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Many of the posts on this blog are intended for teachers who want to design Active Learning activities. These posts are now compiled into a PDF format for download. This file can be read on any computer and can be sync’ed to a tablet device such as an iPad for more convenient reading.

Click on the button below to download the PDF file. To read the book on your iPad place the PDF in the Books section of your iTunes library. Sync it to your iPad. You can find and read the book with the iBooks App.

 
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Authentic Active Learning Activities Create Flow Opportunities

Authentic Active Learning Activities Create Flow Opportunities

Authentic Active Learning Activities Create Flow Opportunities

Another Look at Authenticity in Active Learning Activities

A previous post on this blog examined ten different ways in which to look at authenticity in Active Learning activities. The idea of flow offers yet another and more comprehensive way to view authenticity. The premise is that authentic Active Learning activities create flow opportunities.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Csikszentmihalyi (“sick-sent-mi-high-yi”) is a Hungarian-born psychologist noted for his studies of happiness and creativity. He is best known for the idea of flow and for substantial research on the topic. His well known book is Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Flow

His investigations show that what makes experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow.  In this state our concentration is so focused that we become completely absorbed in what we are doing. We are all in flow  from time to time. We are likely to feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of our abilities. Awareness of time and emotional problems seem to disappear; we feel exhilarated. And this pleasurable state can be controlled by setting ourselves appropriate challenges. (more…)

Contexts Affect Active Learning

Jean Lave

Jean Lave

Contexts

This discussion centers around the term context. In the educational literature a context is usually any place or situation outside the classroom. The debate focuses on whether learning in the classroom can be successfully applied to some real-life context.

Jean Lave

The key researcher in this debate is Jean Lave who looked closely at mathematical skills learned in different contexts. Her research, notably with Liberian tailors, young Brazilian merchants, dieters following recipes, and shoppers trying to determine the best value, revealed that each of these groups found ways of solving mathematical problems without using the general math techniques taught in school. Lave published her findings in her 1988 book Cognition in Practice: Mind, Mathematics and Culture in Everyday Life. (more…)

Authentic Active Learning Activities Produce Diverse Outcomes

Authentic Active Learning Activities Produce Diverse Outcomes

Authentic Active Learning Activities Produce Diverse Outcomes

The Right Answer

Our educational experiences, from a young age, teach us to value correctness. Early assignments are often marked right or wrong and we strive to earn the gold stars and other rewards given for being correct. Moving through the education system students acquire the habit of looking for the right answer but as students mature they need the ability to deal with multiple outcomes from their work. Their research activities can generate conflicting conclusions. The issues being addressed are simply more complex. To help students make this shift, authentic Active Learning activities produce diverse outcomes. (more…)

Authentic Active Learning Activities Create Polished Products

Authentic Active Learning Activities Create Polished Products

Authentic Active Learning Activities Create Polished Products

It is important to distinguish between authentic learning activities and what are, in fact, exercises. An exercise is always in support of something else. It is an opportunity to practice a skill or demonstrate that certain competencies have been acquired before moving on. Authentic Active Learning activities create polished products which have value in themselves. The product has usually been created for sharing or publishing and the student has “polished” it for presentation. In other words it is an end-product that can stand on its own.

For Whom?

Traditionally student work is submitted to the teacher for grading. This means that the quality of the product will only be known to those two people. This confidentiality reduces the incentive that most of us experience when we know our peers will see the fruits of our labor. This eliminates an important  incentive to do our best work. It also implies that creating the product is only an exercise which does not connect to any reality outside the classroom.

Preparing work to be shared with others also creates demands on the student’s communication abilities. Thus the activity becomes multi-dimensional, reinforcing additional skills.

It is not necessary to limit the potential audience to the student’s classroom peers. Current technology permits going outside the walls in order to reach an audience in other contexts—other schools, other parts of the world. The bigger the context the more the incentive for the student  to put a significant effort into the work and the greater the pride of ownership that comes  from good results.

