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Students Actively Participate in Their Education

April 15, 2021 by Admin

by Matthew Knoles, Lower School Principal

Recess and RhetoricI don’t remember the first time I tied my shoes, read a book, wrote a story, did the dishes, sincerely asked someone for forgiveness without being made to do so, or merged onto the freeway alone. I don’t remember learning a multitude of things that people do on a daily basis. I do know that those things were done for me for some portion of my life and at some point, I was made to do them on my own. I am certain that these skills were not performed, at first, with great precision or grace (although I hope the freeway merge was both precise and graceful). In fact, there must have been some amount of failure involved as I learned new skills. 

Two approaches to learning

In education, there are two sometimes competing approaches to learning. One is passive learning and one is active learning. Although one sounds negative and the other positive, that is not the case. Passive learning is more teacher-centered and has an important place in the classroom at all levels. That approach includes direct instruction, lectures, modeling a skill, watching educational videos, reading aloud, and a host of other methods and activities used by the teacher in order to pass along content, skills, and ideas. Most of us grew up with this approach and might have strong opinions about its value in the classroom. 

The other approach, active learning, includes more learner-centered activities such as project-based assignments, creating a presentation, acting out a historical event in front of the class, sharing with a partner, or taking a field trip to learn about something through firsthand experience.

Schools swing far and wide on either side of that passive/active pendulum. To be sure, both approaches have a place in education. Both can lead to a greater understanding of the world around us and to God’s design for human flourishing. 

Matt Knoles

Principal Knoles helps a Lower School student learn how to tell time.

The student as an active learner

We live in a time where there is no end to the amount of information, facts, and virtual resources at our fingertips. We are finding out that mere head knowledge does not make the person. It never has. I didn’t learn to tie my own shoes, drive a car, or forgive voluntarily as a passive recipient of knowledge about best practices. I actively practiced and pursued those life skills.

It is with joy that I see the purposeful, participatory activity in the classes on my campus. For example: 

  • Looking at a diagram about conductors and resistors is not the same as learning how electrons move through a conduit by experimenting with snap circuits, as students do in our Lower School science class.
  • Reading a book about panning for gold might be interesting, but dipping a gold pan in the frigid American River, feeling the ache of melted snow runoff on your hands, provides an experience sure to be remembered by fourth-graders on our annual (non-pandemic times) California history trip.


Experiencing God’s intended purpose for their Christian education

Hearing the sweet, pure voices of our second-graders practicing their ABC Bible verses brightens my mornings.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find
Be still and know that I am God
Children, obey your parents in everything
Do not be anxious about anything
Every word of God proves true
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…

Students can recite those 26 verses without a hitch. I know full well that each of them will, by the grace of God, live lives that will challenge them over and over to walk out those verses in faith. They know the words in their minds and are hiding God’s Word in their heart.

And like all of us, God asks our students to be doers of the Word and not just hearers.

Matthew Knoles is dad to Lower School student Beck. Beyond that important distinction, he is a dedicated and beloved principal with more than 10 years of elementary school classroom teaching experience. He holds a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership and an administrative credential from California State University Northridge. He completed the California teaching credential program at Chapman University after earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UCSB. He is an active worship leader in his church and plays in the Lower School Worship Band. 


Three Educational Paradigms Demonstrate What We Love the Most by Bruce Rottman (04/08/21)

A Blueprint for a Distinctly Christian Education by Soo Chang (2020)

For more information on the distinctly Christian education at Providence School, contact Tawny Kilpper, admissions director, at tkilpper@providencesb.org