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.
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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.
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
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…)
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…)
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.
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 is very important for Active Learning teachers. (more…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Over 100 teachers and other professionals gathered at the Sandman Hotel in Longueuil to hear presentations from John Seely Brown and Robin Wright. They spent the afternoon working actively in groups studying Active Learning issues in Educational Technology, Inclusive Design, Educational Environment, Assessment, and Classroom Management.
The authors argue that all knowledge is situated, that is, it has a context. The biologist practices his craft in the world of flora and fauna and addresses real problems. What educators inevitably try to extract from the observed practitioner is what Seely Brown calls explicit knowledge . The contents of a text book demonstrate the look and feel of this kind of knowledge. But, Brown argues, the biologist also makes use of another kind of knowledge which he calls tacit knowledge. This knowledge embodies the tricks of the trade, the special strategies, or the rules of thumb known to any good biologist. This latter type of knowledge does not get captured when we try to emulate the knowledge of the biologist in classroom curriculum. According to Seely Brown et al