Active Learning in the Science Classroom

Glen Westbroek on episode 271 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Thirty-three-year Presidential Award Winning science teacher Glen Westbroek believes in creating active learning experiences in his science classroom. Today we kick off science week on the 10-Minute Teacher talking about active learning, Next Generation Science Standards, and what an engaging science classroom looks like.

Legends of Learning has amazing game based science experiences for students in 3-8 aligning with Next Generation Science and select state standards. Go to and sign up for your free account now.

Whether it is earth science, life science, or physical science you can reinforce, reteach, and take kids further as they play the science games at And thanks to Legends of Learning for sponsoring science week this week on the 10-Minute Teacher.


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Enhanced Transcript

Active Learning in the Science Classroom

Link to show:
Date: March 12, 2018

Vicki: Happy Motivation Monday!

We’re kicking off Science Week with 33-year veteran science teacher, Glen Westbroek @gardenglen. He’s won the Utah Governor’s Award for Science and Technology, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and many other awards.

Now, Glen, you are passionate about motivating active learning in the science classroom.

Why is active learning so important?

Why is active learning so important?

Glen: You know, Vicki, that’s a great question. I think that it boils down to, “Students who are actively doing science are the ones who love the subject. Those who are doing it passively — either watching a teacher do something or reading a book or watching a video — tend not to be as motivated to enjoy the subject.”

Vicki: OK. How would you define active learning? When they’re hands-on? When they’re into things? Or what?

How would you define active learning?

Glen: I think part of it involves the hands-on aspect. Doing science in any way that doesn’t involve hands-on can’t be as motivational for a child. They just don’t get that same enthusiasm as when their hands are actively helping their brain learn the concepts.

On the other hand, it doesn’t all just have to be hands-on. There are times that it’s more appropriate to use technology in the pedagogy so that you can reinforce concept that the child is learning.

Vicki: OK, Glen, if I came to your classroom, and you wanted to show me one of your best lessons that promote active learning, describe what I would see.

Do you have an example of active learning?

Glen: Oh my goodness.

Alright, I’m going to take you to the first day of seventh grade this year.

Are you ready to go back in time?

Vicki: (laughs) Oh, I’m ready!

Glen: OK, so literally this was the first day. The students came into the classroom.

I got to know them just briefly.

And then I said, “We’re going to do something today that I hope works. But I’m not positive. You’re going to help me figure this out.”

Their eyes got really big, and it’s kind of like, “Wait. You’re going to try something that you don’t know if it works?”

And I said, “I don’t know for sure!”

And so we got out some MacBooks, and we opened up LoggerPro which is a program for Vernier Software. We connected up some motion detectors to those computers.

The motion detector works a little bit like a radar detector. So as motion happens, it’s able to collect the data and bring it on to the computer screen.

So they played with those just for a few minutes to see what motion would bring up the graph of any type.

At that point, I said, “Alright, here’s a graph. I want you to try to match it on your computer. I’m going to throw all your screens up on the board here. Using this LanSchool teacher program, you’re going to see each other. We’re going to see who comes up with the way to do this correctly.”

Pretty soon, one group figured it out, and everybody else said, “Wait! How’d you do that?”

So they started asking each other questions. And once they had figured out how everybody could do it correctly, I said, “Alright. Here’s a new graph. Try to make this one. And they went through and were finding out ways to create about four or five different graphs. In one class period, they understood the relationship of time with motion, and they thought they were just having fun.

Vicki: Wow! And that was the first day? I mean, where do you go from there?

Glen: Yes.

Vicki: Now, you know, some people will plan an awesome first day, and the second day is like “womp”… So where’d you go?

How do you top that?

Glen: From there, we went into trying to understand how motion is related to the launching of rockets.

We made paper rockets, and we launched them by pushing on a bicycle pump. We had a launcher that we would release the pressure from, and their rockets would fly out.

And I said, “Alright, now your challenge is to make your rocket go farther tomorrow. What are you going to do different?”

And they had to figure out what they wanted to do on their own, now, without me telling them what’s going to make things go on.

From there, we went into, “What is it like in the space program as they try to make things move, and how is it that there’s a relationship between the force that’s involved and the motion that the rocket actually has?”

Vicki: Incredible.

So Glen, if you could go back in time, and talk to Glen Westbroek on the first day of your 33-year science career, and help you not make certain mistakes, what would you say to yourself?

What would you tell your younger self as a beginning teacher?

Glen: Number one, I’d say, “Put the book on the shelf.”

Vicki: Ohhhhh. OK! (laughs)

Glen: I know that sounds crazy, but… I use the books now as a reference tool.

I tell the students, “When we need that, we’re going to go over, and we’re going to grab it. We’re going to learn from that book, but then we’re going to put it back.”

Whereas, my training in teaching was, “Have the students read the chapter. Have them answer all the questions at the end of the chapter. I thought that was the way to teach. The more I did it, the more I disliked it.

And I wanted to see, “How can I do things differently?” And that was my motivation to change.

Vicki: When did the lightbulb go on? When did you realize, “OK, there’s more…”

It’s obvious that you love your students. It’s obvious that you love teaching, and you love science.

When did the light flip on, and you go, “Aha!”

Glen: I’d say it flipped on about two or three years into it. It didn’t take very long at all.

