Inspired Educator Inspired Learner: Experiential, Brain-Based Activities and Strategies to Engage, Motivate, Build Community, and Create Lasting Lessons

ISBN: 978-1-939019-13-4
SIZE: 7.75 x 9.25
PRICE $34.95

A successful and rewarding approach to teaching and learning can be created by connecting the dots between experiential education theory and methods, brain-based research, differentiation or personalized instruction, social-emotional learning, 21st century career readiness, and a strength-based attitude toward teaching.

Inspired Educator Inspired Learner explores experiential, brain-based techniques for engaging learners emotionally, physically and intellectually in academic or training content while practicing important social-emotional skills and building a positive, productive, and supportive learning community. Educators will find creative strategies to differentiate instruction and cultivate 21st century learning—strategies that will get participants moving, talking, reflecting and keep them engaged with multiple pathways to learning, reviewing, and synthesizing lessons. The innovative reflective techniques offered throughout increase relevancy, meaning, depth of understanding, and create connections between educational experiences and real life.


“For years, Jennifer Stanchfield has shown an avid interest in modern brain research and how it applies to what teachers and learners do together. Here she has brought together cognitive science, neuroscience, and education to achieve a synthesis that will intrigue many educators.”
—Sam Wang, Associate Professor of Neuroscience, Princeton University

“Inspired Educator, Inspired Learner is inspiring! A helpful synthesis of some of the most important principles, trends, and practices education now needs to help all students be successful in the 21st century.”
—Bernie Trilling, 21st Century Learning Advisor, co-author of 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times

“Aside from being an amazing resource for meaningful games and classroom activities, Jennifer’s work synthesizes so many of the best practices I’ve come across as a teacher. It reminds me of why those things work, and it helps me to see the link between my own practices and the amazing work I’ve seen from other educators and facilitators. Whether you need an idea for tomorrow, some philosophical food for thought, or some research for your next unit plans, Inspired Educator, Inspired Learner will help. This is an exciting book for an educator.”
—Neil Poynter, Teacher/Advisor at The NET Charter High School, New Orleans, Louisiana

“My most engaging and powerful lessons and activities come from Jennifer Stanchfield. When I reflect on what works best in my classroom, every lesson on the top of my list has an element of her wisdom. Now, all that powerful wisdom is in ONE book. Since I can’t have Jen in my classroom at all times, this book is the next best thing! This is a must-read for emerging AND veteran teachers who want to empower students’ creativity and deepen engagement and understanding in the classroom.”
—Heidi Pauer, 2003 New Hampshire English Teacher of the Year

“A concise merging and melding of neuroscience, philosophy of education, practical facilitation skills, and experiential activities. Jennifer has brought the varied components of experiential learning into clear focus in an easy to use format. Designed to guide any educator or trainer toward a positive learning outcome with most any demographic. The science is approachable, the skills are reliable, and the activities are doable.”
—Gary Swyers, Senior Program Manager, The Soderquist Center for Leadership and Organizational Development, Siloam Springs, Arkansas

“This book is a great resource for educators—a ‘go-to’ handbook that is extremely readable and user-friendly. The research cited gives it a strong backbone. It’s not a ‘pie in the sky’ book, but one that actually backs up the ideas with specific strategies to improve our teaching. That’s the kind of book teachers can use.”
—Colleen Barrett, Middle School Teacher at Crossett Brook Middle School in Waterbury, Vermont

“Keep this book within arm’s reach. Jennifer Stanchfield’s ability to connect the dots between the tenets of experiential education and brain-based learning are extremely validating to the project-based learning we do in our Academy for Global Studies. Innovative educational models coupled with useful activities make Inspired Educator, Inspired Learner an amazing resource for all educators. I imagine it will become the dog-eared, go-to resource for novice and experienced teachers alike and will remain relevant throughout the many waves of educational trends.”
—Nicole Griffith, Director of the Academy for Global Studies at Austin High School, Austin, Texas

“Jennifer Stanchfield successfully takes critical, yet complex concepts like social-emotional learning and 21st Century skill development and makes them practical, relevant and approachable by framing them through an experiential learning lens. The book offers an array of useful activities that educators, youth workers and trainers can use to effectively support learning. Her experience working with both youth and educators brings the concepts to life and provides readers with the confidence to implement these strategies themselves.”
—Kara Bixby, Manager of Research & Evaluation, Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation

“This books provides a valuable link in connecting research on brain-based learning to the powerful work of experiential educators. Science is catching up to what industry professionals have known for a long time—what we do works! This new body of work is proof of what Dewey and Hahn interjected into their pedagogues long ago. Evaluation and research in our field will continue to broaden and hopefully inform how this book will be of value while being utilized in ‘traditional classrooms’ and many other settings. I think Jennifer is a frontrunner and leader in our field, pushing the conversation on what it means to be a well-rounded and excellent practitioner of experiential education.”
—John Lee, Director of Operations and Programs, Omaha Outward Bound School

