and significant achievement. A teacher’s primary task is to help students overcome their fears and discover they can do more than they think they can.

2. The Having of Wonderful Ideas

Teaching in Expeditionary Learning schools fosters curiosity about the world by creating learning situations that provide something important to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed.

3. The Responsibility for Learning

Learning is both a personal process of discovery and a social activity. Everyone learns both individually and as part of a group. Every aspect of an Expeditionary Learning school encourages both children and adults to become increasingly responsible for directing their own personal and collective learning.

4. Empathy and Caring

Learning is fostered best in communities where students’ and teachers’ ideas are respected and where there is mutual trust. Learning groups are small in Expeditionary Learning schools, with a caring adult looking after the progress and acting as an advocate for each child. Older students mentor younger ones, and students feel physically and emotionally safe.

5. Success and Failure

All students need to be successful if they are to build the confidence and capacity to take risks and meet increasingly difficult challenges. But it is also important for students to learn from their failures, to persevere when things are hard, and to learn to turn disabilities into opportunities.

6. Collaboration and Competition

Individual development and group development are integrated so that the value of friendship, trust, and group action is clear. Students are encouraged to compete, not against each other, but with their own personal best and with rigorous standards of excellence.

7. Diversity and Inclusion

Both diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative power, problem-solving ability, and respect for others. In Expeditionary Learning schools, students investigate and value their different histories and talents as well as those of other communities and cultures. Schools and learning groups are heterogeneous.

8. The Natural World

A direct and respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the human spirit and teaches the important ideas of recurring cycles and cause and effect. Students learn to become stewards of the earth and of future generations.

9. Solitude and Reflection

Students and teachers need time alone to explore their own thoughts, make their own connections, and create their own ideas. They also need to exchange their reflections with other students and with adults.

10. Service and Compassion

We are crew, not passengers. Students and teachers are strengthened by acts of consequential service to others, and one of an Expeditionary Learning school’s primary functions is to prepare students with the attitudes and skills to learn from and be of service.

Mock Trial a Genuine Success



This spring I staged a mock trial in “Everyday Lives,” my general education social history class.  I have tried these exercises in past years with mixed results, but this time around it really worked. The twenty-five students in the class were prepared and engaged, and they learned something about 1830s New York City. I attribute the success to the set up. Here are some steps you can take to make an experiential learning activity go smoothly in your classroom.

1. Provide students with background information

In this class students read The Murder of Helen Jewett  by Patricia Cline Cohen. This examination of the 1836 murder of a young prostitute includes lost of information about social history, legal history, and the sexual mores of the day. Students used the information in the book as their reference as they prepared for trial. They did not have to do additional research; they simply had to analyze the materials in the book. Everyone was on the same page.

2. Give students options

Two weeks before the date of the trial, we were about half-way through the book. We had met most of the characters but had not seen the report of the trial proceedings. I handed out two identical character lists and asked students to lay claim to one of the actual historical figures. Students chose to take on the characters of prostitutes, young male clerks, the coroner, policemen, or members of the legal teams. This array of choices worked well in this general education class filled with freshmen who planned to major in criminal justice, forensics, jurisprudence, business and history. (I’m not sure if the game design majors found compatible characters.) After the lists went around I compared them and negotiated with the students who had both picked the same character. This method allowed students who wanted to take on more responsibility to sign on as attorneys on the legal team; the students who chose these roles really rose to the occasion.

3. Hold students accountable

One week before the trial I asked every student who was a witness to post a character profile on the discussion board of our course management system. This exercise showed students how to use an index in a scholarly book and also helped the legal teams craft their argument. The firm deadline of this requirement also allowed me to acquire some hard data I could use when grading the entire exercise.

4. Keep everyone busy

Two days before the trial, I sent the entire class to the library. Students who would serve as witnesses were required to find a secondary source that would give them historical context for their character. They had to summarize that source and provide a citation. While they were working on that information literacy task, the legal teams circulated among them asking them questions about the testimony they would give later that week. Although they were doing different things, everyone was occupied in a worthwhile venture.

On the day of the trial, I asked the witnesses to write a summary of the trial proceedings from the point of view of their character. These in-class writings demonstrated that they had learned about the person they were portraying and understood the concept of loin of view.

5. Make expectations for grading clear

Process is important for professors, and in these experiential activities grading may seem secondary. But students need grades, and to be graded fairly they to know the basis for their evaluation. In this exercise I graded witnesses on their witness profile, their source for historical context, their in-class point of view written submission, and their testimony on the stand. The legal teams were evaluated on their line of questioning and mastery of the facts of the case. The legal teams did not have to submit anything in writing. Two days before the trial one student told me he had a conflict due to a doctor’s visit, but on the day of the trial every other student came to class.  As Darien Ripple, my colleague who came in to act as the judge, can attest, every student testified accurately and all were able to answer questions without hesitation. I gave high marks to everyone for their testimony.

6. Keep a strict timetable

I have tried the Anne Hutchinson trial from Reacting to the Past and although I liked it in concept, the actual execution over five weeks seemed too long. In this class we started reading the book on the second week of class and we held the trial in the fifth week. Students were only working with their character for two weeks. The time crunch made them more efficient and they did not have time to lose interest in their characters.

