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Exploring The Concept

Exploration learning is a concept that involves use of hands-on manipulatives, student inquiry, thematic integrated-subject instruction, learning in multi-aged cooperative groups, and active participation in a project-based authentic assessment learning process. The idea is to incorporate the principles of Brain-Based Learning, Learning Through Play, Theme Immersion, Project-Based Learning, Inquiry-Based Learning, Activity-Based Learning, Montessori, and related philosophies to structure an environment which allows the student to learn through his own discoveries and exploration of academic subjects. Students demonstrate their knowledge through presentations and projects, and teachers assess the learning through observation and keeping records of student progress. This theory that explorative learning is an effective learning method is borne out by many educational authorities, solid educational research, various model schools using the method, and curriculum designed to teach using explorative means. All the California Standards may be met using explorative learning, as explained at the end of this page. The following is a sampling of the support for the Exploration Learning theory with links to additional explanations from pertinent websites.

THEORY: Many educational authorities hold firmly to the belief that active engagement with and exploration of the subject is the most effective way for students to learn.
1. John Dewey, the most influential educational theorist of the century, promoted the notion of active engagement with materials accompanied by reflection as a primary source of learning. “Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. The school must represent present life – life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground. . . . Much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed.” (Dewey, John, “My Pedagogic Creed,” in Journal of National Education Association, Dec 1929, vol 18, no 9: pp 291-295.)
- Link to analysis of Dewey and his educational ideas.

2. Wayne B. Jennings, chair of the International Association for Learning Alternatives, noted how current brain research has shed light on how to accelerate the learning process: “Brain based learning means major increases of input and experiential learning. Use the real community: field trips, speakers, action projects. Involve students in planning the what and how of learning, the operation of the school, the events and activities of classrooms. Work on real products and services to the school and community. Increase simulations, role playing, panels, debates, surveys, newsletters, running small businesses, researching topics of interest, decorating the school. Textbooks become references; use more libraries, museums, videos, reference data bases, films, magazines, newspapers, booklets, and interviews. Reduce worksheets by 90%; reduce lecturing; use more committees, student presentations, workshops, and small group projects. Perhaps most of all, we need to reflect on shared learning experiences among students, teachers, and parents.” (Jennings, Wayne B. “What Brain Research Has Taught Us About Brain-based Learning” in The Institute for Learning and Teaching Networker, 1990, Vol 2, p 51-53.)
- Link to the neurological and brain research science behind the theory.

3. Elliot Eisner, Stanford University professor known for his scholarship in education and curriculum studies, speaks of the value of play in developing curriculum: “Many of our most productive activities take the form of exploration or play. In such activities, the task is not one of arriving at a preformed objective but rather to act, often with a sense of abandon, wonder, curiosity.”( Eisner, Elliot, The Educational Imagination, New York: MacMillan, 1994. p 115)
- Link to Learning Through Play philosophy and practice.

4. Eisner also expresses the need for students to actively engage in inquiry: “We need to provide opportunities for youngsters and adolescents to engage in challenging kinds of conversation, and we need to help them know how to do so. Such conversation is all too rare in schools. I use “conversation” seriously, for challenging conversation is an intellectual affair. It has to do with thinking about what people have said and responding reflectively, analytically, and imaginatively to that process. The practice of conversation is almost a lost art. The most significant intellectual achievement is not so much in problem solving, but in question posing.” (Eisner, Elliot, What Does It Mean To Say A School is Doing Well?, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol 82, no. 5, 2001. p 301)
- Link to Inquiry-Based Learning philosophy and practice.

5. School-to-work transition programs have been implemented and studied by S.E. Berryman and T.R. Bailey in recent years, with the conclusion: “Passive learning reduces or removes chances for exploration, discovery, and invention. Passive learning means that learners do not interact with problems and content and thus do not receive the experiential feedback so key to learning. Students need chances to engage in choice, judgment, control processes, and problem formulation; they need the chances to make mistakes. The saying ‘experience is the best teacher’ is born out by research – you learn what you do. Doing is necessary to learning.” (Berryman, S.E. & Bailey, T.R. The double helix of education & economy. Institute on Education and the Economy, Teachers College/Columbia University Press, 1992, pp. 45-80.)
- Link to Project Approach philosophy and practice.

6. Contemporary educational researcher A. W. Astin noted the positive effects of active student involvement in interdisciplinary work on the student’s cognitive and academic development, disciplinary knowledge, critical thinking, GPA, and performance on examinations. (Astin, A.W. What Matters the Most in College? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992]
- Link to interdisciplinary learning philosophy and practice.

7. Dr. Maria Montessori, founder of the famed “Montessori Method,” based her activity based learning on scientific observations of children’s learning processes.
- Link to Montessori theory and practice

8. Rudolph Steiner, founder of the “Waldorf Method,” used active involvement in art and music as a means for children to naturally learn about the world.
- Link to Waldorf philosophy and practice.

RESEARCH: Studies have shown that active, explorative learning increases knowledge of content area as well as improves critical thinking skills.
1. Research shows the superiority of active discovery over passive, receptive learning. (The Principals’ Partnership, Union Pacific Foundation, 2005; Wilson, 1992; Piaget, 1970)
- Link to Study

2. Research demonstrates that the active processing of learning experiences and experiential activities is essential as a basic component of understanding and mastery. Meaningful, activity-based learning is more transferable to what students really need in their world beyond the classroom. Through experiential learning students engage in real activities with real consequences. (Caine & Caine, 1991; Prietula & Simon, 1989; Stevens & Richards, 1992)
- Link to “Changing Schools Through Experiential Education” by Peggy Walker Stevens and Anthony Richards.

