Active Learning (PowerPoint presentation)
Fundamental Principles of Active Learning:
Randall D. Knight at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo has compiled a list of research-based active learning strategies most suitable for teaching physics in his book, Five Easy Lessons: Strategies for Successful Physics Teaching (Addison Wesley, 2004).
Before detailing the active learning strategies, Knight points out that active learning strategies have five traits which are quoted here from his 2004 book with additional commentary by Carl Wenning.
Generic Active Learning Strategies: Resource I
Generic Active Learning Strategies: Resource II
Active Learning Strategies Suitable for Teaching High School Physics:
The following is a list of different approaches to teaching that are designed to improve student learning. The list was compiled on the basis of offering practical assistance to novice high school physics teachers. Some of the active learning strategies listed below have been show through teaching research at the university level to be highly effective in improving post-secondary student learning. Undoubtedly, the successes of these strategies provide implications for teaching high school physics. Teacher candidates should be familiar with these approaches, and the useful resources that each program provides.
- Bell Ringers - Known by various names (e.g., Problem of the Day, see below.), bell ringers are typically focusing activities that students begin working on the moment the bell signaling the start of class rings. Bell ringers are usually related to the materials of a prior lesson or an introduction to the lesson to follow. They help set a business-like tone in class while the teacher is occupied with typical clerical duties such as taking attendance or dealing with students.
- Worksheets - Well prepared worksheets (such as those provided by the Modeling Method of Instruction, CASTLE, etc.) constitute a powerful means for getting students actively engaged in constructing knowledge during class. Worksheets also can be used to hold students to a higher standard of performance and serve as a great way of finding out what students know and don't know.
- Project-based Learning - Not entirely different from problem-based learning, project-based learning tends to focus student attention on a practical, real-world problem. Projects, however, are somewhat different from problems. A problem might consist of determining whether or not a wind farm should be located in a certain location; a project might consist of developing a mousetrap car, bridge, or egg-drop contraption.
- Homework - Teachers assign homework for a number of important reasons: to provide an opportunity for students review, apply, and integrate what has been learned in class; to help them prepare for the next class session; to extend student exploration of topics more fully than class time permits; or to help students gain skills in self-directed learning and using resources such as libraries and the World Wide Web. Homework can helps students:
- develop mastery by practicing what they have learned.
- acquire effective habits of self-discipline and time management.
- learn to work independently.
- gain a sense of personal responsibility for learning
- develop research skills such as locating, organizing, and condensing information.
- Student Reading - Students learn in many different ways, and many students have preferred routes leading to learning. Some call these learning styles. Reading, however, is often under utilized as a means of getting students to learn. Here are 14 tips for getting students to read.
- Student-generated Questions - It pays to get students to questions. One of the standard approaches to reading (SQ4R) requires students to develop focusing questions related to the subject matter they are about to read. A modification of this approach can be used for a particular lesson as well. Teachers should get students to generate questions in these various circumstances. Student-generated questions tend to focus student attention, and sometimes can be used as a support or substitute for student performance objectives.
- Tutoring - Working with students on-one-on is another way of making certain that students learn subject matter. More often than not, however, this process is used to help students play "catch up," or to help students with specific difficulties learning the course subject matter.
- Homework Service - "Take (Your) Work Out of (Their) Homework" with the University of Texas Homework Service. Check out this free service available in the following subject areas: physics, chemistry, physical science, and math. Students download their unique homework sets (random variables are embedded within the problems) and work their problems offline. they log back on to submit answers, and receive immediate feedback. After the due date, they can download the complete solutions, customized to their individual problems. In the spring of 2004 there were about 8800 physics problems available (calculus based, trig based and high school), including the released 1993 and 1998 AP Physics problems (with explanations) for both B and C. Teachers can go to http://hw.utexas.edu/hw.html to create a class. Access your class (once activated) at http://hw.utexas.edu/fm.html. A help page is available at http://www.ph.utexas.edu/~patsymc/fac/fac.html. (posted August 9, 2004)
- Physics Pathway - A physics teaching web advisory consisting of "synthetic interviews" where teachers and students can "talk" to an experienced physics teacher. Ask any question you like, and get a video response from the likes of Paul Hewitt. Includes digital videos for physics teaching. Doesn't work on Mac platform. Requires MSXML which operates on PC platform only.
Small Group Processes:
- Cooperative Learning - Cooperative learning is the replacement for "group learning" which so frequently characterizes the high school classroom. There are major differences between cooperative learning and group learning, and one of the big differences has to do with the fact that cooperative learning includes aspects of social learning and individual and group accountability that when not present are so often lead to the failure of group learning projects.