Student Publishing

Student publishing is very important for Active Learning teachers. (more…)

Authentic Active Learning Activities Integrate Assessments

Authentic Active Learning Activities Integrate Assesments

Authentic Active Learning Activities Integrate Assesments

We traditionally think of learning activities or lessons as distinct from assessments. For example we may teach three lessons then stop for a test, following a similar pattern throughout the school term. It is because we attribute a very limited role to assessment that this pattern is so typical. It overlooks the potential of assessments to provide feedback to students and to teachers—to be valuable learning activities in themselves. Authentic Active Learning activities integrate assessments as part of the learning stream.

It is helpful to think of assessment in three different ways.

Assessment of Learning

This form of assessment is often referred to as summative assessment. It is the kind of assessment done for the purpose of assigning a mark or grade. One of the challenges faced by Active Learning teachers is the selection of assessments that are suitable. Active Learning activities can span a greater intellectual range than more traditional strategies such as lecturing. Students can move beyond mere recall and simple understanding of concepts to the application, analysis, evaluation, and creation of new knowledge and artifacts. It therefore does not make sense to employ assessments such as multiple choice tests, for example, to measure the kinds of knowledge students may have acquired from their Active Learning activities. What does make sense is to design assessments which resemble the learning activities themselves. (more…)

Authentic Learning Activities Encourage Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Authentic Learning Activities Encourage Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Authentic Learning Activities Encourage Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Making Connections

Not only does the brain make and re-make connections in order to integrate new information but the relevance of that information to the learner is determined by the connections made to his existing knowledge. Much of the learner’s knowledge is in disciplines other than the one being studied. Making links to these other disciplines strengthens mental connections and enhances the understanding of key ideas. Authentic Active Learning activities encourage interdisciplinary perspectives and thereby increase the number of links to a student’s prior knowledge.

Atomic weights as understood by chemists are related to the structure of atoms as understood by physicists. Mathematics is one of the tools physicists use to express theories in Physics. Mathematicians describe their discipline as a language for representing things and events which are impossible to see. Furthermore, all disciplines are defined by a core set of principles which share common roots. And so learners can make an unlimited number of connections from one discipline to another. (more…)

Authentic Active Learning Activities Provide Opportunities for Reflection

Authentic Active Learning Activities Provide Opportunities for Reflection

Authentic Active Learning Activities Provide Opportunities for Reflection

What is Reflection?

Contemporary educators do not always understood the importance of opportunities for student reflection.  Reflection in learning is a kind of feedback loop in which students monitor their own actions and consider the consequences and efficacy of those actions. It requires the ability to look at oneself in an objective way and to consider ways of changing future actions to improve performance. It is largely through reflecting that students acquire important learning skills known as metacognition. Consequently authentic Active Learning activities provide opportunities for reflection.

Metacognitive Skills

According to Ridley et al metacognitive skills include

  • taking conscious control of learning
  • planning and selecting strategies
  • monitoring the progress of learning
  • correcting errors
  • analysing the effectiveness of learning strategies
  • changing learning behaviours and strategies when necessary

(more…)

Authentic Active Learning Activities Involve Collaboration

Authentic Active Learning Activities Involve Collaboration

Authentic Active Learning Activities Involve Collaboration

Student Collaboration

Collaboration in education is certainly not a new idea. Assigning students to classes has always created a potential framework for collaboration among students. In higher education particularly it is not unusual for students to organize study groups in order to help each other learn. But public education has tended to focus on individual learning, even to the point of making learning a competitive enterprise, a zero-sum game. In Active Learning the trend is away from these practices, at least to some extent. For the most part authentic Active Learning activities involve collaboration, almost as a trade mark.

