Imagine this. You are ten years old and about to adopt a dog from your aunt and uncle. You are overcome with excitement about the opportunity to be a dog mom and can not wait to pick up your new addition. When the day arrives for you to pick up your bundle of joy, you are immersed in an experience that you will never forget.
The door to your uncle’s office has a sign on it that reads, “Peaches Marie, Adoption Hearing Case #4819.” Your eyes light up as you enter the office and are led to a large desk. Minutes later, you hear “All Rise for the Judge.” As your uncle walks in fully dressed in a university official robe and cap, the adoption hearing begins. Opening statements are made, and you are taken through a series of interview questions that feel incredibly official. After being interviewed and declared fit to care for the dog, your aunt tells you the best things about the dog, what she will need, and provides you with several items that you will need to give the dog the best care.
Nearing the end of the hearing, you are asked to hold the dog in your left hand and raise your right hand and promise to care for the dog no matter how she behaves. Within minutes you have officially been declared the new dog mom of Peaches Marie. Everyone cheers, music plays, and a reception follows. To your surprise, a cake has been ordered, more pictures are taken and the day feels like one of the happiest you can remember. There is no question that you feel that a dog has officially been adopted.
Reflecting upon the events of the day, your eyes dance with pride and excitement as you cannot help but think about how real the adoption hearing felt. Everything was incredibly official, and you were not only given a dog today, but you were also given the gift of an experience. The day would have still been a great one if you had received the dog and started caring for her, grabbing her belongings as you left your aunt and uncle’s home. But there is something different when an experience is provided.
An experience says, “You are worth the time and effort I invest.” An experience says, “I will research and learn about something to provide authentic information so that someone else can understand.” An experience says, “This is an event that I want you to be able to carve in your memory, one that I want to last for a long time.” An experience says, “There is something neat to learn about, and I want you to know what it is like to be part of it, to live through it, not just hear about it.” An experience says, “Learning can happen in several ways, and this is a powerful way to understand how something works.” An experience says as Helen Keller put it best, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched-they must be felt with the heart.”
Much like my sister and brother-in-law did as they creatively crafted the most beautiful and official ceremony for my daughter to adopt a dog, we as educators have a responsibility to facilitate learning opportunities filled with rich experiences. Students won’t always remember every detail taught, but they will remember the big things. They will remember what it felt like to be part of a courtroom, the signing of the declaration of independence, a photographer at a studio, a crime scene investigation, or Spanish Mercado. When students understand the big concepts connected to a topic taught, the details make more sense and begin to fall in place. Typically, when students have experienced something powerful, there is a desire to learn more. Curiosity is heightened as he or she thrives on learning more about a topic.
After the experience of adopting her first dog, my daughter is more curious about the courtroom and legal processes that exist in our country. Having experienced what it is like to be part of a hearing, she understands on a deeper level of a courtroom experience.
Several years ago, I heard about the educational resource “Teach Like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess, and fell in love with the book's premise. As educators, it is our responsibility to facilitate an environment where learning is felt and experienced. PIRATE is an acronym for Burgess' teaching philosophy: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask & analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm. By transforming our learning spaces, we allow students to be immersed in new worlds, chart unknown territories, and become passionate about new topics. If you have the privilege of hearing Dave Burgess speak, your thoughts on what is possible in the classroom will change. Burgess captivates an audience in person and through his online resources that forever change a learner. It is impossible not be engaged.
In-person teaching offers several advantages to creating incredible opportunities for students to have life-changing experiences. Since many of our classrooms include a virtual component this year, the goal now incorporates finding a way to bring energy to the virtual classroom. The silver lining about virtual education is that there are a plethora of options for allowing students to have several senses engaged.
It is not always easy to focus on creating an experience while teaching. It requires work and creativity. However, students benefit from the opportunity to become part of the story you are trying to teach. Today’s technology allows for 3-D sights, amazing sound effects, fascinating WebQuests, incredible animation, games, interactive study resources, and trivia that tell the most complex and engaging stories. Finding the best virtual resources includes finding opportunities for students to engage in a learning experience that will leave them wanting to know more. Sometimes good experiences happen by chance, but many times, great opportunities occur when we are intentional about giving the gift of a learning experience.