It may be the best e-mail ever with regard to active learning, though it came too late for me to warn every student milling in the quad before first period began. Sent by one of my amazing science teachers, it read:
“If you hear a loud boom today and tomorrow it’s just science!”
I was out in front of the school when I spotted the message on my phone, greeting students as they arrived for first period. Here at Diegueño, we also run a zero period, which meant some kids are in classes an hour earlier, and it was those students who were treated to the active learning that prompted my teacher’s email. I heard the explosion as I was talking to a student by the trees near our administration building, and together we watched as a white cloud rose above the science building. His eyes widened. “That’s science,” I told him.
Not every example of hands on learning involves loud noises or smoke. Hands on learning can be a mock election in history class, claymation in art, or fraction circles in math class. the students creating podcasts about the Revolutionary War didn’t need anything to explode to engage with their topic, though truth be told, some used sound effects to make their points.
Hands on can also mean hands on keyboards, and I’ve seen kids giddy about coding and web design as they labor and learn, creating their own product in technology rich courses. Building websites, prototype airplanes, or giant Jenga games in ASB, students love to create, and the energy they bring to their work is awe inspiring.
Students learn from doing, and the excitement they bring to education when they’re making, experimenting, and journeying into the academic unknown helps the the learning stick. Students who act out Greek scenes in drama class remember Persephone and Midas better than those who simply read through Bulfinch. Students who talk about how they sank chin deep in a steel drum of water can explain displacement in a way that resonates.
Sure it takes extra effort to put students in a position to learn through experience, but that work is worth it. Punctuated by meaningful opportunities to engage and explore, a curriculum in any subject area comes alive.
I caught up with the science teacher who sent that fabulous email later in the morning, and her broad smile mirrored those on her students’ faces. Active learning isn’t just good for kids; it energizes all of us in the school community.
And while the booming echo of the science lab caught my attention this morning, it was equally inspiring to spend some time in an art class where students were sculpting, writing, and filming stop motion videos. Engaged and curious, these young artists were creating shorts that were funny and fantastic, and brought together a collection of skills that mirror the problem solving they’ll use in life beyond school. Under the guidance of a teacher who asked questions and provided support and inspiration, these students were actively engaged in their own learning.
I see examples of this type of engagement across campus, from science labs to Spanish skits, from our marching band to the Geography Bee. Students who help to create their own education thrive, and fill our campus with the fire of learning. As educators we are at our best when we allow students to have a hand in their learning, when we light that fuse curiosity, stand back, and watch learning explode.
If you hear a loud boom today, that’s learning.