- Problem-Based Learning - PBL (as it is more commonly referred to) is a technique for bringing real-world problems into the science classroom that really gets at the heart of the science learning process. It's a weeks-long technique for developing a meaningful form of scientific literacy. PBL deals with a recurring cycle of "what you know, what you need to know, and how you are going to find out."
- Microcomputer-Based Labs - While the use of microcomputer-based labs per se has not been shown to be in and of itself effective in increasing student learning, if properly integrated into an inquiry-oriented lab activity, MBL can contribute fun and speed, reduce the amount of required effort, make for a better approach to data collection, and be educationally profitable.
- White Boarding - An essential ingredient of the Modeling Method of Instruction, white boarding is a process of having students work in small groups to put their thinking, products, or processes on 24" x 36" (typical) dry erase boards. The contents of the dry erase boards are then shared with the whole class. After a brief presentation of the results, Socratic dialoging takes place.
- Work Stations - Students work in small groups moving from station to station to gain hands-on, minds-on experiences so often necessary when introducing a new unit or phenomenon. Work stations are typically a form of discovery learning where the teacher provides a worksheet and assignments associated with each station. This approach is very helpful in familiarizing students with new phenomena or various aspects of a particular phenomenon. Work stations are also helpful when there are only limited quantities of materials required for experimentation or materials unsuitable for whole class demonstration due to their small size.
- Concept Maps - A powerful way of graphically representing information and a way of summarizing relationships. Both CMapTools and Inspiration/Kidspiration are powerful software applications for making concept maps.
- Games - Games that focus on knowledge or skills can be a powerful learning tool. For instance, students can a PowerPoint Jeopardy presentation similar to the TV game show by the same name. Other competitions might be modeled after a spelling bee where students provide answers to pertinent questions rather than spell words. Games are a great way to summarize lesson or unit content.
Whole Group Processes:
- Peer Instruction - Based on the book by the same name (Eric Mazur, 1977), Peer Instruction according to the author "actively engages the students in their own learning. Carefully chosen questions (ConcepTests) give students an opportunity to discover and correct their misunderstandings of class material and, in the process, learn the key ideas of physics from one another." Students frequently use numbered cards to indicate their responses to particular questions, thereby giving the instructor a means to determine whether or not students understand various concepts, and whether or not redial instruction is needed, or if certain other instruction can be avoided.
- Think/Pair/Share - A variant on Mazur's Peer Instruction, this process requires students to write their responses to specific questions or problems, to then pair with a classmate to mutually review solutions, and then to share with the whole group the agreed-upon solution to the question or problem. Problems such as "ranking tasks" frequently form the basis of discussion.
- Socratic Dialoging - An essential ingredient of the Modeling Method of Instruction, Socratic dialoging is a process whereby teachers ask students to make their thinking clear. Socratic dialoging typically occurs after students have made a presentation using a white boarding process. It is not the same as discussion, but is most closely associated with informal questioning.
- Questioning - Informal assessment as part of whole group discussions not only helps instructors know what their students know and believe (e.g., misconceptions), it also can be used to help students develop critical thinking skills.
- Discussions - A good technique for helping students understand material, or help them to draw certain types of conclusions from the evidence provided. Again, this helps students develop reflection, valuation, and critical thinking skills.
- Interactive Demonstrations - It is often said that demonstrations are the life book of physics classes. They often provide for an entertaining time, but do students actually learn much from them? The answer from education research seems to suggest that they do not! A way of integrating inquiry processes into what might otherwise be a pedantic approach to demonstrations.
- Problem of the Day - Well-formulated conceptual problems form the basis of periodic class discussions. These discussions foster critical thinking on the part of the student. For instance, two bullets of the same mass and speed, one aluminum and the other rubber, strike a block of wood. The aluminum bullet penetrates the bock whereas the rubber bullet bounces off. Which of the two bullets is most likely to shatter the block? Which is most likely to move the block?
- Case Studies - These are a great way to help students learn about the nature of science, clarify values, and distinguish science from pseudoscience. The help students learn for clearly formulate and express logical arguments.
- Student Summaries - A powerful approach to enhancing student learning is the use of summaries. As the name implies, information is summarized. The greatest metacognitive value is derived, however, by summaries that students themselves provide. Students are required to think though, encapsulate, and review information in a meaningful fashion. The heightened levels of processing associated with student summaries, helps both understanding and retention of information.
Specific University-Level Programs: (For details, see Knight's book.)
(Last updated 6/05/2009, cjw)