Toward the end of high school, the term “senioritis” was used by my classmates to describe their apparent inability to not only attend their classes, but also to pay attention to, and complete, their schoolwork. But a new teaching technique, dubbed “experiential learning,” may be a potential treatment for senioritis.
At its core, an experiential program revolves around hands-on learning and the benefits therein. Currently, educators are implementing experiential courses in private schools throughout the country. New programs take students out of the classroom and into their surrounding area to explore local flora, fauna and culture. These courses can be tailored to fit any school subject or encompass more than one. For example, instead of learning about local history and geology in separate classes, an experiential course would bring the two together, perhaps by illustrating the geographical challenges faced by the regions’ early settlers. Theoretically, the experiential technique dictates that students benefit immensely from going out and exploring as a means of learning; it is believed that information is better absorbed this way and a student’s critical thinking skills will improve as a result.
The Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City was recently featured in a New York Times article regarding the success of its own experiential program. Fieldston now offers City Semester to seniors, which is a project-based class that combines English, history, languages, ethics and science. The City Semester program involves a variety of expeditions, including a canoe trip down the Bronx River to explore local animal and plant life, a visit to Hunt’s Point at four in the morning to see the city’s food supply arrive, and a scavenger hunt spanning several days and city boroughs.
While some students at Fieldston complained that City Semester created scheduling conflicts and took time away from extracurricular activities, the majority found the experience to be preferable to lectures, projects and tests. The technique certainly seems to have some merit, as other schools with experiential programs in place are seeing students score above average on critical thinking tests.
Experiential learning is a boundary-pushing educational technique that may prove incredibly useful to students who struggle to succeed within the traditional confines of the classroom. In particular, those students who experience difficulty with critical thinking and data retention might find those skills improving as they participate in an experiential course; when schools create programs that balance time students spend inside the classroom with time spent outside, the advantages will become very apparent. On top of its many other benefits, fresh air could be an easy cure for even the most serious case of senioritis.