3. People process information in different ways, and these differences bear a relationship to how students learn. Students cannot achieve what they are capable of achieving if their learning preferences are stifled. (Dunn & Carbo, 1981; Gregorc & Butler, 1984; Butler, 1990; Thompson & O’Brien, 1991, R. Dunn, Griggs, Olson, Gorman, & Beasley, 1995)
- Link to scholarly article about studies.

4. Research shows that underachieving, gifted adolescents tend to prefer active, holistic learning rather than analytical information processing (Redding, 1990)
- Link to Study

5. Research shows that students with strong auditory and visual preferences tend to perform well in reading, while those with kinesthetic preferences have more difficulty in learning reading skills as they are traditionally taught. (Carbo, 1983)
- Link to Study

6. Research shows that students whose preference is the kinesthetic channel learn the best by doing. They remember best what has been done, not what they have seen or talked about. They need direct involvement in what they are learning. Kinesthetic and tactile preference students learn most easily when totally involved in an educational activity, such as interviewing, puppetry, drama, or designing. Kinesthetic learners often seem distracted and find it difficult to pay attention to auditory or visual presentations. Hyperactive students, 95% of whom are male, have an extremely high kinesthetic preference. (Barbe & Swassing, 1979; Siegel & Linder, 1984; Ogato, 1992)
- Link to Study


Montessori Schools: With over 1100 schools nationally, both public and private, the schools following the teachings of Maria Montessori (1870-1952) are perhaps the most well-known of the “explorative learning” schools.

Glasser Quality Schools:William Glasser heads the William Glasser Institute (Chatsworth, CA), a foundation which trains educational staff in quality education and identifies high quality schools. These schools score high on state tests by using principles which Glassar has identified as promoting an authentic education: mutual respect between educator and student, competency shown through authentic assessments (portfolios, projects, student conferences, etc) rather than grades, matching teaching methods to a student’s learning style, and making school a place where learning is “fun.”

Horizons K-8 Alternative School in Boulder, Colorado: A prime example of a Glasser High Quality School, this school’s mission is “Guiding students in grades K-8 to become self-directed learners and community contributors in multi-age settings through challenging, developmentally-appropriate curriculum which enhances the student’s strengths and honors each individual student’s interests, choices, and goals.”

Longfellow’s “School on the River” in LaCrosse, Wisconsin: An integrated-curriculum option available to 54 of Longfellow school’s 220 7 th graders, using the Mississippi River as the basis for mathematics, science, language arts, and social studies. Students are chosen by lottery from the 6 th grade applicants each year (less than half are admitted) and usually spend less than half their school day in the classroom; the rest is spent in the community and at the river completing projects.

The Lab Schools founded by Sally Smith (Washington DC, New Jersey): These schools have won national acclaim on their ground-breaking achievements with learning disabled students. They emphasize hands-on experiential learning to teach academic skills to children with learning disabilities.

Bloomfield School District in Michigan: The entire district uses interdisciplinary learning activities as their mode of instruction.

University of Washington’s K-12 Institute for Science, Math, and Technology: Promotes the use of inquiry-based science projects and assists in the development of alternative forms of education in the state of Washington.

Experiential Science Center (Kamuela, Hawaii): The center uses its unique island setting as a living laboratory and classroom, partnering with area schools to establish programs and educational experiences which assist students with math and science.

Hands-On National History Museum (Washington DC): Hands on explorative activities and historical reproductions aid students in learning about history. Great examples of how to make history come alive that could be applied to the classroom.

Lawrence Hall of Science Exploration Learning in Berkeley, California: Hands-on learning about science with many examples that could be transferred to the classroom.

SAMPLE CURRICULUM: Active, explorative learning requires not only textbooks for research, but also activities, materials, and projects which the students explore to learn core concepts. Websites of some of the curriculum providing interactive learning experiences are listed below.
1. Inquiry based science curriculum.
2. Types of internet projects which can promote student interaction with the subject.
3. Online multi-media learning system.
4. Multisensory Reading Program.
5. Manipulative Math Curriculum.
6. Science Unit Studies.
7. Materials for Theme Units.
8. Interactive online enrichment classes.
9. Hands-On Math and Science integrated with Language Arts.
10. Family Math

CALIFORNIA STANDARDS: By following the resource CD’s, which will be using a three-year rotational theme schedule, students will complete the standards for K-5 and/or 6-8 for social science and science. Language Arts and Math standards will be met as the students progress through grade level materials. The following theme schedule for completion of standards is expected:

2007-2008: Early American Theme – Meets standards for 5 th & 8 th grade US History, K-5 & 8 th grade Physical Science, and various K-2 standards.
2008-2009: Gold Rush Theme – Meets the standards for 4 th grade California history, K-5 life science, and various K-2 standards.
                   Castles & Kings Theme – Meets the standards for 7 th grade Medieval history and 7 th grade life science.
2009-2010: Natural Resources Theme – Meets the standards for 3 rd grade local history K-5 earth science, and various K-2 standards.
                   Ancient Civilizations Theme- Meets the standards for 6 th grade ancient history and 6 th earth science

The standards addressed may be viewed at the California Department of Education website.

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