What does a successful classroom look like? Is it a teacher standing at the front giving a lecture, or is it more similar to students sitting together at a table, discussing ideas, asking questions, or completing a project? Well, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the latter scenario vastly improves students’ learning.
Active learning is an idea that rose in popularity in the early 1980s and, simply put, means actively engaging students in the course material through discussions, projects, or other activities. In order to improve the learning of Berkeley High School students, BHS should work to prioritize active learning in all of its classes.
Active learning has been proven to greatly improve students’ exam scores and grades. A 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that STEM students who were taught using active learning outperformed their peers who were taught by lectures on exams by six points. This is roughly equivalent to the difference between an A- and an A. This finding was also echoed in the overall pass rates of exams. According to a study by Johnson & Wales University, under active learning, 85 percent of students passed their exam at Johnson & Wales University, while comparatively, under traditional lecturing, only 55 percent of students passed their exam.
As active learning often involves students working together, it can greatly benefit students’ intrapersonal skills. A study by the Carnegie Foundation found that 85 percent of job success came from “soft skills,” such as communication, teamwork, and adaptability, while only 15 percent of job success came from technical skills. Considering the huge difference in the value of these two skill sets, active learning is far more useful in allowing students to build the skills they’ll need later in life.
Active learning also encourages student choice and makes learning accessible to all students. Active learning often includes projects where students can choose what they’d like to focus on. For example, in english class, students could choose which theme they’d like to give a presentation on, or in science class, they could design an experiment. Allowing students more choice in the classroom will lead to deeper engagement with the material. Additionally, active learning ensures all types of learners are supported. While traditional lecturing mostly caters to auditory and visual learners, active learning better includes kinesthetic and reading/writing learners.
Karl Kaku, a BHS english teacher, uses active learning in his class. “(Active learning) gets students to meet each other, and they bounce ideas off of each other. They learn to work in cooperative groups. We learn from talking and sharing ideas. Students are involved and engaged in interacting with the material and their classmates, which creates a good learning environment,” said Kaku.
However, one challenge of active learning is that, according to a Harvard study, under active learning, students often perceive themselves to be learning less than under traditional lecturing. This could be because active learning is a new method of learning and requires students to struggle more during the learning process. However, the study also found that students’ perceptions were wrong; students under active learning performed better on exams compared to students under traditional lectures. So although it may initially be a challenge for students to transition to active learning, BHS should still prioritize it in all classes.
Kaku spoke about how he incorporates active learning into his classroom. “(I plan) how I’m going to introduce the material, and then how we’re going to get through the material. And within that, I plan periods when we’re going to do a turn and talk activity and when we’re going to get up and move around. I try to have us discuss the material at least twice a period if not more.”
Active learning triggers deeper engagement with the course material, improves test scores, and teaches students collaboration. BHS should harness the many benefits of active learning by implementing it in classes as often as possible.