"Experiential Learning," "Co-curricular Lessons" and "Real World Problem Solving"--all phrases we mention when spreading the word about our STREAM initiative. These may seem like the latest buzz words in education, but they truly explain what we have known all along: students learn best when they are doing, when they can see connections between different disciplines, and when they view their learning as relevant and useful. Experiential learning may be the most important and most powerful of the three, for just as a one must actually cook, not just read the cookbook, to master a recipe, students must put their knowledge to work--or play--to demonstrate understanding. Mrs. Hill organized a class activity that perfectly illustrates the power of experiential learning. In her Sharecropping Simulation students were given 50 beans, 6 IOU's, a cup to pay the landlord and a cup to pay the Furnishing Merchant. The student sharecroppers had to pay 50% of the money form their crops plus a small fee to the landlord, then they had to purchase supplies, feed their families and the mule, repair fences and buy clothes with their beans. When all the beans were gone, they could use an IOU then work to pay it off. Of course, each student spiraled deeper and deeper into debt. When Mrs. Hill asked, "How does it feel to be a share cropper", students looked at the empty desk and the landlord's cup full of beans and IOU's and all agreed, "It feels like slavery."
This is the type of lesson students understand and remember. This is the knowledge they will recall when discussing the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression in social studies or the sad, down trodden migrant workers in Of Mice and Men during literature class. These lessons last.