Experiential learning, or learning through hands-on experience, has long been acknowledged as a powerful tool in education. Hands-on learning brings about a number of important benefits. From fostering creativity, to reinforcing existing knowledge, and much more, allowing students to become actively involved in their education is a critical component to both academic success and personal development.
Perhaps one of the most influential aspects of hands-on learning is the power that it has to empower students to create their own knowledge. Instead of the more passive approaches to traditional learning, such as reading from a book or watching a teacher solve a problem, a hands-on approach lets students take an active role in their learning.
Knowledge Construction and Learning by Doing at Friends’ Central School
“Learning by doing” is a key component of Friends’ Central’s educational philosophy. Through this hands-on approach, students are challenged to take control of their education and construct their own knowledge, rather than simply absorbing information from a textbook or lecture.
What does knowledge construction actually look like in the classroom? Below are three examples of students creating their own knowledge through experiential learning at Friends’ Central School.
Examples of Learning by Doing in the Classroom
1. Third Grade Writers’ Publishing Party
In the fall of 2020, Taylor Salvitti’s third grade class put their learning into action through a hands-on writing activity. During the course of this project, the students turned their memories of a specific moment in their lives into thoughtfully prepared narratives.
“This project immersed students in the writing process, beginning with drafting a notebook full of story ideas and choosing one 'seed' idea to publish,” Salvitti said. “Then, they drafted their seed idea again, revised the content, edited for clarity, and finally published a final copy.”
This exercise allowed the students to put all of their learning together to experience the writing process from start to finish. Their hard work paid off, and the class celebrated their success with a virtual publishing party in which they read their finished stories aloud to friends and family while sharing self-illustrated artwork over zoom.
2. Middle School Drama Production
Students in the Middle School drama department had the opportunity to let their creativity shine by creating their own productions in the fall of 2020. Several students, including eighth grade playwrights Brandon Sutton Jr., Ciara Barry, Aria Fiorillo, and Finn Hanson contributed to the Middle School drama production, Playwrights in Progress, by writing their own dynamic one-act plays.
Many students become involved in this endeavor, each playing their own key role in the process and applying their learning throughout. Anelia Brown ‘26, student director, polished each piece which were then performed by student actors. The stage crew applied their knowledge of film, sound, and graphics to bring the plays to life. The final product was shared in video format in November 2020.
3. Senior Project
All students at Friends’ Central School have the opportunity to create their own knowledge through their Senior Project. The Senior Project is a hands-on capstone experience for Upper School students which typically takes place during the five-week span after seniors have completed their academic classes in the spring.
The Senior Project experience allows students to deeply explore their interests outside of the confines of traditional classwork. Students must select their own ideas for their projects and prepare a proposal to be submitted for approval by the Senior Project Committee, which is headed by Upper School science teacher Dr. Phyllis Hanson with faculty members Deborah Skapik, Holly McCloskey, Linda Quinlan, Julie Plunkett, Kelley Graham, and Michele Zuckman. The committee meets regularly to support the students in their endeavor and provide guidance on how to make the most of this experience.
This opportunity provides students with a sense of independence and agency over their learning and development. Whether they decide to test the waters in a possible future career field or delve deeper into a hobby or personal interest, students take charge and learn through real-world experiences. Not only does this allow them to create their own knowledge, but it also fosters the skills needed for independent learning that are essential in college and beyond.
An Active Approach to Learning
Experiential learning as a powerful tool in education. When students feel empowered to take an active role in their learning, they’re able to create their own knowledge and transcend the confines of traditional classroom learning.
At Friends’ Central, learning by doing is a key component of our approach to learning. Students are presented with countless opportunities to take charge of their education and get hands-on experience putting their knowledge into practice. As such, Friends’ Central prepares the next generation of independent thinkers and lifelong learners to take agency over their learning.