I am a kinesthetic learner. I learn best through doing and hands on activities. Fortunately for me, this I not the only way I can learn. When I reflect on my own education, the learning experiences that stand out the most were from participating in athletics. Things like teamwork, collaboration, perseverance, hard work, determination, leadership, communication, decision making and goal setting. I would argue that these skills have been more useful in my adult life than other academic information like Pythagorean theorem or that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.
To be clear, athletics and sports are not the only place to learn these valuable skills. There are many avenues to learn life skills, however in my experience they are most often learned through ACTIVE participation. Active learning strategies can be a variety of learning opportunities that include games, group activities, and hands on learning.
As an educator it is ESPECIALLY important that I provide students with the opportunity to actively learn. In physical and health education this is easy, however in socials studies, I have needed to be a little more creative. I have hosted jousting tournaments and built games that replicate historical events, like my version of Catan that displays a medieval economy. Additionally, I have tried to increase collaborative student group work and decrease teacher lecture time.
Active Learning Strategies continue to kindle my interest, especially how they can engage students and what they could look like in an online environment. Roehl, Reddy, & Shannon, (2013) describe active learning methods as educational activities that involve students in interactive opportunities and encourage them to think about what they are doing. Moreover, when implementing active learning strategies, it is vital that class time is “devoted to problem solving, skill development, and gaining a deeper understanding of the subject matter.” (Roehl et al., p. 46). In addition, students who learn actively, acquire skills to transfer knowledge to different contexts and demonstrate deeper understanding of course content. (“Using Active Learning in the Classroom”, 2011).
While researching further into active learning, I am both astonished by the variety and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of ideas. The first thing that I have learned is that COLLABORATION is key. To create effective active learning strategies, that are reasonable for teachers to implement, educators need to work together. The second thing I was reminded of, was that it is better to TRY an active learning strategy and FAIL, then to slide back into lecture style teaching (however tempting it may be).
But what does that mean for the online environment? Teachers are now facing a new era of education, where the classroom is evolving into digital environments. It is not enough to digitize a textbook to post online, the key is to develop interactive digital content “that support learning objectives” (Austin & Mescia, n.d., p.1), and are different than a traditional class. Although daunting, we as educators have an amazing opportunity to rethink our teaching strategies and be completely creative in how we deliver active learning opportunities.
I believe the first step is to re-examine the curriculum. Determine what is most important for students to KNOW and what SKILLS are the most important for them to develop. Then we can create meaningful learning experiences for students using digital platforms. With the aid of online synchronous meeting platforms, and many digital tools, educators can create a space that will allow students to interact with one another and participate in active learning.
Looking towards September, and the new school year I want to re-examine my curriculum and see where I can infuse active learning experiences. From what I have learned, active learning can easily take over a classroom, and replace previous teaching strategies. In doing so, students will be given the opportunity to develop vital life skills while developing deeper understanding of the content. Ideally, I would not spend any synchronous class time lecturing my students. Instead all class time would be dedicated to group work, class activities, and hands on learning. Admittedly, I am at least a few years away from revolutionizing my teaching practices, but I am determined to work on it. I still believe that Active Learning could be the key to engaging students in skill development and ownership over their education.
Austin, D., & Mescia, N. D. (n.d.). Strategies to Incorporate Active Learning into Online Teaching. Retrieved from http://www.icte.org/T01_Library/T01_245.pdf
Roehl, A., Reddy, S. L., & Shannon, G. J. (2013). The Flipped Classroom: An Opportunity To Engage Millennial Students Through Active Learning Strategies. Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences, 105(2), 44–49. doi: 10.14307/jfcs105.2.12
Using Active Learning in the Classroom. (2011). In Instruction at FSU Handbook (pp. 75–102). Retrieved from https://distance.fsu.edu/docs/instruction_at_fsu/Chptr8.pdf