By Sam Piha
An important part of engaged learning is ensuring that the learning experience is active. We know that young people tend to be wiggly and need to be physically active and that they learn best when they are allowed to learn by “doing”. We also know that they are more difficult to manage when we allow them to be who they are, and hands-on projects are messier and pose greater challenges in planning and implementing activities. It is important that we accept the need for young people to be active learners and take on the challenge of designing activities that meet these needs.
What does new brain science tell us about active learning?
As the neuroimaging evidence has shown, the more a student is engaged in a learning activity, especially one with multiple sensory modalities, the more parts of his/her brain are actively stimulated. When this occurs in a positive emotional setting, without stress and anxiety, the result is greater long-term, relational, and retrievable learning.” – Dr. Judy Willis, Neurologist and Classroom Teacher
What ACTIVE learning looks like:
Four things program leaders can do to begin promoting active learning:
1. Explore and assess: It is important that you take the time with your staff to explore and assess your alignment with this first learning principle.
2. Project-based learning: If your program is lacking the use of this teaching and learning method, offer a training in project-based learning for your staff. Try adding one club that features project-based learning. The Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco, CA features a large number of project-based clubs for their middle school youth. They published a great guide entitled The Best of Both Worlds: Aligning Afterschool Programs with Youth Development Principles and Academic Standards. Click here to purchase.
3. Promoting positive behavior: When young people are physically active and engaged in hands-on activities, they become excited. It is important that program staff are skilled in behavior management, which is often the result of good training. You can contact Temescal Associates if you wish help in offering a training in promoting positive behavior.
4. Activity planning: Active learning requires that activities are carefully planned and the right materials are available to ensure the activity is a success. It can be very useful to require that program staff develop clear lesson plans that articulate the sequence of the activity and activity directions and list the needed materials. This takes time and it is important that the organization provides staff with training and additional time to develop these plans.
Below is a good program example of active learning:
Techbridge; Oakland, San Lorenzo, Fremont, and Concord School Districts; (Grades 6 – 8) Techbridge offers hands-on summer academies that inspire middle school youth (particularly girls and those underrepresented in STEM) a chance to explore science, technology, and engineering. Curriculum is developed with girls in mind, and includes projects like remotely operated vehicles where girls design and construct their own remotely operated boats and test them out on water; Electrical Engineering, where girls build solar night lights and learn to solder; Cleantech, where girls build solar cells and learn about renewable energy; and AppInventor, where students use creativity and technology to create their own Android app. In addition to the learning being very active, the youth also expand their horizons as staff provide career exploration to help students make the connection between STEM projects and careers. Role models and field trips are key to their success.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.