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The Power of Experience

Johanna Lee in her environmentThe Power of Experience

by Johanna Lee, BA Environmental Studies

We all have values that shape our behaviors in life. And we are all influenced by cultural norms that guide us, usually subconsciously, toward what is deemed culturally and societally appropriate. But it’s our belief systems, our worldview and our personal norms that most inform our decisions and actions. Often times these beliefs and norms are based on our education and our experiences in life, especially those experiences that create a sense of connection or emotional awareness that was absent before the experience took place. This is the basis of the experiential learning model.

For many students in the greater Victoria area, being part of the Dancing Backwards pilot program is one of those formative experiences. I’ve been in their classrooms; I’ve watched them take in the information offered, like hungry sea anemones. Young people are ready for change; they’re ready to make informed and conscious decisions. And this is how we’re helping them become informed and conscious citizens. With my background in Environmental Education (EE), I’ve been excited and honoured to help Sandy create the Dancing Backwards curriculum. Using the experiential learning model, we focused on two specific EE theories; the experiential learning cycle, and the value-belief-norm behavioral model.

The experiential learning cycle is four-fold. The first step is the experience itself, for the students involved in the Dancing Backwards pilot program that’s the Dancing Backwards presentation led by Sandy. The second step is processing the experience. This may seem obvious, but unfortunately it is often the most overlooked, yet important, stage of any learning experience for young people. During this time the students are asked about the experience and content learned. They are encouraged to evaluate what they learned, think critically, answer questions based on their own assessment of the material and engage deeply. The third stage is to generalize. This is when the material becomes a bit more abstract as students are asked to compare, contrast and generally come to understand their experience and feelings. The fourth stage is to apply the knowledge gained.

The beauty of the Dancing Backwards curriculum is that these four distinct steps in the experiential learning cycle are wonderfully integrated within the lesson and project. For instance, we applied the method of inquiry-based learning, asking students to think critically and offer their own analyses rather than merely delivering information – to create chances for processing and engagement throughout the presentation. Students then generalize their knowledge through extensive group work and research of a female politician’s role in Canadian history. And they are asked to apply this knowledge to the questions; “What would be different if we had more women in our government?” and “Why do we need more women in government?”

All the while, the value-belief-norm model is working its way through the project, whispering changes in the outcome of future voter engagement and political activism and involvement. The value-belief-norm behavioral model is a model for helping create positive behavioral change, particularly geared toward future activism and involvement with an issue, and is based on the supposition that a person’s behaviors are a direct result of their beliefs, values, worldview and sense of what’s appropriate. A sense of equality and treating every person with respect is a value that grows out of this model and these formative experiences. Using the tools of Environmental Education we have created an experience that is engaging and emotionally powerful so that young men and women are able to see the importance of their political behaviors and involvement with a fresh perspective and integrated, deeply processed learning.

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Reader Comments (1)

GREAT post, Johanna! So well written, and it captures the important elements of Dancing Backwards very eloquently. The team is lucky to have you aboard!

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAngela Hemming

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