APRIL 2023

Hands-on, Brains-on

What does “active engagement” mean?

Our theme this month is Active engagement, the A in S. P. E.C.I.A.L.. 

Active engagement is key to effective learning. Why? Simply put, a learner actively thinking and engaging with what they’re doing will learn much more effectively than someone who passively receives information from a speaker.

While direct instruction can convey information, it doesn’t allow learners to develop important skills like communication, teamwork, critical thinking, or problem-solving. When we give learners all the answers without letting them ask questions, we’re not giving them a chance to really understand the concepts they’re learning about.

That’s why we encourage learners to actively try to make sense of things through thinking, talking, or engaging in activities. It’s when they’re actively trying to solve a problem that real learning happens! Check out these two examples below to see what we mean:

Teacher A is using the blackboard in her lesson on water. She writes on the board and explains how to save water and explains what the consequences are if there was no water conservation. She then writes two examples on the board of how families can use less water in their homes.  

Whenever she turns her back on the class to write, learners giggle, pass notes, and throw things at each other. She needs help to get their attention.  

Teacher B is using active learning. She starts the lesson with a game that has the learners begin to think about the floods that have taken place in the country (it is early March 2023). She talks about how the water flowing over the Vaal Dam wall is flooding lower down the river, yet at the same time, some people in the Eastern Cape are suffering from one of their worst droughts ever. She asks the learners if they would live to solve the water shortage problem for Eastern Cape families. All the learners are suddenly more attentive. The learners are hanging on her every word.

She shares this scenario: You live in a small South African Town, and you are facing a severe water crisis. Your town’s water supply is running low, and everyone is starting to feel the effects of water scarcity. A group of curious and determined grade five learners decide to take matters into their own hands and form a team called “The Water Warriors.” Your objective, as a Water Warrior, is to learn all you need to know about the importance of water as a basic need, identify ways of saving and protecting water, and come up with creative ideas to help other people in your community save and protect water.

She then provides the class with the driving question: How best can we share our knowledge and ideas with others at Water Warriors Awareness Day so that they become aware of the importance of water and start to use it with respect?

She divides the class into teams to work on the driving question.

The children are rapidly engaged, and by the end of the lesson, they don’t want to stop!  

Same content. Two scenarios. Which class do you want to be in?

Why is this important?

In Teacher B’s class, learners can experience the complexity of real-world scenarios. They’ll discover that their initial answers aren’t enough, that houses come in different shapes and tanks are of various sizes, and that rainfall patterns can vary greatly.

With these topics, learners will dive deeper and deeper, always learning something new and engaging. Plus, they’ll gain a host of valuable skills, including:

  • Creative thinking skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ways to work together with others
  • How to use technology
  • How to find resources to help them (which could be people)

Would you like to know more about achieving this in your classroom? Our ‘Introduction to Project-Based Learning’ course may be what you need next! Have you enrolled yet? You can find it on TeacherConnectlearn. Also, our TeacherConnectlounge community space is the perfect place to share your questions, observations, and experiences with fellow teachers. We’d love to hear from you!