Mastering the Active Learning in Physics

“Everything that I have learned with  engage2learn (e2L) has helped prepare me to move forward.” expressed Pedro Davila Physics and Environmental Science teacher at Bowie High School in Arlington ISD.  Davila was able to push through his fears to make a powerful impact on the lives of his students last year.

“I was scared,” he explained when asked about his initial outlook on applying the Active Learning Cycle (ALC) last year. During the spring of the 2017-18 school year, Davila implemented ALC in his junior and senior level Physics classes while receiving mentoring from his e2L Coach. Davila soon thereafter stepped out on faith and allowed himself and his students to work outside of their comfort zone.

“I was not sure that they were ready to take on learning the material on their own,” he said. After continued encouragement from his coach during the first semester, Davila challenged himself and his department to dive into the cycle and apply it in the classroom during the second semester. He knew that it would be a challenge but was ready to push both himself and his students to the next level of learning. For him, the challenge was to move from what he described as a “sage on the stage” role as a teacher where he spent the majority of his time lecturing, to more of a guidance role in the attainment of knowledge for his students.

“I would teach everything up front,” Davila explained. However, he knew that his role in ALC would be redefined as more of a facilitator, where he guided his students through a process in order to understand the material and explore learning on their own.

When the second semester started, he revamped his classes and applied ALC in full force to his Physics class. He immediately noticed that there would be a learning curve for both him and his students, as they worked through the cycle. Davila knew he would need to be flexible, in order to make the cycle work. He detailed how he and his students both took some time to adjust to the cycle based on their previous experience and comfort zone. He spent time listening to his student’s concerns about technology and them learning how to balance their time in order to meet deadlines during the cycle.

In order to help them with their reading comprehension, he used the Active Learning Cycle to frame his lessons. First, Davila began to INSPIRE  his students by deepening their understanding of the content and creating mini-lessons on reading for understanding. A big part of this step is asking questions and reflecting on what students already know. After students COMMIT to meeting goals and complete know and need to knows, He steps students through AQUIRE, by agreeing on and establishing norms for how the class will flow. Davilla then guides his students through strategies that help students apply both old and new knowledge. One of the strategies he offered students gave students the ability to see the problem visually. Students drew pictures and broke down information and equations in order to solve problems. Lastly, students gave and received feedback, while deciding on how they could improve their practices during their next exploration of a similar problem. The strategic design of the Active Learning Framework helped Davilla and his students learn to analyze the content at a much deeper level than before. Similar to departments in a company working to solve similar problems.

Davilla saw gains with his students understanding of how to work through an equation more effectively. His students began to understand the proper way to solve an equation which as a result, helped allow them to work through their problems autonomously. This also helped Davilla be more effective as a facilitator because he had more time to address the needs of students in his class, who needed more assistance.

For students facing challenges with homework and deadlines, Davila opened up his timeline for due dates in reference to the cycle, students were able to plan time to accommodate tech access both on campus and at home in an effort to complete assignments on time. Simple changes like these helped create a bond with his students as they began to see his compassion for their learning and his ability to be responsive to their needs. Creating a culture of trust between student and teacher.

“Keep an open mind and allow students to make mistakes,” expressed Davila. “As an adult I make mistakes and I learn from those mistakes.”  He used this thinking to help propel both he and his students through the ups and downs of learning in a completely different way. After some repetition with these new accommodations, he was able to see gains in his students’ personal development as well as their overall achievement in class.

Life skills are embedded into ALC purposely and are crucial to the overall success of students. He emphasized this with his students daily. “I tell them, I am not just teaching you Physics,” expressed Davila. “I am teaching you skills you will need for the rest of your life.”

“If students are able to collaborate, they will be more comfortable” Davila stated. “I get to see them in action and my students demonstrate that they are capable of learning (on their own). This helps us push students beyond what they think they can do.”

At the end of the school year, Davila was able to take a step back and reflect on how applying ALC in the second semester affected his students and their overall progress. He saw gains across many demographic areas including gender which is seen below.  

After looking at the data he gave his students an opportunity through a survey, to share their opinions about how he should proceed for his classes for the 2018-2019 school year. They agreed that they gained much more knowledge and confidence in themselves during the second semester.

“They all said that I should start the school year off with the ALC because they did better the second semester,” Davila said.

In one semester of the Active Learning Cycle, Davila was able to help his students gain skills that may not have been as developed if he had continued on his traditional teaching path. Not only was he able to deepen their knowledge of the content, but he was also able to help them gain skills that can be applied to their personal lives. He was able to improve his own teaching techniques by following the Active Learning Cycle, to accommodate the needs of his students.

As a teacher, he sees the benefit of the partnership between AISD and e2L and highlights the alignment of student goals as well as the coaching to support his change in teaching style. “The Active Learning Cycle really hones in on the vision we have in Arlington ISD,” he said. Davila’s experience is a testament to what can happen when embarking on a new journey and applying a growth mindset to the process.


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