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:
- Young people are involved in activities that are hands-on and project-based
- Young people are involved in activities that result in a finished project
- Young people participate in activities that allow them to be fully physically active to their ability
- When young people’s curiosity is peaked within an activity, they are able to express and explore this
- Young people are involved in activities that require and encourage them to think critically (asking open ended questions, categorizing and classifying, working in groups, making decisions, and finding patterns)
- Young people are allowed to explore things in ways that are self-directed
- Young people appear excited about what they are doing or learning
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.
Below is a good program example of active learning: