Concrete Experiences

When I was thirteen, my father surprised me with one of the greatest gifts of my life. He took me to a Major League Baseball game! For a young boy, who grew up hundreds of miles away from the nearest big league team, this was the adventure of a lifetime. I had watched baseball my whole life on television, but nothing compared to seeing a professional game live and in-person! The sights and sounds of the stadium mesmerized me. I can distinctly remember watching the ball being hit into the field of play and watching every player on the field move as the action evolved. It was like watching a ballet, as players gracefully moved about while executing their positions. I could see the whole game in unison like I had never seen before.

This event is an example of a rich concrete experience. A rich concrete experience is a new experience that creates deep meaning in our brains by creating compelling images. In his book, The Art of Changing the Brain, Dr. James Zull writes about how images can play a significant role of experiential learning. He writes, “One of the most powerful aspects of experiential learning is that the images in our brains come from the experiences itself.” Creating deep, powerful images can be important to educators. If educators can create meaningful, concrete experiences with students, then the students are better able to attach their new learning to their past experiences.

Take for example a student who is studying reptiles at school. Imagine, if you will, this student can attend a field trip to a local zoo to learn about reptiles. The student will remember seeing them slither, feel their scaly skin, and watch as their bodies coil for warmth. When the student returns to school, they will have powerful images to attach their new knowledge of reptiles. This experience will help the student retain what they have learned since they can now connect their new knowledge to their past experiences.

I can imagine what you are saying; “We can’t all afford to take a field trip every time I want a student to learn something new.” That is true. However, Robert Marzano writes in his book, Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement, that virtual experiences can be a powerful tool to build these capabilities. He writes, “Fortunately; virtual experiences can be as powerful as direct experiences in enhancing background knowledge.” This is great news for today’s teacher!

Today, technology allows a teacher to create these virtual experiences right in their classrooms. A teacher can use their technology like augmented reality to allow a student to experience the solar system in 3-D, research a topic on their phone, or use an app on the iPad. Learning Platforms like Educreations and Green Screening, help students create meaningful experiences to build background knowledge and deepen their learning. The tools and opportunities are endless. The important thing is understanding why we needed to build background knowledge in students and how we can create experiences to develop new learning.

In the end, technology now has the capability to transform a students’ learning experiences. With some careful planning and some technology, students will have many experiences to learn from in the future.

Gregg Russell

by Gregg Russell