From gamifying popular works of literature, to pitching invention ideas in “Shark Tank” productions, school districts are rethinking how to get beyond homework and traditional lectures to engage students.

Teachers in Pennsylvania’s Avella, Burgettstown, Canon-McMillan and Carmichaels districts have offered up how they’re reworking class time to help young pupils value their education and take it beyond the classroom. Though it all can’t be fun and games, even the nuts and bolts of mathematics can be made more captivating.

Joelle Cooper is right at home teaching geometry and calculus at Avella. A district graduate, the math teacher has been facilitating innovative team-building lessons through a blended learning model the district is piloting this year through Carnegie Learning.

“In the past, it was drill and skill. It wasn’t very engaging. Now, it’s word problems and applications of those problems in real-world contexts,” Cooper said, explaining her classes conduct book work in class three days a week and online work the remaining two.

“I’m not in front of the class much anymore. The students have to talk to each other and work in groups, and they’re learning better than they ever would with me through a lecture. I walk around listening to the ideas they’re working on, and it’s positive encouragement for them to figure out their own solutions to problems,” Cooper said.

Superintendent Cyril Walther said the model prevents cheating because while the online course work focuses on a central concept, it provides different problems for each group or individual.

“And instead of a textbook that could become obsolete every few years, (the online) program allows us to keep the curriculum relevant,” Walther said.

Next page: How real-world challenges shape instruction

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