Syllabus For Experiential Learning Camp – OR – Yep, They’re My Relatives

As most of you Nog-readers know, I’m a big fan of learning that can happen through experience. It’s a key element in Prior Learning Assessment of course — that is, that experience is turned into learning by a reflective process — and I, for one, try to learn by experience each and every day. You may call it trial by fire, or learn-as-you-go, but I’m pretty intentional about the reflection part (and for that matter, the learning part). So perhaps it’s no surprise that this concept — this learning approach — might be built into my DNA.

Case in point:

Next week my parents (known for the last 4 years as GG & Bapa) are coming to hang out with Mac while I leave town to do an accreditation visit and then tack on an “only 2 of us” vacation with the spouse.  We’ve been billing this week as “Grandparent Camp” to Mac for a while now and he’s getting pretty excited, especially since he received GG’s syllabus in the mail and we’ve been talking about all the things they’ll do.

Take a look:

Obviously, this is the syllabus for an experiential learning camp.  It aligns nicely with this not-too-shabby wikipedia definition for such:

Experiential learning is the process of making meaning from direct experience.[1] Simply put, Experiential Learning is learning from experience. The experience can be staged or left open. Aristotle once said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”[2] David A. Kolb helped to popularize the idea of experiential learning drawing heavily on the work of John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, and Jean Piaget. His work on experiential learning has contributed greatly to expanding the philosophy of experiential education. Staged experiential learning is often called a Dynamic Learning Experience (DLE) in certain high hazard industries.

It might actually become a Dynamic Learning Experience as sometimes dealing with my willful 4-year old can be like working in a high hazard industry, and because something tells me Mac will excel at “T”. GG may need a long sabbatical after this camp, and Bapa may need more practice in the “N” area to recover.

See? DNA. Now you know where I get it.

Random Learning – Tower Cranes – Entry #1

Our nogs are prattling around my house these days. Mac is a 4-year old learning sponge, and we are exploring several random things he is interested in. So I am starting a new series called Random Learning, in which I’ll share all the random things we are learning.

Entry #1: How do tower cranes get assembled?

Answer #1: Watch this video to see how a tower crane self-assembles.

Answer #2: Watch this video to see how it’s done in a crowded city with strong people assembling the crane. (Mac pointed out that some of the guys are not wearing helmets or harnesses, and thus this is probably not a very safe way to do this activity. See, I told you our nogs are prattling! This is also a great example of transferring learning: Mac doesn’t know much about construction, but anyone who rides a bike without a helmet gets his firm disapproval. He even thinks helmets are important enough to casually wear around the house, and frankly, he’s right!)


This is a picture of my kid with his bike at the age of 3 and 11/12 months:

This is a more recent picture of him with his new bike at the age of 4 and 30 seconds:

Some pretty major things needed to happen to get from picture #1 to picture #2. For example, in our family:

  • Four year-olds need to be able to put on their own socks.
  • Four year-olds need to make their beds when they get up in the morning.
  • Four year-olds need to take their plates to the kitchen after they are done eating.
  • Four year-olds, for goodness sake, need to feed themselves!!!

That’s right. We instituted milestones.

Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travelers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance traveled or the remaining distance to a destination. ~Wikipedia

Milestones, in this way, promote learning and help us assess how well we are doing toward a learning outcome. In the world of educational assessment, we call milestones a kind of “formative assessment.”

In my family, it’s what got us sanely from three to four.

Ok, ok, in all fairness, we really created milestones so to preserve what’s left of our parental sanity, but we also wanted the kid to have a goal (being four), to work toward something significant and important (and I quote, “Mama, I fed myself my dinner all by myself; now I can be four!”), and to have a sense of accomplishment when he got there.

The payoff for reaching these milestones? Well, not only did the kid actually turn four (which frankly seemed significant enough to all of us), but he also got that new bike in picture #2.

And guess what! To prove to us that he had in fact turned four, he ate 2 pieces of this birthday cake!

All by himself!

Is He Learning?

Last week we received my kid’s first report card from his new school and we had our first parent-teacher conference. So you all know, Mac is 3 and 11/12ths years old and he is in preschool. So this is all new to us. The report card and the conference have me thinking about assessment (of course) because really, that’s what it’s all about. Is Mac learning what we want him to learn, and what evidence do we have to prove it?

First Official School Photo

The report card is not a card that says “A” or “C” or any other grade, but is, in fact, a rubric.  There is a description of where his learning levels are in several categories, accordingly:

(E) = Exceeding – consistently exceeding grade-level expectations; a strength

(M) = Meeting – developmentally appropriate or meeting grade-level expectations

(D) = Developing – working towards grade-level expectations

(X) – Not assessed at this time; not applicable

For each category, there are specific learning items that are assessed using this framework (some are skills; some are knowledge areas; and a lot is behavior, as you might expect for students who are 3 and 11/12ths years old). Here is an example from the listening category:


  • Effort – M
  • Demonstrates comprehension in the daily routine – M
  • Listens attentively to spoken language – M

(No comment here about how I would assess his listening skills. Let me just say we might have a case of grade inflation happening here. Or an inability to transfer skills from one context to another. Either way … )

Thus, across several categories and skills, we now know where his teacher sees his strengths and where we can help support his improvement. For example, he can count from 1-6 (E) and sort objects by color, shape, and size (E), but he needs more work in demonstrating self-control (D) and accepting responsibility for his own actions (D). He is doing as expected in recognizing his own name in print (M) and cutting across paper with scissors (M).

This takes us to the parent-teacher conference, which was also about assessing his learning and was evidence-based. His teacher had an iPad with about 30 pictures of Mac taken from the beginning of the year. Together, we looked at evidence of how he held a marker in September, October, and November; we were able to see differences in technique by looking at actual letters, shapes, and pictures he had drawn in an accompanying portfolio of work. She also had samples of his writing in which we saw evidence of how he wrote M – A – C in September compared to how he writes M – A – C now (not much improvement there, frankly. The M is still upside down thus spelling WAC instead of MAC. No comment…)

My point?


We pose questions: What and how well is he learning? What evidence do we have? And what do we need to keep working on? And in answering these questions, we learn and his teacher learns and his school learns! Assessment = Learning = Assessment = Learning and around and around we go through the learning cycle. And we love it because we care.

Overall, Mac seems to be learning and doing pretty well in school (which is awesome considering that he is 3 and 11/12ths years old and has trouble listening … but apparently only with us). To provide further evidence that he is learning, here is a conversation between Mac and his dad this morning:

Mac: I want to wear these pants today.

Dado: Cool! These are cords!

Mac: Oh – I can’t touch those. I am not supposed to play with cords. They’re dangerous!

This after yesterday’s moment of inquiry, accordingly:

Mac: After the champion wins, is that when they get the chips?

Dado: The chips? What chips?

Mac: Yeah, the champion chips, Dado.

(Yep – most certainly grade inflation.)