Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Active Learners

By Mark Heintz

I create a lot of materials for my students to learn such as lecture notes, examples, PowerPoints, quizzes, review materials, videos and a number of other items.  I learn a lot in process of creating these materials, in fact, way more than my students, because I create and they do not.

In my first few years of teaching, I was the sage on the stage.  I lectured and created materials all towards the purpose of students understanding the content.  However, I found that I spent an exuberant amount of time going back over material that I already covered, because the students had poor retention rates of the material.  Even more revealing, the review day had more of an impact on students test grades than the learning that occurred over the entire unit.  The review day put material in their short term memory that was useful on the test the next day.

After reflecting, I found that most of the student learning was passive.  So, I present the Cone of Learning! When students are active in the process, their retention rates increase.

Now, I want my students to be an active participant in the learning process.   The picture below shows one of the learning goals for the first unit our Human Geography class.   Also, it states the skills students will develop in that unit.  The marriage of these two, content and skills, is crucial to learning. It forces the learning process to be based on reading, writing, interpreting, and mainly doing the work. 

After the purpose has been set, the students will manipulate images to one of the categories of the five themes.  Then, the students will write why they think the image belongs in that category.  I should preface this learning progression by stating this will be the students first exposure to the five themes of geography.  I want the students to build their background knowledge through interpreting images and writing out their understanding of that interpretation.  Then, the students will discuss their interpretations in a small group setting, and finally report out as a class.

Normally, I would have lectured to the students on the five themes to first give the students background knowledge.  I would have found images to give the students specific examples and guided them through the themes from my direct instruction.   Now, I love the students being an active participant in their learning.    

All of this background building will lead to the students writing in response to a document based question on the five themes of geography. Along the way, students will have practiced the skills and been given feedback as they learn.  They will write to learn and learn to write at the same time, all while being active participants in the learning process.  


  1. Thanks for this blog - it's really useful to me. I was wondering how the students would then teach their material to others - do you have the students present what they have researched using posters, or oral presentations for a couple of minutes (with a process that suggests how and what to present), or...?

  2. Often it is very informal. Since they are writing a lot, I have the share over AirPlay their writing. Then they stand up and defend their idea. This happens constantly throughout the period. The students are really the ones in charge of the process. For instance, the students would first categorize the pictures on their own. Then discuss with a peer. Finally, class members would report out by projecting via AirPlay to the whole class and defend their rationale. This process occurs frequently throughout the period.