Social Constructivism, Piaget, and Vygotsky

Active Learning grows out of Social Constructivism, a theory generally attributed to Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Constructivism is a metaphor that likens building knowledge to building a house. The learner builds new knowledge by attaching it to existing or previous knowledge, very much like building an addition onto a house. (more…)

Authentic Active Learning Activities Involve Multiple Perspectives and Resources

Authentic Active Learning Activities Involve Multiple Perspectives and Resources

Authentic Active Learning Activities Involve Multiple Perspectives and Resources

When asked to research a topic or to understand an important concept learners often see the matter from a single perspective. But in all disciplines there are multiple points of view on any topic and so authentic Active Learning activities involve multiple perspectives and resources.

This is more obvious in the Humanities and related disciplines where there may exist diverse points of view on any important issue. However, literary analysis offers conflicting opinions as well. The perspective of the historian or the philosopher can also be brought to bear when discussing literary works as can the views of critics.

In the Sciences important discoveries or theories may have a variety of implications—Einstein and the development of the Hydrogen bomb for example. Notable scientists like Newton were greatly influenced by the epoch in which they lived and, in some cases, have shaped those historical periods. These interactions are also evident today in the way in which Science, Politics, and Economics interact in the debate over climate change. (more…)

Authentic Active Learning Activities Require Sustained Student Effort

Authentic Active Learning Activities Require Sustained Student Effort

Authentic Active Learning Activities Require Sustained Student Effort

Authentic Active Learning activities require sustained student effort and the use of substantial intellectual resources. With the easy access to information that the Internet and other media provide finding information can sometimes be an easy process. Simple queries do not engage students in the kind of thinking process that is characteristic of Active Learning activities. Investigative tasks should challenge the student in the way that real world tasks do. Dealing with obstacles and setbacks are part of the learning expectation and lend value to the work accomplished.

When students are consistently given more trivial kinds of tasks they can become intellectually lazy. Teachers then often make unduly low assessments of their students’ abilities. It is important to remember that we never know what students are really capable of. It is also true that working on demanding tasks may require some adjustment on the part of learners. Teachers may find it desirable to build slowly. (more…)

Authentic Active Learning Activities Are Ill-Defined

Authentic Active Learning Activities Are Ill-Defined

Authentic Active Learning Activities Are Ill-Defined

In their early school years students are often given problems that have clearly correct answers. But even during the primary school years children can begin to tackle more challenging tasks. Authentic Active Learning activities are ill-defined. This is true in two ways. First, the problem posed, or project to be completed, may not have a clear definition. Some work may be required in order to articulate what exactly is to be accomplished.

For example, “Write a 500 word biography of Marie Curie highlighting her accomplishments in Physics” requires little thinking about the nature of the task. On the other hand, this question is more ambiguous: [/column]“Some governments argue that there is an increased need for surveillance of public communication. Others take the view that this activity violates civil rights. Take a stand on this issue and make a compelling case for it.” (more…)

Authentic Active Learning Activities Have Real World Relevance

Authentic Activities have Real World Relevance

Authentic Active Learning Activities Have Real World Relevance

Although the literature suggests that authentic Active Learning activities have real world relevance we might be better to say outside world relevance. Otherwise the implication is that what goes on in the classroom is unreal.

John Seely Brown sees a divergence between what outside-world practitioners do and what we have typically been able to replicate in the classroom (see post on this site) . It is a difficult challenge because when we try to extract the “essence of biologist” we don’t get everything. What we usually bring into the classroom is what Seely Brown calls the explicit knowledge. This is the kind of knowledge we find in textbooks. (more…)

Effective Student Collaboration

Effective Student Collaboration

Effective Student Collaboration

Effective student collaboration depends on group members’ ability to recognize and to adopt various roles. Students need to be able to recognize behavior that may be hindering the group. They must also be able to adopt roles that assist the group with its task as well as those that promote harmony among the members.

There is an alternate view on how to deal with roles in a group. It suggests that some basic roles should be assigned to members of the group by the teacher. Here are some examples.
(more…)

Active Learning Classroom Designs

Active Learning Classroom at McGill Faculty of Education

Active Learning Classroom at McGill Faculty of Education

This photograph was taken at the Faculty of Education, McGill University. It shows one of the university’s early Active Learning classroom designs. It conforms in many respects to the SCALE-UP model popularized by Bob Beichner at North Carolina State University.

