Active learning increases learning power

Ben Johnson, educational technology expert and blogger, recently wrote a blog on active learning and its effect on memory and engagement in the classroom. Johnson uses his observations of a class that was learning multiplication to illustrate how active learning looks. The teacher he was observing gave students a bag that held several paper dinosaur nests and egg-shaped candy. She then gave them a variety of scenarios to figure out, like:

“One stegosaurus laid three blue eggs and one white one in one nest, and three blue ones and one white one in another. How many eggs total did she lay? How many white eggs did she lay? How many blue ones.” Johnson claims that after a lesson of stegosauruses, triceratops, numbers, and nests the kids were not only having fun, they understood multiplication.

This increased level of learning occurs because when the body is involved it increases memory. Johnson gives the example that this is why you can type without looking at your fingers or drive without looking at your feet. The idea is that for the body to move, your brain usually has to tell it to do so. It works the other way, too. If you’re body is moving, then your brain is active. “Connect motions with concepts and the body becomes a literal extension of the brain,” says Johnson.

In a writing class for high school seniors, Johnson observed most of the students resentfully scribbling away to fulfill a descriptive writing prompt. Then the teacher told them they were going to be publishing a school newsletter and their attitudes shifted from unenthused to excited. Johnson uses Bloom’s Taxonomy to show the importance of using writing as an active lesson. Writing is classified as an active behavior because the brain tells the hands what to do, which is low on Bloom’s. However, if you’re writing with a purpose, the brain is working to decide what to write, why to write and determining if it is the best thing to write, which is high up on Bloom’s Taxonomy, says Johnson.

What are some ways you can break the monotony and incorporate active learning into your curriculum?

(References: Active Learning Means Using the Body, by Ben Johnson


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