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The Active Learning Approach


Active Learning Pedagogy

One goal of this site is to increase the use of evidence-based pedagogies by providing free curriculum materials that engage students in the learning process. Educational research has demonstrated that students learn more by doing something as opposed to simply watching and listening in lecture-based instruction. Small-group, collaborative learning and inquiry-based activities lead to improvements in academic achievement, reasoning and critical thinking skills, classroom relationships, and increased retention of students, especially among underrepresented groups in the sciences.
Active learning is just as important in the laboratory as in the classroom setting. Students should understand and think about science in the way a scientist does, including formulating hypotheses, designing and conducting experiments, and evaluating results. Furthermore, the modern economy demands complex problem-solving and strong communication skills in technical fields. In order to best prepare students for the workforce or professional school, lab experiences in which students collaborate and tackle more open-ended and authentic problems are needed.
The team involved in this project developed criteria for what constitutes active learning in the classroom and laboratory settings.

Active Learning – Class Activity

1. The activity includes stated learning objectives.
2. The activity is designed so that students work in teams.
3. Students are given a question or problem to solve.
4. Students have prior knowledge that informs their initial response to the problem.
5. Students are given time free of instructional input to discuss the problem within their group.
6. The activity is structured in a way that students are informed either through oral or written prompts whether they are on the right track with their initial response.
7. The initial problem usually leads to additional questions that must be addressed.
8. Solving the problem involves a back-and-forth exchange between the students and the instructor and requires active facilitation on the part of the instructor.

Active Learning – Laboratory Activity or Contextual Problem

1. The activity begins with an open-ended question or problem (e.g., complete the analysis of lead in soil samples; why are the flamingos dying at Lake Nakuru).
2. The activity is designed so that students work in teams.
3. The instructor may or may not know the outcome of the problem in advance.
4. Students must use prior knowledge and/or consult the literature to address the question or problem.
5. Students must use critical thinking skills to develop a hypothesis and/or devise a procedure to solve the problem following appropriate aspects of laboratory safety.
6. Students will either carry out the procedure by observing and collecting information or be provided data when they have determined the correct measurements to make.
7. When experiments are performed, students must make decisions in their design and execution, taking into account aspects of safety.
8. Students will use appropriate methods to validate their measurements.
9. Students will process the information that is collected or provided (e.g., describe, tabulate, summarize, calculate)
10. Students will draw conclusions from the information that is collected or provided and support those conclusions.
11. Students will usually report on their findings in written and/or oral form.