Partnerships Promote Active Learning

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 16–17, 2018

Stetson University
Miami, Florida

According to Braxton et al., “Active learning enhances student knowledge and understanding” (2008, p. 73). Identifying and engaging with teaching and learning partners is one way to promote active student learning. The Education Division at Chaminade University of Honolulu (CUH) has successfully partnered with two different organizations in very different ways to enhance active student learning.

Partnerships between schools and other institutions can take many forms. The partnerships described in this paper exist between the university and two informal learning institutions. Informal learning institutions include museums, science centers, aquariums, zoos, galleries, and the like, and are designed to engage people in specific learning experiences (National Research Council, 2009).

For the past 3 years, CUH students and a faculty representative have participated in a week-long, summer, professional development experience, partnering education specialists from the National Aeronautic Space Administration (NASA) with pre-service teachers. During this experience, the participants engage in active learning through engineering design activities, scientific inquiry, field trips, NASA campus tours, and presentations given by NASA personnel, including astronauts, engineers, and educators.

In another partnership, CUH students and faculty have participated in a semester-long experience with the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum (PHAM) in order to develop familiarity with museum resources and create teaching and learning materials for future classroom use. During this experience, students actively participate in museum programs and engage with museum staff in order to extrapolate those experiences into extended pre- and post-learning activities.

This paper incorporates the perspectives of all participants in these partnerships: (1) partner representatives provide information on the goals and benefits of their programs and tips for facilitating partnerships; (2) students relay their experiences and the impacts of partnership activities; and (3) faculty describe the logistics of facilitating these activities.

Building partnerships supports active learning because it provides opportunities to apply knowledge and/or develop knowledge and skills that may not be presented in university coursework. Partnerships reinforce the concept that knowledge and information are not solely housed in one place (i.e., the university). Further, effective partnerships create lifelong connections that are mutually beneficial.

Partner Perspectives

The partnership with NASA was facilitated via grant funding secured by Texas State University (TSU). During the three years of grant funding, different NASA locations hosted more than 1200 students from more than 100 minority-serving institutions. During the summers of 2016, 2017, and 2018, cohorts of interested CUH students (17 total) were hosted at NASA Ames for a week-long science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professional development workshop, which included trainings, lectures, activities, and facility tours.

The partnership between NASA/TSU and the minority-serving institutions were developed in order to (1) inspire participants, including teachers; (2) reach the underserved or those living in underserved regions; (3) provide research-based professional development for teachers; and (4) support a broader base of educators than NASA typically reaches through other outreach or professional development opportunities.

The NASA/TSU partners describe several benefits for participating in the professional development workshop: (1) establishing a faculty network through which partner institutions develop relationships to be leveraged in future collaborations; (2) access to various public and lesser known NASA teaching resources; (3) support for building a foundation for STEM teaching/learning; and (4) opportunities to design and develop culturally responsive lessons.

The partnership with the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum coincided with CUH coursework. For two years, all CUH seniors (17 total) in the on-ground elementary education program have engaged in an internship with the museum. Three faculty members who teach senior level courses set aside seven instructional days across the semester for this partnership to develop. The purpose of the partnership with the museum was to expand the course learning environment, and to leverage available community resources to enhance university student learning outcomes.

This partnership aligns with the mission of the museum, centering on the context and the history of the location as well as on STEM. The museum staff have been eager to work with the pre-service teachers because informal learning environments are an untapped resource available to educators. Additionally, there is evidence that corroborates the value of partnerships between informal learning institutions and schools/universities (Aquino, Kelly, & Bayne, 2010; Kisiel, 2013; Phillips, Finkelstein, & Wever-Frerichs, 2012). This was a motivating factor for the museum director to reach out to CUH.

Some of the tips for developing partnerships provided by our partners at the PHAM include: (1) Know your own organization—its strengths and limitations. Reflect on your mission and programmatic goals, which will aid in articulating how a partnership might support individual and mutual goals. Have a clear understanding of desired outcomes and contributions. (2) Consider the relevance of coursework to real work students will do. Previous research conducted with pre-service teachers suggests that professional development in informal learning spaces (such as our partner, PHAM) supports development by complementing the theoretical portions of teacher preparation coursework (Aquino et al., 2010). While an effective partnership will provide multiple opportunities for new learning, opportunities must exist for students to apply developing knowledge and skills. (3) Seek partners who are interested in developing relationships, rather than creating a single program for its public relations value. Make sure that you connect with partners who truly want to engage with students and the university.

From the perspective of PHAM, gains from this partnership have included: (1) A better understanding of the needs of pre-service teachers. (2) Opportunities for museum staff to act as mentors for the university students. (3) Increased credibility as providers of professional development, particularly for local teachers. (4) An expanded professional network. The pre-service teachers who participate in this partnership gain personal experience that can be used throughout their careers, which provides for an infinite number of additional visitors to the museum.

From the perspective of PHAM, the student benefits include: (1) The memory of their partnership experience. (2) A deeper appreciation for community resources. A desired outcome of our PHAM partners is that our pre-service teachers become confident in their ability to utilize community resources similar to those that they have experienced. (3) Knowing the kinds of activities/experiences that are available for their future K-12 students. PHAM and other informal learning spaces want teachers to be able to access and use the resources available at their institutions (Aquino et al., 2010; Kisiel, 2013). (4) Expanding thinking about lesson planning. Engaging with the museum resources provided an opportunity for students to consider how to integrate external learning activities (i.e., field trips, collections, outreach) as tools for engaging students with required content and curricula.