“I love this book! Jen not only provides experiential activities for students that motivate and engage but also explains why these activities are so important. She shows how scientific research and neuroscience now prove what great educational thinkers like John Dewey have been saying all along. These are tried and true activities that work in the classroom, they build community and increase student motivation and learning.”
—Amy Kahofer Dalsimer, MEd, 1st & 2nd Grade Teacher, Thatcher Brook Primary School, Waterbury, Vermont

“This book is a must have resource to engage learners and bring joy to teaching. Once you incorporate Jen’s facilitation techniques, you’ll never go back. I am excited to have a tool that succinctly summarizes so many best practices. This book provides the recipe to enhance learning experience for students of all ages and unveils the neuroscience behind why these strategies are so effective at improving the learning experience. It should be required reading for educators and applies equally well to school and out-of-school learning environments.”
—Katie Sidorsky, Program Manager, Techbridge: Science, Technology and Engineering Program for Girls, Oakland, California

Excerpt from the Book

Snapshot: There is laughter floating out the door of this eighth-grade classroom. All of the desks have been pushed aside, and the students are in a circle, standing on colored spot markers. They intently listen to one student who reads a question/prompt to the rest of the group: “Anyone who knows what the Transcontinental Railroad was?” Immediately, ten students rush to move from their spots in the circle to find another. The student who lands on the red spot enthusiastically shares his answer: “It was the first transcontinental railroad completed when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads joined their tracks.” Other students eagerly contribute: “It was built in 1869 and connected in Utah” and “It is important because it increased western settlement, because the journey became so much shorter and easier than it had by wagon.” A student asks: “Is that why so many people left Vermont?” Another student asks, “How come we don’t use railroads much anymore?” The teacher is pleasantly surprised as he observes these students who rarely raise their hands in class now actively engaged in a discussion about the early 1800s Westward Expansion era in the U.S.

Snapshot: The college professor has switched off her PowerPoint® following a 20-minute lecture. She has students gathered in a formation of two concentric circles at the front of the lecture hall. Each pair of students is actively discussing their reactions to the professor’s lecture on land use, environmental impact studies, and recent legislation in the state of Oregon. The inside circle takes the perspective of a development company wanting to build a destination resort near the Metolius River in Oregon, while the outside circle represents the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs who oppose this project. Students discuss the issues based on the facts presented during the lecture and their position in the concentric circles. After a few minutes, the professor asks the inside circle to move three people to the right and poses another reflective question to the group.

Snapshot: Second-grade students are lining up for lunch. An argument ensues at the front of the line about whose turn it is to lead the class to the cafeteria. A little voice from the back of the line says, “Hey, you two need to compromise about this like we did today during the game we played. We all just want to get to lunch.” The girls look at each other and the rest of the line and then quickly decide who leads today and who leads tomorrow without any intervention from the teacher.

Snapshot: A group of hospital staff gathers at 8:00 a.m. for a day-long training on risk management policies and procedures. The HR staff person running the training is greeting each of them at the door as they enter. She has laid out pin-back buttons with humorous sayings (i.e., “Dangerous When Bored”, “As Is”, “Queen of Crisis”) on a table by the coffee and bagels. She asks the participants to choose a button that reflects their mood or attitude this morning. The participants, who at first were reluctant to attend, begin to chat with each other about their buttons, setting a positive tone and increasing engagement as the workshop begins.

Connecting the Dots

A teacher affects eternity; they can never tell where their influence stops. —Henry Brooks Adams, historian, educator, and novelist
You might read the snapshots and think they are examples of differentiated instruction, social-emotional learning, responsive teaching, 21st century skills, and/or positive behavioral supports. In my mind, with all of the right elements in place, these snapshots are just examples of plain, good teaching regardless of what you label them. As an educator or group facilitator, you have likely studied or embraced many models and theories of teaching and training yourself (or at least been asked to explore them in a professional development in-service). You can probably list a number of programs with varied acronyms that have passed over your desk throughout the years.
Educators are often overwhelmed by the number of new initiatives being put forward by their schools or organizations. Some have become skeptical about what they refer to as the passing “fads” or “magic bullet” models or curriculum that arise in the field of education. Many schools or organizations repeatedly take on new methods and models of best teaching practices, then quickly move on to others before allowing the test of time and a true commitment to the program or methods. I too have seen this “flavor of the month” approach, but I also have seen effective educators pull valuable information from these models and theories. As good consumers of knowledge, these educators look to the evidence-informed practices that will work for them and their learners and put them to use.
With 25 years in the field of education and more than 40 years as a learner, I find time and time again that the fundamentals of the many models and approaches that work well can be described as examples of experiential education. The best of these approaches (i.e., the ones that inspire educators and engage learners) exemplify experiential education principles and what educational neuroscientists are now identifying as brain-based teaching approaches. By connecting the dots between experiential education theory and methods, brain-based research, differentiation or personalized instruction, social-emotional learning, 21st century career readiness, and a strength-based attitude toward teaching, a successful and rewarding holistic approach to teaching and learning can be created.
A century ago, educational philosophers and scientists such as John Dewey, Alfred North Whitehead, Lev Vygotsky, and Jean Piaget put forward the idea that learning should be more than just imparting knowledge. These philosophers promoted what I think of as a commonsense approach, emphasizing that successful teaching and learning require meaningful experiences and interaction with others in an environment that intentionally encourages collaboration, problem solving, inquiry, and reflection. They believed effective teaching influences the whole person—emotionally, physically, socially, and intellectually—and that educators should engage learners in relevant experiences that relate and connect to real life, preparing them to be active members in a democratic society. These ideas put forward nearly a century ago are now being supported by scientific studies of the brain and how people learn, retain, and apply information.
The emerging field of educational neuroscience or brain-based learning supports the experiential approach to teaching. This new field combines the best research coming from educational psychology, pedagogy, and neuroscience and offers useful information to help enhance our practice as educators (Fischer, Goswami, & Geake, 2010; Goswami, 2004; Sousa, 2010). The education field is now looking to the needs of today’s society and integrating social and emotional skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, empathy, and communication as essential parts of academic success and career readiness.
This aim of this book is to bring these enduring ideas and the research that supports them together, offering practical and meaningful ways to engage learners and create lasting lessons. The heart of this book is to bring joy to learning and teaching; educators will find ways to build respect and compassion for learners and increase a sense of empowerment, belonging and fulfillment in learning.

