Active learning engages students in a whole different way than traditional, sage-on-the-stage education, and actually leads to much greater retention levels.
When students are encouraged and allowed to be truly hands-on with their education there is a great effect on retention of what is learned. Interestingly, but not totally surprisingly, “the more ways something is learned, the more memory pathways are built,” (ACSD). Simply put, when an educator merely explains a topic, there will be a minimal level of engagement and memory. However when the student is hearing about the topic, and talking about it, and involved in hands-on experiences related to the learning topic, the retention will be greater because of the amount of neural pathways engaged in the learning process.
“For example, when we learn about our cars, we store the information in brain association areas under multiple categories that relate to the context with which new information about cars is learned. When we see a car, it goes into the visual image cortex. When we see the word C-A-R spelled out, that information goes into a language-association region. After learning about the internal combustion engine, the association is made with “jet and rocket engines are also powered by internal combustion.” Later we build associational memories with the cars we’ve grown up with” – ACSD
What elements are needed for tinkering to take place?
Well, a certain level of freedom, for one. Students also need to be allowed to tinker and learn about topics that they are passionate about. And, according to educator and supporter of the Maker Movement, Gary Stager, in order for students to tinker the “learning prompts should be ‘brief, ambiguous and immune to assessment,’” (KQED).
Lastly, when students tinker with their learning, they also reach a level of ownership over their educational experience, which is crucial for better student engagement.