The concept of active, or student-centered, learning, has been around for a long time, it’s just that now we have words to describe what we have always known. We have researchers that spend their time figuring out how and why active learning is good for students and how teachers can do more to allow students to become active participants in their learning.
Once upon a time, people learned their trade by doing. They were apprenticed at a young age and while their mentor/instructor would spend some time giving their insights into the hows and whys of accomplishing a task, the apprentice always learning best by attempting the task. The problem we run into nowadays is that teaching an electrician which wires to put where does not equate as well to teaching students a history lesson. Or so it would seem.
The following are some ideas of how a teacher could implement active learning in a classroom, almost regardless of what subject they are trying to teach.
Writing – Although it may seem obvious (or not), writing can be very student centered if the students are given an appropriate amount of instruction or lead at the beginning. Writing can be short and daily and done in-class, such as with journals or micro-themes that are connected to a larger project, or writing can be a larger, more formal project where the student does most of the work outside of class over the course of many weeks or even months.
In-class Debates – Nothing gets students more involved in their own learning then when they have to stand in front of their peers and defend their point of view. While it is useful to have students prepare somewhat before a debate, it is always interesting to see what prejudices and misconceptions students have when forced to debate a topic that has not been researched ahead of time.
Simulation Game – This can be similar to play-acting or role-playing but it can work in science-related fields also. Pretend you are a piece of popcorn that was eaten: now what happens to you next in the digestive system?
Group Project – This one is probably the most obvious when it comes to active learning but a teacher must be adequately prepared before assigning groups and projects otherwise not all students will be actively participating.
Students as Teachers – Everyone knows that you learn a concept best when you have to teach it to someone else so choosing a topic that is either traditionally difficult for students to grasp or if it just a particular student or group of students, have the students teach the concept to someone will undoubtedly help cement the concept into their minds more thoroughly.