This exercise reinforced most of UB’s general education goals:

  • communicate effectively in many different modes
  • gather, synthesize and critically evaluate information
  • make ethical and evidence-based decisions
  • understand systems and think systemically
  • negotiate divergent and competing perspectives

I would definitely stage it again.


Simming: Simulation as a Pedagogical Tool




Does this photo make you uncomfortable? Can you detect power relations in this situation? How do you feel about the white man wearing antebellum clothing standing over kneeling people of different races?

This image was captured during a public history experience called “Follow the North Star” staged by the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Indiana. Participants, who sign a waiver, are involved in a pedagogical technique called “simming,” where guests engage in simulations of historical experiences.  Since the participants are college students and adults who are prepped in advance, the Conner Prairie organizers feel they can take a real risk by putting them in an extremely uncomfortable situation: visitors portray escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. At the beginning of the evening, they are left in a vacant field in the dark where they hear gun shots and barking dogs. A museum staffer appears to guide them through the night where they meet other interpreters portraying sympathetic Quakers, helpful free blacks, and slave catchers. They discover that even some allies harbor racist views: people who want to help them escape encourage them to make their way back to Africa. Participants encounter complex scenarios that most likely challenge their received celebratory narratives of the Underground Railroad. Some visitors react emotionally. Many report feeling real fear, and one young man actually punched a museum staffer who tried to separate the man’s girlfriend from the group.

Probably that young man will remember his experience in the Underground Railroad for a long time. Studies show that when adults enter a “discomfort zone,” they actually learn more. Most of these studies looked at museum visitors, but professors could also incorporate simulations in their classrooms. Reacting to the Past has had great success with this approach. Later this month, my students in a general education history class at the University of Baltimore will stage a mock trial of the murder of Helen Jewett. The classroom will be filled with prostitutes, brothel owners, young male clerks and legal counsel from the 1830s.  I’ll let you know how it goes later this spring.


Service-Learning & Civic Engagement Proposal Deadline


Save The Date

The Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Conference examines the latest thinking about how colleges and universities interpret and advance their civic missions and how service-learning and civic engagement can strengthen the capacity of Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. campuses to create and sustain community partnerships.

Friday, February 6 – Service-Learning & Civic Engagement 2015 workshop proposals are due. The conference will feature concurrent workshops led by faculty, staff, students, and/or community organization representatives. Find out more and submit a proposal Contact: Corinne DeRoberts (

Friday, February 6 – Service-Learning & Civic Engagement 2015 award nominations are due. Know a community service superstar? Have a favorite CBO? Submit an award nomination. Contact:

University of Baltimore Experiential Learning Project of The Month


“Being allowed to have this opportunity has helped me change my negative views towards those who are incarcerated.”


Dr. Andrea Cantora

Course: Contemporary Corrections

The course included a 5-week pilot of the national Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program is an opportunity for a small group of students from University of Baltimore and group of residents of the Jessup Correctional Institution to exchange ideas and perceptions about crime, corrections, and the reentry process.

Blueprint for Tomorrow


Blueprint for Tomorrow: Redesigning Schools for Student-Centered Learning by Prakash Nair ( be release this upcoming October. To get a better idea regarding the theme of this book I found a commentary by Prakash Nair in Education Week (July 2011). Nair’s basic argument is that the traditional classroom setting is an obsolete relic of the industrial revolution. This position is not a new or revolutionary claim, but a message that seems to need to be repeated because most colleges and universities seem to just keep constructing buildings that merely reinforce an obsolete paradigm that will not prepare students for real world challenges. The dominant pedagogy still adheres to a lecture based system. Nair makes the claim that educators can try to be more efficient in this type of content delivery, but that does not necessarily translate into effective learning. Standardizing curriculum does not necessarily create autonomous learners that can critically think and articulate their ideas. What I like about the article is that it does not present an either/or fallacy regarding classroom space, but instead challenges the reader to rethink how time and space intertwines with past and present experiences. For example, in the 21st century we seem to be trapped in thinking that learning needs to adhere to arbitrary fixed patterns of time in particular spaces, whereas we ought to think about the real purpose of education.

A Bridge to Belize – Experiential Learning


Tricia Sindel-Arrington, Ph.D.

