Think of a time you were really into a subject – cars, story writing, an art project, music, building a Lego structure as a kid. Were you actively engaged? With your heightened curiosity, did you seek out more about the subject or activity? I’m guessing so. And when we consider this with students today – when they are actively engaged, what they learn and retain skyrockets. 

Active education captures a child’s imagination and keeps them focused and attentive long enough to facilitate deep and meaningful learning. It’s, well, active.

Active education can inspire a student to love what they are learning, and dive in deeper and deeper, hungry to learn more. Once a child’s imagination is activated through active education, there really is no limit to what they can learn, what they can discover, and what they can achieve.

Passive education, on the other hand, doesn’t engage a student’s imagination. When information is one-directional, from teacher to student, it doesn’t hold their attention or inspire meaningful understanding. Some examples of passive education include:

  • Lectures, in person or via Zoom

  • Science demonstrations – whether performed on a YouTube video or in person with a teacher or in a science magic show

  • Worksheets

  • Fill-in-the-blank activity books

  • Many science kits

Even reading a book is passive – because the student is not creating their own story but reading the thoughts, ideas, and imagination of the author.

These activities are passive because information is being presented to the student, and maybe the student is required to memorize that information, but rarely is the student actively engaged in testing, exploring and challenging that information. And yet, these activities are continually hailed as “educational” and because of this students sit bored in classrooms and in front of computer screens pick up a few tidbits of information, here and there but mostly unable to learn or retain very much information once the class is over.

How much do you remember from high school, or college, or even last week’s 3-day Zoom conference?

What does active education look like and how can we make it more available to all students? Active education is actually quite simple, but because we don’t do it very often, it can seem hard or intimidating at first. The lectures, science demonstrations, worksheets, and books are all ways to get a child’s interest piqued, but without some active educational activity to explore, learning doesn’t truly take place, and information is not retained.

  • To engage students actively, encourage challenges, questions, and ask students to imagine their own ideas about the information they’ve just heard.

For example, if a child sits through a lecture on atoms, they may know the word atom and they may remember a couple of facts, but if they are asked to write 5 of their own questions about atoms, or if they are asked to explore what atoms mean to them, or what they would like to learn about atoms, or if they are encouraged to create their own experiment about atoms, or write a play or do a video, they become engaged in the learning process, exploring their own ideas.

This can feel challenging at first because kids are not used to asking their own questions and exploring their own ideas, but getting into a rhythm with it can open a new world of possibilities. Parents and teachers can discover that actively engaging students through their own thoughts and play doesn’t lead to chaos – it helps students learn and discover even more than just lectures, books and worksheets.

The last step of RATATAZ – Talk, Tell and Dazzle – is a great way students can retrieve what they’ve learned. And then we are inspiring active education! Active science, active STEM, active students!