Active Learning

We are happy to share what we learned from our first Active Learning workshop held at the Australian Science and Mathematics School with 12  Year 11 & 12 Special Interest Maths and Physics students (self-rating their maths capability at 4/5).  The workshop was about engaging students with real-time data acquired, using our Live Tracker program, tracking a pullback car with a ping-pong ball, in real-time through a webcam.

What was it about?

It has been our hunch that we lose students when we take them through layers of mathematical abstraction which frequently disconnect them from the real world. Our aim of developing higher level abstraction skills (so that they may then apply what they learn across multiple disciplines) seem to come with the risk of leaving them behind altogether.

It is much easier for us to train our kids to behave like computers, teaching them to chug and plug. This way of teaching is highly teachable, ‘textbookable’ and testable; but the results in terms developing conceptual understanding has proven to be a disaster. Active learning may help rectify this, particularity if it is structured to remove the layers of abstraction – that leave students disconnected with what they are learning.

The kids we leave behind in the deep pits of abstraction may climb out of it – if they are able to – later in life. If they develop the ability to connect what they have learned to the life around them. However, because standardised exams rarely test for understanding and instead evaluate students for procedural capacity (what low-level computers can now easily accomplish), current methods of teaching may continue for some time.

Many students increasingly wonder about the relevance of that they are learning, despite teachers attempting to convince them otherwise. This is an attempt to reverse that; to teach entirely on physical reality so that they understand the relevance of what they are learning.

This is what we heard …..

this approach is great for learning physics because you can see it happening on-screen – Aiden W Jacobs

It is much more immersive than standard lessons – Jacob Martin

shows how these concepts work, which provides insights – Josidh Than

It is a much better method of learning, instead of constantly learning theory – Samir Bell


All 12 of the students said that they would recommend this program to a friend.  Now that is interesting.


“Make a graph as beautiful as mine”

We heard a student challenge another. Now, this is something you would rarely hear students saying to each other in the usual laboratory learning setting.  As we relieve students of the mind-numbing scientific ritual of taking down data in tabular form and laboriously plotting it on graph paper, we are noticing a different relationship emerging – data intimacy.

Data now flows in real time from objects that are set free, to move, with a quality of engagement of its own making. Yes, there was magic, to be able to see velocity and acceleration as vectors, responding to the changes the student were making.

Suddenly, the lesson becomes a WISYWIG form of math and physics: cause and effect produce a level of engagement rarely seen or experienced before and contains those valuable ‘aha’ moments that can power sustained and deep learning.


We thank the Australian Science and Mathematics School for hosting our first Active Learning session.