Student Perspectives

Student reflections on the partnerships describe the benefits of participation, including a specific discussion of the active learning strategies employed during each experience. Benefits of the NASA/TSU partnership include: (1) resources for use in the classroom; (2) networking; (3) interdisciplinary learning; and (4) stipends for participation. The benefits of the PHAM partnership include: (1) working with the staff; (2) learning about the K-12 resources for use in the classroom; (3) the accommodating staff; and (4) the structure and organization of the activities.

In alignment with the planned program outcomes, CUH students who participated in the NASA workshops left the experience with extensive resources for use in their classrooms, including lesson plan booklets, experience with practice activities, guidance on how to access age appropriate resources from the NASA education website, and lunar rock and meteorite training, as well as physical materials such as posters, eclipse viewing glasses, models, etc. The workshops also offered the opportunity for students to network and meet pre-service educators from other schools. The students connected with NASA Ames staff, including an astronaut. During the NASA experience, students engaged with and/or applied learning from their university coursework. In addition, students were compensated for their time completing different aspects of the workshop; specifically, pre- and post-workshop activities aligned with grant data collection.

The active learning strategies associated with the NASA/Texas State partnership included hands-on activities, field trips, and Ames campus tours. The hands-on experiences included participation in active learning and inquiry-based lessons. CUH students engaged with these activities as if they were K-12 students in order to experience effective and engaging science/engineering learning, while also learning how the lessons were written and implemented. Workshop participants were given time to visit other locations, including the Intel museum and the Exploratorium, as well as Ames campus facilities, such as the world’s largest wind tunnel, workshops where space robots are built, the quantum computer, and more.

One of the benefits of the PHAM partnership for students was working and developing professional relationships with the museum staff, including the education staff, the director of education and visitor experience, and the museum curator. In alignment with the goals set by our partners at PHAM, CUH students became familiar with and were able to use various resources, including the Smithsonian Learning Lab, museum programs/outreach activities, and the online collection. The staff of PHAM were exceptionally accommodating of the students, setting aside time outside of the scheduled meetings in order to mentor and provide support. Because of this partnership, the students now know of the resources and education staff available at informal learning institutions to support classroom teachers.

The active learning strategies associated with the PHAM partnership were multimodal and incorporated aspects of internship and mentoring. The multimodal experience provided CUH students the opportunity to engage in activities from the perspectives of both educator and K-12 student. From the perspective of educator, CUH students reviewed lesson plans and observed museum field trips and outreach activities. From the perspective of K-12 student, CUH students engaged with museum staff and attended programs and activities as if they were visiting on a school field trip. CUH students also acted as interns for the museum during the annual Living History Day, as well as during the development of curriculum materials. Finally, CUH students partnered with mentors who provided support when clarification of content was needed during the development of curriculum materials.

CUH Faculty Perspectives

Faculty reflections on these partnerships highlight student engagement along with the challenges of navigating these experiences.

During the NASA/TSU workshop experience, the faculty representative was expected to co-facilitate the learning for their university students. Faculty were requested to engage with students and scaffold learning in the same manner they would in a traditional classroom setting. The faculty representative assisted in translating the workshop expectations and facilitated student engagement.

While the NASA/TSU partnership was exceptionally engaging, it required substantial preparation. Prior to the program, faculty representatives needed to collect and document the completion of numerous student prerequisites. One the most significant challenges was communication with students via email. They simply did not respond to email, which was the primary mode of communication. Additionally, travel was a challenge given the remote location. Despite these difficulties, this partnership was an active learning experience for the faculty representative and continues to be through webinars and resources that are disseminated through the network of partners and participants.

As previously indicated, the museum partnership coincided with the fall semester of senior courses.  Education faculty of senior level students agreed to integrate the museum internship as a foundation for course activities. Through this partnership, CUH students strengthened and expanded their management, planning, assessment, and problem-solving skills beyond the university context, and were given an opportunity to directly apply learning from university coursework.

Similar to the NASA/TSU partnership, the PHAM partnership required preliminary work. Prior to CUH student engagement, the CUH faculty participants met with the museum educators to select and schedule activities. Also, because the partner activities were scheduled at the museum, faculty and museum staff had to coordinate transportation and access to the museum, which is located on land controlled by the military. After each visit, students reflected on applications and alignment between coursework and museum activities. At the end of the term, each CUH student presented an original interdisciplinary unit anchored in one of the field trips or museum programs.


Colleges and universities that partner with outside institutions provide opportunities for students to engage in active learning. Internships/mentoring and professional development are  two of many ways in which CUH students participate in active learning with external partners. These active learning experiences provide opportunities for university students to apply and/or consider how course content is integrated in various external settings. In addition to achieving the learning outcomes associated with active learning practices, participants are able to recognize how partners’ program goals align with university activities, offering a win-win scenario for all who are involved.


Aquino, A. E., Kelly, A. M., & Bayne, G. U. (2010). Sharing our teachers: The required graduate class at the American Museum of Natural History for Lehman College (CUNY). New Educator, 6(3-4), 225-246.

Kisiel, J. (2013). Introducing future teachers to science beyond the classroom. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 24(1), 67-91.

National Research Council. (2009). Learning science in informal environments: People, places, and pursuits. National Academies Press.

Phillips, M., Finkelstein, D., & Wever-Frerichs, S. (2012). School site to museum floor: How informal science institutions work with schools. International Journal of Science Education, 29(12).

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Spring 2019: Transforming Teaching Through Active Learning