A Bridge to Belize – Almost as Good as a Magic School Bus
John Dewey has been noted as saying, “There is a need of forming a theory of experience in order that education may be intelligently conducted upon the basis of experience.” Recent efforts to improve higher education have focused on improving the learning process in education through the application of research. One focus of the current research is the concept of experiential learning. Experiential learning is often misunderstood as a set of tools and techniques to provide learners with experiences from which they can learn. Others have used the term to describe learning as a mindless recording of experience. Yet experiential learning is above all a philosophy of education based upon what Dewey called a “theory of experience,” (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). He argued that while traditional education had little need for theory since practice was determined by tradition, the new experiential approach to education needed a sound theory of experience to guide its conduct. Experiential learning draws on the work of 20th century scholars, such as, Dewey, Lewin, Jung, Piaget, James, Rogers, etc., who gave experience a central role in their theories of human learning and development.
According to Kolb and Kolb (2005), the theory is built upon six propositions: 1. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes; 2. All learning is relearning; 3. Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world; 4. Learning is a holistically process of adaptation to the world; 5. Learning results from synergetic transactions between the person and the environment; 6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge. Therefore, experiential learning theory defines learning as the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Kolb and Kolb (2005) noted that knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience. This process of learning can be portrayed through an idealized learning cycle where learners experience, reflect, think and act in a recursive process that is responsive to the learning situation and what is being learned.
The enhancement of learning in higher education can be achieved through the creation of learning spaces that promote growth-producing experiences for learners. According to Dewey, the central problem of an education based on experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences. To learn experientially, learners must first own and value their own experience (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). Therefore, the effective teacher builds on the exploration of what students already know and believe. Beginning with these or related concrete experiences allows the learner to re-examine and modify their previous sense making in light of the new ideas.
To learn also requires facing and embracing differences. These differences can be challenging and threatening, requiring a learning space that encourages the expression of differences and the safety to support the learner in facing these new challenges. People grow best where they experience a blend of challenge and support.
One interesting view of experiential learning is what Wassermann (1992) calls “serious play.” She describes serious play as creative and inventive activities that promote autonomy and a spirit of adventure, and that achieve mental engagement through active involvement with the physical world. Serious play is built on experience, and is inextricably linked to it. Wassermann believes that learners of all ages create meaning through serious play (Harkins, 2000). The goal of education is to prepare students for the future. A curriculum that places its greatest emphasis on abstract paper and pencil tasks will not provide them an adequate preparation. What students need is to develop work-readiness skills through the integration of knowledge acquisition and its practical application, a process that should start in the early grades. An education that will effectively prepare young people for future careers is one that connects the world of childhood play and the adult workplace within the context of experiential learning. Experiential tasks build higher-order thought patterns by providing data for knowledge assimilation and the accommodation of cognitive structures.
The Bridge to Belize study abroad program embodies the essential elements necessary for students to have a rich learning experience. The program is a perfect example of experiential learning. Commonly, most college classes task students to work in isolation, often completing assignments that have little relation to their daily lives and pursuing academic disciplines that are ends unto themselves. Most professors only ask their students to regurgitate information from an expensive text instead of making their course alive and rich with experience opportunities. In the Bridge to Belize, novels and academic articles were used as a springboard for learning. Students were asked not only to understand and dissect the reading, but to analyze, reflect, and discuss with teams of classmates. Safe, conversational spaces were created throughout the course where students could benefit enormously. Students were more engaged, became far better prepared, and learned significantly more because they shared not only their ideas, but also listened and connected with others throughout multiple spaces created for reflection. Students were asked to engage through Facebook, Skype, bus rides, and outdoor meeting spaces as a means of conversational safe places where each person had an opportunity to share and feel validated.
Important terms and key concepts were learned through reading, discussion, experiences, observations, and travel. In a traditional class, students read a boring text filled with vocabulary (pertinent concepts and terms necessary to learn the curriculum). Usually, they are then tasked with memorizing the terms in order to answer multiple choice test questions. Unfortunately, a week later, the students will have most likely forgotten the terms entirely because no meaning was ever made with the terms. The students were learning in isolation without the means of experiencing the concepts. They did not have the opportunity to connect the class concepts with real life or to make connections with other subjects or experiences. Dr. James Gee notes that students must first “play the game,” then they can make sense of the vocabulary or concepts associated with the textbook (2007). In order for the students in the Bridge to Belize course to make meaning they had to “play the game.” The group traveled to Belize whereupon they were immersed in the culture and landscape. Activities which showcased the different ecosystems, culture, and history of the country further helped students to experience everything they had read and discussed before leaving for Belize. Afterwards, not only did the students have a thorough understanding of the concepts, but they were able to apply the ideas to their own lives. Learners were able to transfer the interpreted experiences and explanations of other people, including both peers and experts in the field. This social interaction, as well as, mentoring from more advanced learners was important. The debriefing further continued their meaning making. Students were constantly challenged to think and rethink their previous and new beliefs.
Team building was acutely important for students to make meaning of their learning while experiencing Belize. The course required students to work in teams, whereupon they were necessitated to apply their newfound knowledge in learning tasks, which either required students to teach the entire class or to conduct an actual evaluation of the conservation and sustainability of their lodging. These types of student learning teams have proven to be highly effectively. For example, in a study of student learning at Harvard, Richard Light (2001) found specifically that students, who work outside of class in small groups of four to six, even just once a week, benefit enormously. When meetings are organized around discussions of the curriculum, as a result those students are far more engaged, far better prepared, and learn significantly more (Kayes, Kayes, & Kolb, 2005).
The Bridge to Belize course serves as a real-life model of a successful experiential learning course. Not only did it encompass the required elements needed to create a positive learning experience for students, but it further validates that educators need to rethink their lecture formatted courses where a textbook serves as the hallmark of the class. If the goal of a college education is to create well-rounded, open minded critical thinkers who are prepared to work with teams in the workplace, then more experiential learning courses should be constructed.