At the recent Kahoot! EDU Summit with over 40,000 registrants, we hosted a panel together with our partner NASA. Educators and administrators from around the world were eager to hear our conversation with Cindy Hasselbring, K-12 Advisor in NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement and Kahoot! student ambassador, Benny. We discussed what student-centered learning actually is, how to give ownership to the students, and how to shift your mindset as a teacher.

What is student-centered learning?

It’s an approach that gives students more control over their learning, letting them choose what and how they want to study, and giving them a voice in why it matters to them. Rather than the teacher running the show, students get more power and responsibility to co-create their own learning experiences. So, how can teachers begin to try out this approach, which for some is quite new and different?

1. Consider the role of the students

We want students to explore concepts they are genuinely interested in, and make sure they have options for how to do that. For instance, ask your students to list the things they are curious about related to space! Then show them the NASA STEM YouTube channel as a starting point for researching those topics. Make sure they know they don’t all have to do the same kind of project, and that there’s no right answer to how they should demonstrate their learning. This autonomy can help students develop their own STEM identity, and see themselves as future scientists.

2. Shift your mindset as a teacher

One of the hardest things about student-centered learning is thinking of your role as an educator differently. When students are responsible for their own learning, teachers don’t need to be the “sage on the stage” but rather take the role of a “guide on the side.” You will point your students to resources and give feedback along the way, but you don’t have to have all of the answers! In fact, Kahoot! student ambassador Benny believes that teachers not having all the knowledge is “what makes school cool!” For support from other teachers, be sure to check out NASA CONNECTS, a collaborative network of STEM educators.

3. Provide opportunities to explore and play

As Cindy Hasselbring from NASA explained, young kids have a natural curiosity that feeds into an innate interest in STEM and how the world works. As educators, we want to nurture that curiosity and empower children to explore and experiment in their own ways. Playful learning is a great fit for STEM, because it brings an expectation of trying things without fear of failure, in order to see what happens and try something else. NASA has a big collection of resources that students can explore and experiment with, both digital and hands-on activities. These could be great starting points for experiments and projects that your students can make their own!

We hope these ideas spark new ways to foster student-centered learning in STEM and other subjects in your own classroom and we hope to continue the conversation!

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