We can learn a great deal by examining some of the features of this room. First of all, the tables are round and large, 7 feet in diameter, as per the SCALE-UP model. They seat 9 students. This poses an immediate question:  how many students do you want sitting together? In SCALE-UP the idea is that students work in groups of 3 and so, 3 groups per table. Some college teachers find this unappealing. They want one small group, say 4 students, per table. Such tables might be 5 feet in diameter.
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Stand-up Learning in Active Learning Classrooms

Computer Science Students at Champlain College Saint-Lambert prefer table designed for special needs students

Computer Science Students at Champlain College Saint-Lambert prefer table designed for special needs students

The furniture industry has presented us with two new ideas: first, that sitting all day in a work environment may be unhealthy and secondly, that students may be more energized if they work standing up. The response has been a sharp increase in the number of manufacturers offering either stand-up desks or desks that are adjustable. As a result we may see more stand-up learning in Active Learning classrooms.

Some institutions have installed one or two adjustable tables in each classroom in order to accommodate students with special needs who may need more clearance for their wheel chair, for example. These can become popular worksites for other students who simply prefer the stand-up working mode.

Stand-up desks have become very popular in elementary and secondary schools. But there is a particular reason for this. As a former elementary school teacher I can attest to the frequency with which students are told to sit down and be quiet. It turns out that these are the last two things young kids want to do. The use of stand-up desks seems to liberate students from silence and immobility. (more…)

Designing Active Learning Activities

Designing Active Learning activities offers enormous possibilities for personal innovation and invention. Here is a chance to create something really new, and highly effective. The list of possible Active Learning activities is infinite! So be daring and have some fun. Don’t wait for someone to invent your Active Learning lessons. The following discussion is intended to help you build your own Active Learning activities.

Examine the following chart and think of it as an anatomical model of an Active Learning activity. It has, potentially, three parts, but at least two. Let’s also keep in mind that Active Learning activities can lie between simple and complex. This model can apply to even the simplest activities, such as a spontaneous in-class think-pair-share, but it is more valuable when you are designing Active Learning activities which are larger.
(more…)

Sample Active Learning Classroom

Creating an Active Learning classroom within existing buildings is usually challenging. It is probably true that the ideal space is square and free of pillars.
The floor plan below shows an AL classroom at Champlain College Saint-Lambert which accommodates 36 students in about 1,000 square feet.
Although AL designers do not usually furnish each student with a computer it was done here to enable the room to also serve as a traditional computer lab.
Network access is via WiFi, power is provided to table outlets by means of cuts in the concrete floor. (This room is on the ground floor. With upper story rooms it is often possible to drill through the floor to the ceiling space below.)

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Authentic Active Learning Activities

Authentic Active Learning Activities

Authentic Active Learning Activities

John Seely Brown used the word authentic extensively in talking about situated learning. See the relevant post on this site.

Authentic is, nonetheless, difficult to define. Most definitions of authentic compare one thing to some existing model or template. Something is authentic if it compares well to the original. In their paper on authentic activities and online learning Reeves, Herrington and Oliver describe what authenticity means in the design of learning activities. They present ten characteristics that define authentic Active Learning activities.

Each of these design features is described in a more detailed post. Follow the links in the list above.

AL Activity Worksheet

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Problem Solving: Kapur’s Work on Productive Failure

Social constructivism generally argues for series of scaffolded processes as the route to meaningful learning. This study by Manu Kapur suggests that when students first tackle ill-structured, un-scaffolded problems and subsequently attack well structured problems the contrast enables them to transfer problem-solving skills which, without the contrast, might have gone unutilized.
The implication seems to be that designing to have students flounder with ill-defined, unscaffolded problems enables them to perform much better on subsequent direct instruction.

Productive Failure: A Hidden Efficacy of Seemingly Unproductive Production

Manu Kapur

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