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Active Learning Day Pushes Hands-on STEM Ed

Last Tuesday, October 25, a fifth grade in Chardon, OH tackled experiments straight from the American Chemical Society with the help of a high school chemistry teacher. A class at Georgia Tech "had fun w/ microbial redox chemistry." University of Maryland astronomy majors sketched telescope designs, ag students learned how to drive tractors and business and engineering students concocted building control charts with M&Ms. And teachers and faculty members all over the country learned a little bit more about the concept of "active learning."

The all-day event, "Active Learning Day," was the culmination of an effort by several education organizations and the White House to promote student participation in hands-on activities that would help them learn STEM subjects. The goal: to encourage instructors in K-12 and higher ed to spend just 10 minutes implementing active teaching and learning strategies, identifying new ways to push their institutions to take up active teaching and learning, sharing best practices with colleagues and producing videos of active teaching strategies in practice.

Among the organizers working with the White House were 100Kin10, a non-profit whose goal is to "train and retain" 100,000 science, technology, engineering and math teachers in 10 years," and the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), which runs Project Kaleidoscope, a "reform center" focused on graduating more students in STEM.

As the White House explained, "Active learning strategies are those that engage students in thinking, questioning and problem solving, all of which lead to deep knowledge retention. Active learning can be practiced with a range of methods from providing quiet time for students to reflect and write about the subject matter to having students complete a scientific research project. All active learning is intended to help students engage with the subject matter and understand how solutions are developed using STEM problem-solving approaches."

100Kin10 wooed 25 of its partner organizations to promote active learning among their teachers and students. Likewise, AAC&U persuaded 400 STEM faculty and administrators to pledge their participation.

"What is most significant about these pledges is that they extend beyond mere symbolism of a shared interest in active learning in STEM, and reveal a deeper commitment to the systematic and systemic reform changes in undergraduate STEM education that must take place if we are ever to overcome institutional barriers, expand beyond localized classroom successes and achieve universal understanding and adoption of active teaching strategies across all of U.S. STEM higher education," said Kelly Mack, the organization's vice president for undergraduate STEM education, in a statement.

The work isn't ending now that the day has come and gone. Over the next few weeks, AAC&U, for example, will use its STEM Central web platform to build up an online video library of active learning activities that occurred. The intent is to help STEM faculty better understand how to implement active teaching and learning methods.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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