Experiential Learning

I abhor boredom!

Perhaps that’s because I don’t understand what boredom is?
I’ll be honest with you, boredom is not a feeling or psychological state of mind I find myself in very much.

I cannot go so far as to say “I’ve never been bored in my life”, but I can admit more accurately that I’ve been regularly disappointed at how uninteresting something is. There is a BIG difference there.

I was a numero-uno daydreamer as a child. If I found something uninteresting, I would simply just check out into my own wonderful world of insta-ignite imagination and defeat a dragon with a pencil; while riding a pancake or something.

It was pretty easy. So very rarely would “I’m bored” be something that I found myself complaining about. Mostly because I was too busy crafting ridiculous but epic stories in my head. I’m the youngest child in my family by a whole decade (and more) This meant a lot of play was in my head or rather I lone-ranger’d a big portion of my think-play-explore-development because my brother and sister just had better things to do, like study, play video games, listen to Michael Bolton on repeat and maybe make sure I wasn’t jumping into glass coffee tables (true story).

So, how does that affect me as an adult?
Well, because of an overactive imagination, I find myself thinking of things like:

  • Well that horror movie would have been way scarier if it just pulled from my nightmares instead
  • There are a million-gazillion better ways that music video could have been directed
  • and then…
    When kids ask: “Why do I need to learn this if I will never use it?”, why are we as teachers, not giving them a concrete,useful and interesting answer to the most basic learning question ever?

Learning requires a certain deal of investment from the student.
Whatever the subject is, however straightforward or complex, learning requires something very basic first and that is the motivation to be interested.

Now, this is where something called Experiential Education can come into play. A teaching philosophy that I wasn’t even *aware* I was applying in my approach to class materials, content, activities and how I present myself etc.

My biggest fear as a teacher is creating boredom. Now I understand that I cannot control if a student is bored or not, but I can ensure first and foremost that it doesn’t bore the heck out of me and then build from that point on. I think the reason why this is so important to me, is because I was that daydreaming brat in class and very very very few teachers had the power to teach me because I found nothing was worthwhile of interesting enough to learn.

According to the Association for Experiential Education, the definition of this teaching philosophy is: Challenge and experience followed by reflection leading to learning and growth.

Now in simple terms, I take that to mean that a student’s grasp on a concept is something they need to experience for themselves. This experience may engage them emotionally, physically and socially. Not left vs. right brain, no, no no… left AND right brain thinking. Aha!

Even though boredom is a demon in any classroom, I don’t take the boredom of students to mean a total failure of my ability to make a subject interesting. Rather, I like to think “Well that went kaput, how can I get them to understand why it’s so awesome?”

One of the CORE reasons any programmer is a programmer is because of something I like to term “The Coder High”. And no this isn’t a narcotic you can pop, but it’s an absolutely natural positive rush of pure dopamine in your brain. Coding is complex, layered and takes a lot of perseverance. Perseverance that most students do not see a reward for. But that’s exactly what The Coder High is, a reward for your hard work, patient and determination.

I often see the education coding sales pitch as:

  • You’ll earn a lot of money!
  • You’ll work in cool open-concept offices
  • You get to play games and eat yummy snacks
  • You can make games in fact and test them too, you’ll love it!

But I don’t see any heads up on exactly how difficult it is to be any kind of coder. Haha… oops?

Coding requires a lot of emotional resilience. You have to “learn” to be perfectly comfortable with your own creation, breaking every which way and then figuring out what you, the creator did to break it so bad and this my friends, is called Debugging. If you cannot handle the mental wear and tear of that process, you’re probably switching careers or are just very unhappy in general.

Coding is cool but debugging is …

Initially, before creating an experiential learning strategy for kids coding classes, I wanted to find something that answered the following questions and/ or statments:

  • How do I get kids to stop giving up the moment they’re stuck?
  • How do I get kids to accept that getting stuck is not the end of the world?
  • How can I make kids understand that making mistakes are solid learning steps and that it doesn’t mean they are stupid or slow?
  • How can I get kids to experience “The Coder High”, early and often and look forward to it even if there is tedious and persistent work involved?

Oh. I’ll just give them intentionally broken code…Voila! Experiential learning though broken code ๐Ÿ˜ถ, yes I’m serious!

Haha! I know it doesn’t sound very motivating, but it actually creates an awesome learning foundation for the frustration that is just a part of programming.

My Experiential Learning Activity, the “Debugging Hall of Fame”

Here’s how it can become an experiential learning activity for a student:

  • Bugs are simple mistakes and humans make mistakes all the time.
    This translates to “acceptance” of how the process works and gives them a real-life look at what happens when bugs happen and also how challenging it can be. The key is to gamify (Bug Hunt!) the debugging approach! What is the “fake” reward for all this hard problem-solving? (The real reward, by the way, is The Coder High)
  • Bugs can have adverse and unexpected effects on an application. I personally go as far as to personify the compiler when I’m teaching and say: “You see that red text that looks like it’s yelling at you? WELL, IT IS! Because it’s trying it’s hardest to help you fix a bug, but it’s not that smart, so that’s where you- the coder comes in!” Kids love hero’s and if I can make them a hero to their worried compiler friend, I’ve got them hooked.
  • Bugs can teach you how bugs happen and why bugs happen, which translates to the more bugs you fix, the better you get at spotting other kinds of bugs. Bug hunting practice! You develop a curiosity for how a bug formed and how it’s different from the last one. Every “new” bug you encounter is actually PROGRESS. Ha! Who would’ve thunk?!This is where observation plays a key role in the learning process. Last but least, I ask the winners (Of my bug hunting activity) a question about their opinion of debugging?
    • What do you hate about debugging?
    • What do you love about debugging?
    • How did you feel when the program had no more bugs?
    • What kind of bug did you think was the hardest to find?
    • If you could say something back to the compiler, it would be ___________?

The point of these questions is for the student to question the emotions they felt when debugging. Emotions and feelings play a huge part in learning! If the students can experience the activity, feel a sense of a reward from the activity and lastly be able to reflect on their experience of the activity, the chances of that activity solidifying a learning concept increases ten-fold!

How have you introduced experiential learning in your teaching style?
Did you see a noticeable result?
Do you find it fun to integrate?
Have you created a totally new activity or approach?
Share your teaching and learning adventures with me!

pictureAmina Khalique | Teacher & Bug Squasher

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