5 Active Learning Strategies for the Science Classroom

Image Credit: Fuse

Image Credit: Fuse

Active learning is all about engaging students and getting them to actively participate in a lesson. This is the very opposite of traditional science lectures, where students sit passively and make notes while a lecturer talks. Research has shown that the human brain is better at remembering facts, solving problems and stays more engaged when stimulated with an absorbing activity. The five strategies outlined below show how this can be achieved and how your students can become successful active learners in the science classroom:

1. Start with an opening question

The start of a new lesson or lecture should provide a bridge between content previously covered and that which is about to be covered. A quick and simple way of achieving this involves starting with an opening question that provokes thought. For example, a lesson could ask students to think of their own recollections of the 2012 Mars rover landing and give an example of a moment that inspired them. The scene is then set for a brief discussion which everyone can contribute to, before a transition to the main part of the lesson.

2. Think-pair-share

‘Think-pair-share’ is an active learning strategy that requires students to develop their ideas as an individual, as a pair and as part of a larger group. The technique can be used at the start of a lesson to introduce a theme and also mid-way through to summarize the learning that has taken place. In the first step, students are asked to note down their thoughts in response to a question. They then pair up and explain ideas verbally to a partner. Finally, the teacher asks several pairs to share their best ideas with the class. The strategy works well with classes of various sizes and can be completed in as little as two or three minutes, making it a versatile technique which is easily incorporated into lesson plans.

3. Focused listing

Focused listing involves asking students to produce a list in response to a specific question. For example, ‘list ten learning outcomes that were covered in the previous lesson’ or ‘list as many biological characteristics of the human heart as you can’ will quickly generate a large number of responses from the class. The teacher can circulate round the class while students are producing the list and gauge the level of understanding or recollection that is present. Finally, students can be invited to share their lists which can then be summarized with the rest of the class.

4. Brainstorm

Image Credit: Indiana University

Brainstorming works well at the beginning of a lesson and requires students to list what they know about a certain topic. The activity works best when carried out in pairs or small groups, as students can often develop surprising connections between the ideas that are listed. Like the other strategies that have been listed, brainstorming can be adapted to classes of various sizes and requires minimal time to prepare

5. Question and answer pairs

In this technique students are paired together and take it turns to question and answer each other. The activity works well at the end of a lesson (or series of lessons) where a review of the learning needs to take place. Formulating and phrasing questions in the correct way is an excellent way of developing verbal communication skills and improving confidence with course content. If a competitive element is introduced, it can be interesting to see students striving to ask more and more challenging questions to catch their partner out!

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