The Importance of Experiential Learning// Torrence Campbell
"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught."
Baba Dioum, 1968.
This was the quote camp director Ken Wold began with when he introduced this project, the Preston Outdoor Education Station, to our Design+Make studio. It is both his and Camp Wood’s goal to instill in those that visit a passion for the ecosystem of the Flint Hills’ Tallgrass Prairie in which the camp is situated. Many children living in Kansas are exposed to the basic principles of this ecosystem at some point in their education, but Ken and the camp staff wanted to do more than teach students about the basic geology. They wanted the students to leave with a lasting memory of this landscape.
How does one effectively teach the intricate details of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem to young students of elementary and middle school age? Our studio was tasked with creating a shade structure that could house a gathering space for educational talks and a permanent display of informational material. This material covers information on the grasses, insects, the prairie burns effects on the region, and the geological makeup of the earth. However upon study we determined that the initial scope of our proposed design would not create the desired effect of a lasting impression on the site because the students would still be receiving the information in a similar manner as they would in their classroom. In order to create profound memories of the Tallgrass Prairie for the visiting students it was clear that we would need to use different forms of teaching than those found in a typical classroom.
To fully immerse the students in the landscape we split up the learning center into stations and placed them in specific locations around the site to take the students directly to the source material. By combining our goals of creating a memory and gaining knowledge of the prairie we designed environments based around the teaching philosophy of experiential learning developed by educational theorist David Kolb (1). Experiential learning techniques have been determined to have a greater and more profound impact on the students. And this is not a new concept;
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I will learn.”
Benjamin Franklin, 1750
The fact is it’s just easier to create an environment in which students are orally given information, but that doesn’t make it the right way to present it. So we set about understanding how architectural devices can call out specific strata of the ecosystem and create a memorable and lasting impression on the students who visit the camp. We wanted to create an environment that only existed here, that uses our interventions to create a more interactive learning environment.
Experiential learning allows students to learn through the process of observing and gathering common knowledge from a collection of experiences (4). Studies conducted by Jean Piaget have concluded that teaching students in a linear verbal manner restricts the eagerness of children to learn (5). Taking this line of thought we wanted to create an environment that fostered a curious and eager mind toward this landscape, we created scenarios where the students could explore and make observations and realizations on their own.
(2) Experiential Learning Diagram by David Kolb
Photo by David Beauregard
We created two unique experiences to allow visiting students to discover the impact layers of rock have on the ecosystem. At the rock station students are led to a platform and stone path that eases their crossing over a large eroded stone shelf. In class they may be taught how large boulders have prevented the prairie from being plowed into farmland in the Flint Hills. Here they can explore, interact and familiarize themselves with the size of rock compared to themselves. Doing this will allow them to realize why previously people have not tried to remove them. We have experienced this difficulty when excavating the main pavilion, as removing large boulders from the ground is a never ending process. Also at the main pavilion we have removed the top layer of soil and loose shale to uncover the harder limestone layer that creates the unique erosion patterns found around the Flint Hills. In doing so we are allowing students to have a tactile and visual learning experience to augment the oral presentation given by staff counselors.
Rendering by Design+Make Studio
To bring students in connection with the grass that forms the main vegetation of the ecosystem we made a simple gesture that alters the normal viewing perspective on an otherwise repetitive sight. At the grass station, a cut is made into the ground that takes visitors under the prairie’s surface allowing them to experience the depth to which roots will grow. It is important to create a place that solidifies the memory with the educational content. Rather than using the traditional teaching style and informing the students that grasses have roots that grow up to nine feet deep, we create a place that reminds them of the vast network of biomass that exists out of sight. This may seem extreme to some as the cut required large amounts of excavation, but making a cut into the ground that exposes this subterranean layer is essential to allowing the students an interaction with the object of study, giving them a chance through the lesson and personal observations to draw conclusions for themselves.
Rendering by Design+Make Studio
In order for the Preston Outdoor Education Station to be successful in its mission to instill its visitors with the lasting memories of the site and give them an understanding of how this ecosystem works it needs to employ as much interactive and experiential learning as possible. While this means increasing the scope of build and encroaching on more prairie than originally called for, it is essential to creating any worthwhile effect for the lasting education of the visitors.
(1) Experiential Learning Theory: Previous and New Directions (31 Aug. 1999) Web. 6 Mar. 2016
(2) Experiential Learning Theory: Previous and New Directions (31 Aug. 1999) Web. 6 Mar. 2016
(3) jlifeoc.com/experiential-learning/ Web. 21 Mar. 2016
(4) Lisa Monette jlifeoc.com/experiential-learning/ Web. 21 Mar. 2016
(5) Lisa Monette jlifeoc.com/experiential-learning/ Web. 21 Mar. 2016
David A. Kolb, Richard E. Boyatzis, Charalampos Mainemelis (31 Aug. 1999) Experiential
Learning Theory: Previous and New Directions, Web. 6 Mar. 2016
Lisa Monette, “Experiential Learning.” Jlife. Orange County Jewish Life, Web 21 Mar. 2016
Written by Torrence Campbell