Experiential Learning Exposures

What is Experiential Learning: Exposures?

Experiential Learning is learning which is done by doing something rather than reading about it or hearing about it. This learning can take place inside or outside the classroom. The Exposure is a particular way in which teachers of secondary students, particularly high school students, can add to their social studies experience. It is an assignment where students choose from a list of appropriate out-of-classroom experiences. The student then schedules and executes the exposure and writes up the results with reflection upon the learning experience.

How Experiential Learning can: Exposures help your students?

At the high school level, teachers of social studies have, as their primary task, the teaching of scope and sequence of the particular curriculum. However, because of the complex nature of the social studies, there are many opportunities for interdisciplinary study. For example, although a teacher’s lesson plan may call for studying supply and demand economics, if political elections are being held, that teacher will probably want to devote some time to the current events of the day.

One way to encourage interest in the social studies and to provide an opportunity for "learning by doing" is the exposure. Brain-based learning research has shown that learning is best accomplished when the learning activity is connected directly to physical experience. We remember best when facts and skills are embedded in natural, spatial memory, in real-life activity, in experiential learning.

By making this assignment a pass-fail exercise and giving grade on the basis of the number performed, students have an opportunity to bolster their grade in ways of their choosing and areas of their interest within the social studies limits. Special needs students may need coaching on what would be appropriate activities, but will feel success as they gain knowledge from an activity that is fun and meaningful.

How can you implement Experiential Learning: Exposures in order to effectively meet the diverse learning needs of students?

  • Exposures can be made an assignment that is required during each grading period. They can be graded on the basis of how many are accomplished, e.g. during a quarter: 1 = D, 2= C, 3= B, 4=A. It is important to fully explain the nature of the assignment to special needs teachers and facilitators so they can help the student schedule their time. This is the only real drawback for special needs students since the assignment is ongoing.
  • Exposures can be a one page written summary of the particular experience, with a paragraph explaining the educational value of the activity. Students who wish to go outside the list of possible activities need to confer with the teacher before doing the activity. Teachers do not want to be in a situation where a student uses the class assignment as rationale for doing dangerous or controversial activities.
  • Teachers should take a day at the beginning of the year to explain the rationale for exposures and their implementation. Teachers should provide the rules and possible exposures in a written handout and thoroughly review the handout with students.
  • Special offerings of exposures can be made when a given unit is being taught, e.g. Interview grandparents about their experience in the election of 1960.
  • Limitations can be made to appropriate activities such as: cannot be primarily recreational, cannot be done for money, cannot be something that occurred in another class or during the school day. Limitations can include: no more than one reading assignment, no more than one commercial movie, etc.
  • Each community will have different possibilities for exposures, but they could include: 
    Police Ride-Along
    Shadow parent or other adult at their work
    Interview parents, grandparents, known adults
    Individual field trips with parents
    Volunteer in community-sponsored events (Special Olympics,)
    Political activity (volunteer for a candidate, visit campaign headquarters)
    View Documentary or other appropriate Television show (be specific on limitations here)
    Rites of Passage (register to vote, donate blood) (since not all students are eligible for this it is important to stress the variety of options available.)
  • Modifications can be made for younger aged students with more controlled environments. Parent interviews about historical events are appropriate for all ages, but provisions need to be made to offer alternatives in case parents are not present or cooperative. Interviewing other teachers is a possibility.

Where can you find more information about Experiential Learning: Exposures?

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Kotulak, Ronald Inside the Brain Andrews McMeel (1996)