The GS220 class this past quarter showed me what a real active learning class should be. Having assigned small groups of students to lead discussion for an hour of the two hour period, I expected to use the second half for more lecture-oriented material. Little did I know that students would take this assignment and run with it. For the last half of the quarter I felt almost superfluous as students led and participated in some amazing discussions. I admit that I thought that it was a fluke the first time the discussion took off . Yes, I underestimated the students. Shocking, but it happens. There was such a lively discussion that I decided to just let it go…forget the lecture material. The discussion was much more exciting. The second time it happened I recall thinking, hmm, this is going better than I thought it would. The third time, I knew the students were doing something special. The teams leading the discussion were taking pains to make the discussion inclusive, interesting, meaningful, and fun. I learned some new things from them. I love when that happens.

Then we come to the final projects. Students were required to create a living graph. Partners picked a topic on Mesoamerica and created an evaluative time line. Wow; talk about creativity. One team used Lego™ bricks to build a structure to represent Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital at the time of the Spanish conquest. They acted out the time line using Lego™ figures and plastic dinosaurs (substitute horses). Another team played communicable disease Twister ™. Each color represented a conquest-related disease that was “contracted” when a foot or hand was placed on the circle. When someone fell, they “died” from the disease. Once the audience was familiar with the disease, they were literally walked through the time line which stretched the length of the classroom. Another pair used modern song lyrics to represent their evaluative position on specific events. There were other creative presentations, but I think you get the gist.

So now I know what learning can be like when virtually the entire class takes responsibility for the presentation of the material. This Chinese proverb seems to sum up the experience: “Tell me and I forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.”

Now the key is to create similar experiences in other classes.