Why I use student-driven ideas in my curriculum

A high school teacher shares an innovative way to keep students on task

You might think that teaching a high school programming course in which students are asked to code simple games and interactive websites would be motivating and exciting, but there are unforeseen elements of dealing with the teenage brain and the influences on their lives that seem to creep into the most well-designed plans. Students come to class with various types of anxiety, fears, and coping issues from daily stresses. They are also distracted with social media and the availability of instant information at their fingertips. As teachers, how do we keep them engaged and focused on their learning with the overwhelming amount of social and emotional distractions in their lives?

Student-driven ideas: the key to keeping students engaged

Keeping students on task is a constant challenge, so when I observed some students playing an online game when they were supposed to be working on an assignment, my first reaction was to ask them to close the program. Then I began to wonder why they were so fixated on playing this particular game. I wasn’t dealing with the typical Fortnite addiction; this was an escape-room game. (If you are not familiar with an escape-room game, Wikipedia defines it as a “physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints, and strategies to complete the objectives at hand.” I asked these students why they liked this game and they eagerly gave me their reasons, which revolved around conquering a personal challenge.

I realized that students didn’t seem thrilled about the work I asked them to do. Instead, they decided to switch to something different that caught their attention and motivated them to challenge themselves. My lesson had some important elements of coding included so I didn’t want to toss it out completely, but I wondered if I could use the “escape room” idea to spark a new level of interest in my plans. Should I let my student’s interest and/or distraction drive my curriculum?

Why this lesson worked

I created a new project in Google Classroom that included escape-room concepts asked students to work collaboratively to design and code their own game using HTML and JavaScript. Initially, students seemed enthused and shared ideas, but I sensed that there was still little effort by some to actually begin. The majority of students were working on the task, creating flowcharts and following the rubric, while others couldn’t seem to get past the idea stage.

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