From the Deputy Head of Middle School

Experiential Learning At Work

‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.’ – Confucius.

Learning by doing, or experiential learning, is an essential part of learning at Carey. We naturally think of this occurring in the Outdoor Education program and during the Rural, Enviro and Urban fieldwork experiences but in my travels around the Middle School, I see experiential learning occurring each and every day.

On a quick visit to Year 7 music, the beginner keyboard group proudly played with TWO hands, while the experienced wind group were challenging themselves to hold long and short notes as they played a tune from Star Wars for the very first time. While in Year 9, Metal students were using the polishing machine to give their rings that extra shine and in Wood, foot-stools were being made with precision as students measured and sawed. Of course, they had all completed an online safety check first!

The power of experiential learning could be no more apparent than in the Physical Education classes that I recently observed at Bulleen. Whether it be the Year 7 fundamental skills class on throwing, the Year 9 survival swimming unit, or the introduction to lacrosse activities, the level of focus and energy was amazing. Not a minute was lost, as teachers were clearly intent on keeping instruction to the essentials, and to maximising the time the students could spend on the activities.

There were many opportunities for students to receive instant feedback on their progress, and to reflect on what they were learning. While I didn’t actually see any dry hair after the compact safety jumps from the one-meter diving board, I definitely did see an improvement in scooping, passing and catching the lacrosse ball, and I absolutely heard the whir of firmly and accurately thrown vortex.

Students absorbed the new information at a great rate, and conceptualised and verbalised quickly. One student told me, in no uncertain terms, that to improve your throwing you needed to put more power behind the ball, step forward with the opposite foot, look at the target, point with your finger, release the ball while moving your palm to where you want it to go, and take control of the situation! She had certainly learnt something, and was clearly going to remember it!

Each class allowed for more challenge as students gained confidence and started to experiment on their own. Some students completed safety jumps from the three-metre board, throwers could move the cones back and aim at targets from a greater distance, and lacrosse passes became more like catapults. Even students who could not participate in the class activity were kept learning as they were put in charge of giving feedback to swimmers in a particular lane, or keeping the equipment organised for the throwing activities.

All these students were putting into action American educational theorist David A. Kolb’s belief that knowledge is created ‘through the transformation of experience’. Kolb’s theory looks at a cycle of learning – the concrete experience being transformed by reflective observation to abstract conceptualisation, and evolving into the freedom and confidence to be active and experimental. During a very short time in these classrooms, I observed that the students’ concrete experience was being quickly transformed. They supported each other, received timely feedback, verbalised their thinking, and kept practising and experimenting. The students naturally started to conceptualise and, as they gained confidence, the students became more independent and started to experiment and create on their own.

While recognising that we all learn in different ways – e.g. listening, reading and writing, watching – there is no doubt that learning by doing (kinaesthetic) is, for many Middle School students, effective, energising, engaging and exhausting. A sure sign of this learning is when your son or daughter comes home and wants to talk about what they have been doing… make sure you grab them a drink of milk and sit down and listen!

Meredith Plaisted
Deputy Head of Middle School – Student Learning