In the traditional views of learning, knowledge was something that the teacher gave to his/her students. The emphasis was on learning facts and concepts, and students were seen as passive receivers, whose duty was just to memorize the knowledge the teacher gave. This philosophy was very teacher centered and the role of student was unimportant. They were just the audience. Changes in beliefs allowed students to start constructing their own knowledge, which (of course) is a necessity, as everybody perceives and understands the taught subject matter in his or her own personal way. The teacher’s role changed from being a lecturer to being a facilitator, into helping students understand instead of just memorize.
Today we fortunately know that knowledge is dynamic of its nature and learning is a process that everyone goes through, each at his or her own rate. This process of learning is facilitated via concrete experience, as well as with reflection, analyzation, and re-construction of the extracted principles - and the conclusions happen automatically if we teachers don't intervene and help students to focus their learning into desired outcomes/learning objectives, and be successful in their studies.
Much of our academic success depends on what we believe about ourselves and education, and the interactions of the two. Do we believe in fixed (static intelligence and talent) or growth mindset (developing intelligence)? Researchers strongly recommend the latter one: “Encouraging a malleable (growth) mindset may help to sustain children's intrinsic motivation, thereby enhancing both academic success and life-long learning”.
The learning process always involves our thinking skills, so that we are able to organize and conceptualize learned things. And let me still emphasize this: children already possess these tools, every child has a deep inborn curiosity about the surrounding world, and tools to organize the information so that they can make sense of it. Human mind is interesting because it creates these connections automatically, and the very important part of teacher's job is to guide this meaning-making process and help students actively choose the optimal outcome. We just need to provide them with more advanced tools to achieve higher level thinking and learning!
Another important aspect in activating your students is to provide anemotionally safe learning environment, where the intrinsic worth of each individual can easily be seen in classroom management style and teacher-student relationships. Sometimes we adults seem to think that students (or children in general) are an alien race, and that "normal" rules about politeness and mutual respect are not necessary while talking to children (and in many societies children actually have less rights than adults).
The emotionally safe environment provides the best frame of reference for students to engage in their intrinsic learning process, as they don’t have to waste thinking capacity to being nervous or scared, or wondering when someone will humiliate them. Having high expectations for academic success and allowing students to feel competent about classroom activities lead to an increased desire to perform well without making students feel emotionally insecure.
I would love to share the tools with you to make this happen in your classroom!
 Haimovitz, K., Wormington, S. V., & Corpus, J. H. (2011). Dangerous mindsets: How beliefs about intelligence predict motivational change. Learning and Individual Differences, 21(6), 747-752.
More about active learning in the book: