Activate education!

Activate education!

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!


Will we raise more confident kids if we ditch traditional training methods?

Will we raise more confident kids if we ditch traditional training methods?

Can you recall a time you felt completely confident at something? How did it make you feel? Did it come after some sort of effort on your part? Studying, hard work, trial and error, etc. Think of how that confidence makes you feel. Then think about kids and how they ask questions and make mistakes and learn. And having the confidence to keep going, how can we as parents, educators, and mentors, encourage kids’ confidence?  

We know the value of confident kids. And, at the same time, bucking traditions is difficult. We tend to do things the way we have always done them because it’s what we know. But we don’t have to continue to follow this path, especially if there are better ways to raise confident kids.

Take science experiments, for example. Most hands-on activities are really just demonstrations of science, not actual experiments. You can buy a science kit that tells you to pour tube A into tube B. And maybe the kit says tube A is citric acid and tube B is sodium bicarbonate. It bubbles and fizzes and your child might say “oh wow!”

But so what? what have they learned? Why does it bubble and fizz? 

    These “kits” rarely ask kids to tinker, to play, to test, and fail, and make up their own reactions. They never get to actually experiment.

    We build confidence when we play. When we ask questions such as, “What if I add twice as much vinegar, or half as much or what if I heat the reaction or add sugar to it? Will acetic acid (vinegar) work the same as citric acid? What about baking powder, does it work too?” And from all of this playing, kids will see, learn, and do a real science experiment, testing their own ideas, and learning about chemical reactions and why some molecules react and some don’t.

     That’s real science.

     Has your child ever told you about something they learned in school and you asked them more questions, but they didn’t know the answer because they didn’t fully understand the concept?

    So let me ask you: Do you want your child build confidence as they learn? We go beyond surface learning when we tinker, toy, play, and explore through our own questions. RATATAZ is a fun way to help your student feel comfortable being introduced to complex subjects and accelerate their understanding with self-initiated questions. 

    Learn more about our at-home kits here
    What’s in a Question?

    What’s in a Question?

    How does a butterfly fly? Why is the sky blue? Where do frogs sleep at night? How can lizards climb up walls? Small children know how to ask questions – and how to frustrate their busy caregivers. And, there is value in their incessant questions of “why?”. With their young sponge-like brains, once a young child learns to speak, words launch natural curiosity to new heights. Kids know from an early age how asking questions is the best way to learn about the world around them. They are wizards at not taking something at face value.

    Unfortunately, once a child begins formal schooling, many of their own questions fade. Instead, they shift to answering other people’s questions – from the teacher, the textbook publisher, their parents, on a standardized test, etc. Some kids excel at answering others’ questions. Kids who do well on tests have figured out how to gather all the right facts and recall them on an exam. Kids who don’t test well either can’t gather all the right facts or can’t recall them during an exam. Which leads one to question…


    What are students today really learning? 

    When I was in school, I was an above average test taker and could figure out enough of the right questions and recall enough of the right facts to score well on the exams. The problem was – I didn’t learn anything—other than how to pass tests. I didn’t feel like I had a deep understanding of any of the facts I put on exams, and I although I had good grades, I was quite insecure about my abilities. 

    When I got to graduate school, I was finally finished answering other people’s questions. Teachers were replaced with professors who didn’t ask me that many questions, and exams were replaced with research where I got to ask my own questions. With this newfound freedom a whole world opened for me. A world that I am still exploring to this day. Which leads to the question…

    Why RATATAZ?

    As I discuss in the Why RATATAZ video, I’ve been studying how we learn for the past 30 years. And, as it turns out, people learn more when they can ask their own questions

    This is especially true for kids

    I spent the last 20 years developing science curriculum for kids, and for many of those years I felt compelled to follow the standard protocol of asking kids questions and expecting students to answer those questions. Recently, I’ve been exploring what happens to learning when the learner is asking and answering their own questions instead of someone else’s. 

    As it turns out, they learn quite a bit more! 

    Not only do children learn more, they stay engaged longer, retain extra information, and become more interested in learning itself. So…

    What if we let kids ask and answer their own questions instead of insisting they answer ours? 

    We educators especially want kids to know things, and with the best of intentions we insist they learn the things we know because that’s what we can teach them.