Posted by David R. Wetzel, Ph.D.
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:
- What are the differences (or similarities) between …?
- 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:
- 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
Posted by David R. Wetzel, Ph.D.
Alternative assessments provide you opportunities to determine the true level of understanding your students have regarding science and math concepts. These tools improve the learning environment for your students, along with your assessment of their real understanding.
So how does this happen?
The use of an alternative assessment provides students the opportunity to demonstrate their breadth and depth of concept understanding. This moves beyond the traditional multiple choice tests in which many students pass with good guesses or an innate ability to eliminate options.
Although these alternatives often require more work on your part, you will not be unpleasantly surprised with many of your student’s outcome on standardized testing. Why? You have already discovered their weak areas and addressed them in advance.
Technology Based Assessments
The important point to consider when using technology is that it’s only used as a means for students to demonstrate their concept knowledge. The emphasis must not be placed on the quality of a technology based project. Weight in the alternative assessment must be on the concept application and understanding.
Student Blogs – are used in lieu of a hand written journal. Blogs provide a venue for students to reflect on their understanding of concepts, by requiring them to:
- critically analyze ideas in science or math
- provide resources (images, references, websites, etc.) to support their position regarding their understanding of a concept
- provide instructions for how to solve math problems or conduct a scientific investigation
Presentations – are used in lieu of common presentation tools, traditional posters, or works of art. Students use the following alternatives to express their understanding of concepts.
- Voice Tread – provides five tools to communicate with group members, teachers, and students in other schools. Voice Thread provides the ability to share knowledge gained during science or math project based learning activities or data collection activities. These tools are webcam, voice, documents, audio, and images.
- Glogster – provides four methods of communicating content knowledge through interactive posters using images, videos, music, and documents.
- Prezi – allows students to embed videos, vocabulary, websites, mind maps, graphic organizers, and images to provide supporting evidence regarding their knowledge and understanding of concepts.
- One approach is allowing students to create their Prezi throughout a science or math chapter/unit. Then present their Prezi presentation at the end.
- Wall Wisher – students demonstrate their understanding of math concepts through a collection of images or present a reflection of their understanding scientific concepts by showcasing their research.
- Podcasts – used to create a “how to” or instructions for solving a problem in science and math.
- math problem and solution which requires proof the answer is correct or wrong
- environmental issues in science
- developing step by step procedures for completing a scientific investigation
- writing a series of questions or statements using a term in proper context
- draw pictures to explain a math of science term
Non-Technology Based Assessments
As with technology, they are only used as a means for students to demonstrate their concept knowledge. Weight of alternative assessment must be on application of concept(s)
Mental Math – students must have the opportunity to solve problems without the use of pencil, paper, or technology (computers/calculators). This ability is becoming a lost art for many students today. I have come across few students who can add, subtract, multiply, or divide without the aid of calculator or pencil and paper. Mental math activities not only apply to mathematics, they also apply to areas in science which rely heavily on math. Provide students with activities on a regular basis, for example two days a week, in which they solve problems using mental math techniques.
Problems – task students to create a problem related to a concept and then present ways to solve the problem.
Math and Science Terminology – students write a story which includes vocabulary words in the proper context. Application I do not recommend total reliance on these assessment techniques to evaluate your students. However, I do not support of using traditional methods as the only method for student evaluation. I recommend a mixture of both alternative and traditional assessments to develop a learning community in your classroom.
These are only five examples of alternative assessments you can use to accurately understand your students understanding science and math concepts. Naturally there are many more.
Your Turn. Do you have additional recommendations?
Posted by David R. Wetzel, Ph.D.
Online Organization Tool
LiveBinders is a free web 2.0 tool which offers educators the ability to save and organize materials for any class. One advantage of this online service the capability to update a binder anywhere an educator has internet access.
This benefit offers teachers a convenient online location for their students find information during and after school. Examples include: resources placed in a binder help students complete homework assignments, complete research, review project rubrics, listen podcasts, and student homework submission.
Another advantage of LiveBinders for teachers is the update features designed in each binder. The design offers educators the ability to rapidly update information in any lesson, unit, or project as new information or procedures become available. Also, there are no design or layout issues to contend with because everything uploaded to the binder is organized in tabs and sub-tabs.
The tabs and sub-tab, similar to pages in a book, organize information and resources for ease of students access. Labeling these tabs and sub-tabs is straight forward process.
Additional design features allow teachers to upload resources in the form of PDFs, images, presentations, videos, podcasts, documents, and more to a binder. Also, if links are desired to online resources, all that is needed is to create a special tab for these links.
Strategies for Using this Online Tool in Any Class
The following are strategies for how to use LiveBinders to support teaching and learning in science and math education.
This is a collection of assignments and projects for students to complete as the year progresses. All information students need to complete their work is provided such as rubrics, web based resources, and assignment or project requirements.
One example is creating a LiveBinder for a specific assignment or project for students to upload their finished work. This design feature allows students to present their work in class.
Lessons/Units This free online tool provides an excellent method for saving online materials such as websites, images, interactive sources, and documents related to a specific lesson or unit. Examples include:
- Units which involve two or more subject areas, such as a Thematic Unit on data collection and analysis of geometric shapes in nature.
- A collection of mobile learning Apps for the iPod Touch, Smart Phones, or iPad related to the lesson or unit for student use.
- A collection of project- or problem-based learning activities.
Student Resources These are resources students can use throughout the year or for specific periods of time such as a study guide for a test or final. Examples of these resources include:
- Guides for using online tools such as Google Search, Google Docs, Skype, Wordle, Glogster, online calculator, and digital storytelling.
- Guides for using digital devices such as an iPod Touch, iPad, Kindle, probeware, flip camera, and digital camera.
- Science and math interactive manipulatives, games, and other online resources to help reinforce concepts taught in class.
- Study guides for writing math equations, algebra, rainforests, balancing chemical equations, bibliography procedures,and more.
- Links to online interactive games and other web based resources.
General Benefits and Advantages of LiveBinders The following is a summary of the benefits and advantages of using LiveBinders to support teaching, learning, and professional development.
- Material and resources are up loadable from any computer, anytime, and anywhere with internet access.
- Educators can use a class blog or wiki to provide students’ access to a binder.
- Total storage per account is 100 MB, providing the opportunity to create multiple binders.
- A bookmark tool is available a browser’s toolbar to quickly upload new resources to a binder.
- A binder is invaluable for creating a library of resources for students and educators to use.
These strategies, techniques, and tips provide just a sample of the many ways LiveBinders support teaching and student learning. The use of this web 2.0 tool replaces a physical notebook or binder for educators. In support of the value this online tool provides – the American Association of School Librarians has selected LiveBinders as one of their Top 25 Best Websites for teaching and learning in July of 2010.