Active learning has a powerful impact on student learning. How? Student achievement increases through mastery of science and math content as a result of this technique. Students also develop improved problem solving, communication, and higher order thinking skills.
Before discussing the benefits of active learning, I need to establish a definition for this teaching technique.
“Students participate in teaching and learning beyond simply listening to lectures or witnessing demonstrations concerning science or math concepts.”
Four Principles: Basics of Active Learning
Four basic principles guide this teaching technique and stipulate that:
- learning is by nature an active process
- students learn in different ways
- students learning by doing
- use of higher order thinking skills by analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating (Bloom’s Taxonomy or Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy) scientific or mathematic problems and findings
Benefits for Students: Advantages for Participating in Lessons
The advantages for student participation are grounded in the use of higher order thinking skills as students are more:
Focused – students are more attentive in class when they participate. Why? Few students actually listen to teacher lectures or demonstrations of how to solve math problems or explanations of science concepts – passive learning. However, their attention and focus are increased when students:
- question the importance of specific procedures for solving a math problem or data collection techniques in a scientific investigation.
- use the language of math or science as they communicate using correct terminology for explanations, asking questions, and responding to your questions. This helps them link terms with definitions.
- connect concepts and link big ideas in science or math during open class discussions.
- are more likely to complete homework or other assignments when they understand you will ask questions, using random student selection, regarding these assignments.
Engaged – achieved though stimulating student interest by causing conflict with their prior knowledge and experiences, along with assessing their understanding. This can be achieved as you ask higher order thinking open-ended questions, for example:
- How does … affect …?
- What causes …?
- What are the differences (or similarities) between …?
- Why is … important?
- How does … relate to what we have learned before about …?
- Explain why you agree or disagree about …?
Student Participation Techniques
Using time tested teaching techniques, along with the integration technology; students are more focused and engaged at all ability levels. Examples include:
Case Studies – groups defend or assail a point of view regarding a specific concept or idea. This approach is beyond simple knowledge, comprehension, or application of a concept. Students are required to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate evidence and use their findings to support their point of view. Examples include:
- Bottled Water versus the Environment – students use problem-based learning strategies and techniques to develop findings and make recommendations.
- Math and Science of Junk Mail – the impact of junk mail on society and the environment.
- Stimulating Critical Thinking through a Technological Lens – use of technology tools stimulates both inquiry and critical thinking skills. How? Students are exploring, thinking, reading, writing, researching, inventing, problem-solving, and experiencing the world outside their classroom.
- Integrating Podcasts in Science and Math – student groups create a podcast of a specific potion of a unit or chapter studied in class. The podcasts are posted on a class blog or Wiki and are downloadable for students to use when studying for tests. Each podcast should be limited to five to six minutes to promote a clear and concise summary of key concepts, ideas, and problem solving.
Visual Webs – groups use concept maps, graphic organizers, or Venn diagrams to make connections between related concepts or ideas. Students construct their visual webs using Google Docs, Bubbl.us, Keynote, Power Point, Inspiration, Prezi, or Kidspiration.
Student Blogs – provide opportunity for students to participate in collective math or science problem solving. Students spend more time on accuracy and information provided when they are aware their classmates will provide input or feedback, not just their teacher.
Brainstorming – students contribute ideas as a collaborative process for providing possible solutions to problems or situations requiring analysis, synthesizing, or evaluation of findings or conclusions.
Active learning has its foundation in constructivist and inquiry-based teaching and learning techniques. The building blocks for these techniques involve active student participation by talking, listening, writing, reading, investigating, problem solving, and reflecting.
Of course these ideas, techniques, and strategies are only a beginning. Contributions to this discussion are welcomed.
Active Learning Techniques, Office of Instructional Consulting, School of Education, Indiana University Bloomington, 2010
Learning to Think, Thinking to Learn: Models and Strategies to Develop a Classroom Culture of Thinking, Pohl, M., 2000
Using Technology to Improve Student Achievement, North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2005