Table of Contents

Connecting the Dots
About This Book
A Map of the Book

Chapter One: It’s an Exciting Time to Be an Educator
Evidence-Informed Practices That Inspire Educators and Engage Learners
Enduring Themes and Supporting Science
What is Experiential Education?
What is Brain-Based Learning?
Neuroplasticity: We Can Change Our Brains!
Create Multiple Pathways to Learning
Emotions are Integral to Learning
Joyful Learning
Get Their Attention and Keep It
Get Them Moving: Physical Activity Improves Learning
Get Them Talking and Keep Them Engaged
Play and Executive Function
Reflection Creates Meaningful Connections and Lasting Lessons
Table 1.1 Principles of Experiential Education and Brain-Based Learning Tenets
Activity List for Brain-Based Approaches to Learning

Chapter Two: Innovative Approaches to Teaching
A Framework for Participant-Centered Learning
Experiential Education Connects the Dots Between...
Differentiated Instruction: Don’t Dismiss It
Learning for Real Life: 21st Century Skills Development
Social-Emotional Learning
Strength-Based Teaching: The Power of a Positive Mindset
Example Activity List for Innovative Educational Models

Chapter Three: The Power of Play and Collaborative Learning
The Why Behind Using Interactive Activities and Games to Teach
Playful Learning
Harnessing the Power of Play to Teach

Chapter Four: The Inspired Educator
The Art and Science of Teaching and Group Facilitation
Tips, Tools, and Mindset
Attitude is Everything
Allowing for Labor in Learning
Educator as Guide
The Collaborative Educator
Exploring Healthy Group Norms
The Right Ingredients at the Right Time/Sequencing and Scaffolding
Choice, Control, and a Sense of Ownership
The Practice of Ongoing Reflection
Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New!
Designing and Re-Imagining the Classroom Space
Group Discussions Versus Hand Raising
Attention Getters
Innovative Strategies for Dividing Groups
Facilitating Healthy Competition
Cultivating Creativity

Chapter Five: Strong Beginnings
Engaging Learners From the Moment They Walk in the Door
Starting Off With Style
Find a Hook!

Chapter Six: Get Them Moving, Talking, Reflecting and Keep Them Engage Multiple Pathways to Learning
Experiential Activities, Academic Content Review, and Formative Assessment
Can a Lecture Be Experiential?
Review and Formative Assessment

Chapter Seven: Making the Most of Your Time
Multiple-Purpose Activities That Teach
Integrating Community Building, Social-Emotional Learning, and Academics

Chapter Eight: Building a Strong Foundation for Learning and Life
Collaborative Games and Activities to Promote Social-Emotional Learning, Community Building, and 21st Century Skills
Recipe for a Positive Learning Environment
Commonalities and Rapport-Building Activities
The Importance of Names/Activities
Collaborative Problem-Solving and Communication Activities
Appreciating Others and Positive Group Norms Activities
Time Management, Planning, and Goal Setting Activities
Just for Fun With Some Learning on the Side
Games for Transitions/Fun Filler Activities

Chapter Nine: Bringing Learning to Life With Reflection
Creating Meaningful, Lasting Lessons With Reflective Practice
The Key Ingredients
The Challenges of Facilitating Reflection
Student or Participant-Directed Reflection
Weaving Reflection Throughout

Chapter Ten: The Reflective Educator
Meaningful Self-Reflection and Record Keeping to Improve Your Practice
Experiential Lesson Planning Questionnaire

Activity List/Alphabetized
Purpose List
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