As educators, we are always trying to find ways for all students to achieve success. Research has shown us that students who are engaged in learning are more likely to be successful. So how do we know when students are truly engaged in learning? They are active participants–they listen and ask questions, they are invested in and internalize what they are learning, they make real-life connections, and they take pride in the work they produce.
Two years ago, my school, Dr. Rodriguez Elementary, kicked off a new effort to create authentic learning experiences for all students by infusing STEM learning strategies into our curriculum. We believed this effort would increase student engagement and motivation. While we have more work to accomplish in this effort, to date we have been pleased with the results.
Here are five strategies using technology the teachers in my school have implemented to create a learning environment that actively engages students and promotes more fun in learning.
1. Take students on a Virtual Field Trip: All field trips were canceled this year due to the pandemic; however, with the help of Discovery Education we have been able to continue to expose our students to the world around them and you won’t need permission slips! Can’t take a trip to the zoo or take your class to Washington, D.C. to tour the monuments? No worries! Students can still see polar bears in action on the tundra or tour the White House with First Lady Jill Biden by taking a virtual field trip. In this way, teachers can create real-life connections between what is taught and the real world.
2. Incorporate the 4 Cs into your lessons: Why are the 4Cs important for students? The 4Cs are important skills students need to succeed in the workplace. Creating opportunities for students to be able to engage in one or more of the 4Cs will allow them to practice using those skills.
Collaborate with Zoom video conferencing: Students should have the opportunity to work together in groups with a specific problem to solve. The main objective of collaboration is for students to learn how to compromise to achieve a common goal. Because of the pandemic this school year, teachers on my campus are using breakout rooms with Zoom video conferencing to have in-person students collaborate with remote learning students.
Communicate with Flipgrid: You can’t have collaboration without communication. What should communication in the classroom look like? Opportunities for students to showcase what they have learned by speaking in front of peers to practice conveying their ideas and thoughts clearly and concisely, teacher-facilitated/student-led classroom discussions, or small group discussions. But in this remote learning environment, traditional communication may be unable to take place. Flipgrid is a video discussion tool used to create an open platform outside of the physical classroom. Students can respond to a specific topic by recording their responses and posting them. This is a great way for students to engage with the teacher, as well as with each other, without the pressure of speaking in front of the whole group.
Students can get creative with FlipaClip: Creativity doesn’t only have to occur in an art or music class. When students are challenged to think outside the box to plan, create, and design innovative solutions to problems, they are practicing creativity. Creativity shouldn’t limit students to one specific format. Students are able to use apps like FlipaClip to turn their hand-drawn designs into 2D animation. Students then use their designs to build with materials of their choice and test their designs.
Encourage critical thinking with MimioTeach: Critical thinking is all about solving problems. Students can’t brainstorm an effective solution to a problem without engaging in research, which includes asking questions constantly. Having students practice their critical thinking skills will give them the confidence to use their own initiative to find a solution to a problem and apply it. MimioTeach turns our dry erase whiteboards into interactive whiteboards for students to demonstrate knowledge of their work. Create a game of Jeopardy and have students practice their math skills by solving problems with varying levels of difficulty that the students choose. They then go up to the board and work out the problem with the help of their classmates!
3. Use Seesaw to engage in-person and remote learners: This year, Seesaw has played an integral part in providing instruction to our students, whether in-person or at home. Seesaw is a great tool that allows teachers to create assignments and assessments for all subject areas, to provide feedback on student work, and to communicate with families. Students also can submit their work via Seesaw.
4. Have fun reviewing with Blooket: Create a review game for a quiz, test, or to assess if students were really paying attention with Blooket. Teachers can choose or create a set of questions and select a game mode. The teacher hosts a game, has students join, and then lets the fun begin. Teachers can also utilize reports to analyze the results and identify areas that may require some re-teach.
5. Set the tone, generate interest, and make real-life connections with a classroom or school-wide challenge: Give students a problem-driven question or have them come up with one of their own. For example, “Be a superhero and save an endangered species!” Have your classroom or grade levels conduct research on an endangered species and challenge them to brainstorm solutions on how they can contribute to the conservation of an endangered species. Then, have them present their findings with Vocaroo. Use Vocaroo to record students talking about their topic of study, save, and share their recording using a QR code. Post their QR codes in the hallway and send students on a scavenger hunt to learn about the various endangered species students have studied.
These are just a few strategies we’ve added this year to keep students engaged and motivated. Our primary strategy this year for student engagement was to make real-life connections, giving students a purpose for learning and creating a passion that will hopefully live with them forever. I love the excitement I see on their faces and hear in their voices when they share what their teacher taught them about polar bears or what they learned while researching an endangered species. To end the school year, our students will be learning how to become master gardeners and cultivate their own fruits and vegetables.
The key to student engagement is the ability to adapt and try something new. I hope you give one or more of these strategies a try.