Here are two relevant examples from my own family: My twin 3-year-old boys participated in a day camp experience focused on camping. Each session was 90 minutes in length. During the first session, the instructor involved the children in learning about: each other, the instructors, basic components of a camp pack, how to put up a tent, how to prepare camp snacks, and hiking in the woods. For the age of participants and the amount of time available, the program tried to cover too much ground. In contrast, my six-year-old son had ecstatic reviews about a class field trip to a new museum, could not describe a single thing he had learned, even though we probed.
In their book Understanding by design, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe refer to these phenomena as the twin sins of program design. The first twin is "coverage;" an attempt to cover everything possible even though there is not enough time to effectively do so. The other is "activity-oriented;" a focus on building engaging experiences without enough emphasis on learning.
Finding balance between these two approaches is incredibly important in the development and design of non-formal programs. As Hui-Hui Wang mentioned in a recent blog post, it is paramount that we do all we can to provide engaging activities that lead to meaningful learning without trying to do too much and that is realistic with the amount of time available. The critical piece is to identify the top-priority "learning" - what ultimately do you hope youth will know and do once the experience is over? By starting with the end in mind, using a backwards planning process, we can focus on creating an effective program.
Here are some questions to help guide thinking as you plan:
- What are participants doing?
- Why are they doing it?
- What will it help them know or do?
- How does it fit with prior experiences?
- How do you identify the learning of participants? How will participants demonstrate learning?
- How much time is available?
-- Rebecca Meyer, Extension educator, educational design & development
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