Place-Based Experiential Learning Program
Live It Learn It (LILI) was founded by a public school teacher in Washington, D.C., who sought ways to engage even his most challenged students. He found that taking his elementary school students on academic trips markedly deepened their understanding of concepts and kindled their curiosity about the world. The trips made his students more confident, more motivated, and more successful in the classroom – but he knew that few students around the city, particularly those attending D.C.’s lowest-performing schools, had the opportunity to enjoy such life-changing experiences.
Determined to share the power and joy of experiential learning with more students, he left the classroom in 2005 to launch LILI. Since its inaugural pontoon trip with 23 students down the Anacostia River, the organization has grown to encompass thirty different programs at two dozen different sites across the D.C. area. More than 15,000 students from D.C.’s Title I public schools have participated in Live It Learn It programs.
Connections to Real World Learning Roadmap
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Live It Learn It partners with schools and cultural institutions to create and deliver experiential learning opportunities for students in order to increase their self-efficacy, build on their intrinsic motivation, and support their scholarly achievements. Our goal is to make the city of D.C. a classroom for students. If students are studying art, we may take them to the National Gallery of Art. If they’re studying rocks, we’ll take them to the Natural History Museum. We want to make what they’re learning less theoretical and more real for them. Our goal is to work with students in all 39 Title I (high-poverty) schools in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).
Implementation: How We Did It
We’ve created grade-level curriculum units in Arts, Humanities, and Science, and we try to ensure that every student participates in an Arts or a Humanities lesson. We work with one class at a time and have three touch points with students over the course of a week. We conduct a pre-visit lesson to build context, then students visit a partner destination. Finally, they have a post-visit lesson.
We meet with teachers as early as possible in the school year so that they can identify two units that they would like to use with their classes. We try to give teachers their first choice, but it is not always possible because there are many logistics involved. The earlier we can meet with teachers, the more flexibility we have with which lessons they can use. Next school year, we will use a Google survey so that teachers can prioritize the units they want and provide additional information prior to our meeting to make the process more efficient.
We offer direct programming to classes of third to fifth graders, and teacher training to teachers to implement our curriculum. We have a partnership with the United States Botanic Garden that allows us to engage with more students there. A partnership with the National Audubon Society has allowed us to teach recycling to 2nd grade students that culminates in a field trip to the recycling center. We’re trying to increase the number of engagements with students each year.
We’ve partnered with at least 30 different cultural institutions around the city over the years, both public and private, to organize immersion opportunities for students. Our partners include the Washington Youth Garden, the Anacostia Watershed Society, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the FDR Memorial, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the International Spy Museum, the Kreeger Museum, the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln’s Cottage, Ford’s Theatre, the Library of Congress, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Mount Vernon, the National Building Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Zoo, the National Museum of Natural History, the Phillips Collection, and the United States Botanic Garden. Most of our students have never been to these sites until their visit with LILI.
We’ve created units in Arts, Humanities, and Science. The units are aligned to the Common Core State Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, and the grade level scope and sequence for DCPS. Because we’re taking students to sites around the city, we have to consider the time of year, in addition to what students are learning in their classrooms at a particular time. We try to plan the trips to align with what they’re studying in the classroom, but logistics mean that it’s not always a perfect match. Sometimes, the trips come before or after a unit of study in the school.
We assess student learning before and after the unit to measure changes in their knowledge. We measure their efficacy to see how confident they feel using the information they’ve learned, and we also ask whether they’re interested in returning to the cultural sites. Our assessments show 147 percent gains in academic achievement and motivation from pre to post. 98 percent of teachers report a positive effect on student motivation. 93 percent of students say they are inspired to learn more about topics studied with LILI. 78% of students are visiting a site for the first time.
Through our contract with the United States Botanic Garden, we offer two workshops per year for teachers to learn how to use our curriculum. The two-hour workshops are open to all DCPS teachers and available for free. Teachers receive dinner and materials. Roughly 20 teachers participate in each workshop.
We’ve partnered with George Washington University to introduce experiential learning to their graduate students. We offer two-day seminars twice a year during which we take the students through pre-lessons, a field experience, and a debrief. There are about 25 teachers in each seminar.
We also just finished piloting a fellowship program for teachers from Title I DCPS schools. We have eight to 10 fellows per cohort. Fellows participate in monthly sessions about the power of experiential learning to advance racial equity, disrupt the impact of trauma on students, and increase students’ social and emotional development. Fellows create two units of study and take students on two field experiences. They workshop the development of their units with each other so that the training itself is experiential. They write blog posts to reflect and share their process with others.
We solicit individual donations, corporate sponsorships, and grants from foundations and the District of Columbia. We also have fee-for-service dollars from our schools (they pay approximately 10 percent of the cost of the program) and a contract with the United States Botanic Garden.
We do not depend on public transportation, so we work with a bus company to transport students to and from the cultural sites, which accounts for much of our costs.
Parents sign waivers that allow students to participate in the program and protect LILI from liability. The waivers also give us access to the students’ likeness and words, which we use in our grant reports and promotional materials.
The Future of this Work
Our partnerships with the cultural institutions are strong. They are grateful for Live It Learn It, because they struggle to engage the students in the demographic we serve.
We will continue to solicit funding through all of our current streams. The evaluation from our fellowship pilot indicated that we should explore monetizing the professional development services we offer. We received a grant from Compass and are working with consultants to develop a strategy for monetizing our teacher PD.