And then it was a matter of condensing the principles. I wanted to try something different.

Why are some people uncomfortable with your method of teaching?

I’ve been very blessed. I’ve been with six different principals now, and only one has been a little hesitant about trying different things.

The other ones have all been very good about allowing me to have autonomy, as long as I am following through with the scope and sequence that our PLC has developed and making sure that I prepare my students for the common assessments that we create.

Vicki: OK. So why does it make people uncomfortable? Is it because you’re so active, and you’re so creative. Is that what makes people uncomfortable?

Or is it the fact that you don’t bring that book out very much?

Glen: I think part of it is not bringing the book out so much. That’s very different than the way every professor that I had trained me.

Vicki: Yeah.

But is this a whole lot of work, to not use your book?

Isn’t your method an awful lot of work?

Glen: Well, I explain this to new teachers as I work with them.

You’ve got classroom management, and you’ve got classroom discipline.

Classroom management is everything I do before students walk through the doorway.

Discipline is what I do once students are in the classroom.

The more effort I put into my classroom management, the less effort I have to do with my classroom discipline.

Vicki: Ohhhhh.

Glen: So in the long run, it pays off.

Vicki: Oh, that’s awesome. I love that.

So you’re spending your time organizing your classroom, organizing the flow, organizing stations, organizing experiences… so they’re busy the moment they walk in?

Glen: That’s my goal. Within a minute of the bell ringing, I’d like to have them actively doing something. It may take a little bit of introduction from me, or I may show a video clip. For example, before we did the rockets, I showed a video clip of a launch. Next year, I think we’ll be showing Elon Musks’s little launch that happened this year because that was so impressive.

Vicki: Ohhhh. It was! And when they landed the boosters again, that was incredible, wasn’t it?

Glen: It really was. That took a lot of good technology and a lot of engineering. We’re working a lot with STEM. Throughout the United States, every state that has adopted or has modified Next Generation Science Standards, is looking at how to involve students in doing more of the technology and engineering aspects of science.

Vicki: So how have the Next Generation Science Standards transformed your classroom? Or have they?

Have the Next Generation Science Standards changed your classroom?

Glen: I don’t know that they have changed them a lot. In terms of the experiences that I try to provide students, I don’t think it has been a huge difference.

What I have found different, though, is trying to infuse the engineering aspect so that students have multi days to try and accomplish something, as opposed to, “Here. Try this for 5 minutes and let’s talk about it. Now let’s go on to something else.”

Vicki: Are the multi days exciting for you?

Glen: Oh my goodness!

The last one we did? We were learning about how structures are designed to survive earthquakes.

I showed a short video clip from some Japanese station that I had no idea what they were saying. But we could see the buildings wavering in the background as they talked about it.

I had a teacher friend who was helping me that said, “They said something about ‘earthquake.’ I recognize that word.”

And I said, “OK. We’ll go with that video clip.” So we showed this little video clip, and then I pulled out some spaghetti pasta…

Vicki: (laughs)

Glen: … and some of the mini marshmallows.

Vicki: Ohhh.

Glen: And I said, “Your goal is to make a building that will survive an earthquake. And what we’re going to use — “

We had these trays that we had put sand into. They had to build within those trays. And I showed them how I was going to shake the trays to model the earthquake.

And they got so excited to see who could design a structure that would survive an earthquake that had a strength of 6 or a strength or 7.

I said, “Somebody’s is going to crash big, because I’m going to do a 10 on theirs.”

Vicki: (laughs)

Glen: They got all excited because, you know, “I’ve got to make mine survive.”

That was their goal. They loved it!

And the second day, as they came in, “OK, we’ve got ideas. Can we change it now?”

And I said, “Go for it. Soon as you’re ready, let me know.”

Vicki: (laughs) And then you destroyed their buildings!

Glen: Yes, Ma’am! Multiple times.

Vicki: Don’t they love it?

Glen: They did! And they wanted to build another one.

Failure is a critical piece in learning.

Vicki: You know, if you listen to Jane Mcgonigal, who talks about gaming, you know, somewhere around 50% is kind of the failure rate for engagement and excitement.


I know that it sounds kind of harsh to take something they’ve created and put it to the test, but it’s really an authentic experience, isn’t it?

Glen: It really is. And the other thing I remind them of is that, FAIL means it’s your First Attempt In Learning.

Vicki: Hmmmm.

Glen: That gives you an opportunity to SAIL, which is your Second Attempt In Learning.

And if it’s really hard, you’re going to go to MAIL, which is Multiple Attempts in Learning.

Vicki: (laughs) Oh, I love that! I wish we could just talk forever!

So this is Science Week. What a great motivation Monday for active learning in the science classroom.

And actually, we can apply the FAIL-SAIL-MAIL to all classrooms.

I love that, Glen. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us and getting us excited about science and about learning!

Glen: You’re very welcome. It’s been a pleasure. I think science and learning is an opportunity for students to grow and be prepared for their future.

Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted – Glen Westbroek

Glen Westbroek and his wife have three children. Glen has taught science for 33 years and received these awards: Utah Governor’s Award for Science and Technology, Alpine District Teacher of the Year, Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award, Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and Utah Science Teachers Association Dick Peterson Lifetime Achievement award.

Twitter: @gardenglen

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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