This past Friday, we had visitors from a different community college in Kentucky come to lead a professional development session on active learning. I was interested in active learning for years, but have never been able to pull it off. (The header image is from my last attempt.) However, after seeing how active learning is supposed to work, I am ready to give it another try.
I heard about active learning years ago, when I was more active in the mathematics education blogging community. I was aware of how disengaged my students were in my lectures. When I tried to change up the structure, boredom was replaced by confusion. Eventually, I went back to direct instruction.
There were several misconceptions about active learning that kept it from working in my lessons. My main mistakes were about the role of the student and instructor in an active classroom. I thought the only role of the teacher was to be a guide for the student. I also thought that the students were supposed to get to the “ah ha” moment entirely on their own. In addition, I thought that every lesson was a single activity, usually a multipage worksheet.
The realities of active learning are more simple and closer to traditional instruction than I had originally thought. There is direct instruction in an active lesson. The difference from traditional lecture that the teacher talk comes after the active part. The students still have to be guided to their “Eureka” moment. In fact, active learning is supposed to go deeper than the level when students can mimic my steps for solving an algebra problem. Most active lessons are composed of multiple activities, with teacher summaries interspersed, designed to let students climb higher up Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Going forward, there are several changes I need to make. The first is that the learning Excel project is on hold. I will still be working on my family budget, but I will not be sharing any of that work until this summer. The lessons I develop will be shared on my other site, unless my college tells me otherwise. I will be producing some basic example videos. Finally, I will begin exploring methods to incorporate active lessons into distance and on-line courses.
Watching active learning in practice was liberating. The rewarding part is that it looks like good teaching and not the latest educational fad. It is very close to what I wanted to stimulate with this site. I will be moving full-steam ahead with active learning in all my classes.