(That You Probably Haven’t Tried!)
Finally summer is here! With this school year safely in the rear-view mirror, teachers will have plenty of time to reflect on what worked and what will need to be improved upon for the coming year. Keeping students engaged in learning can be a struggle at any point during the year. Having a variety of ways to reengage students can be the difference between a good year and a frustrating one. (This applies to both you and your students.)
Luckily, student engagement is a problem with a wide range of solutions to choose from and fairly easy methods of implementation. Do you already employ these strategies? Take a moment and see if you are doing what some experts recommend and if not, take advantage of the insight from experienced teachers…These strategies work to get and keep students engaged- and their teachers too!
1. Project-Based Learning (PBL)
In a PBL classroom, the students create projects as a way of demonstrating knowledge. Students are given a real-world problem or question and then given the tools and support to find a solution or answer. The students are responsible for the research, design and presenting the solution to the audience. The teacher acts as a facilitator, guiding the processes and using embedded assessment practices to monitor progress. In many cases, an expert in the field will come in to help guide the students as well. The expert acts as another resource for students as well as a strong connection to the real world problems that need solving. Solutions are often presented to an audience with the intent to implement. Students get an extra boost of motivation when they know their hard work is for more than just a grade!
In other words, take the subject matter and apply the lesson to real-world problems. For example, my second graders this year were learning about recycling. In the old days, we would read about recycling in a book and then take a class on what we read. In my class, however, we take a trip through our school to go through the class trash cans at school! (Ewe…Gross! And the kids love it, and they talk about it at lunch, and eventually it becomes “one of those projects you get to do in 2nd grade!”) After collecting some interesting things, we examine and determine what can be reused, recycled, or replaced with a better option.
Of course a lesson like this comes with a little extra preparation, like getting gloves for the kids, asking teachers for cooperation in advance and reminding the students to wash hands afterwards! But the lasting effects of a project-based learning experience is worth it!
2. Genius Hour
This strategy, brought to our attention by Genius Hour.com, is a great example of how education can look to industry for engaging. Employees at Google® get to spend 20% of their time, working on a project of their choice. The results have been impressive. During this “free time,” employees use their interest and expertise to solve problems, make processes more efficient or develop new software. It’s where Gmail was born! You might be thinking, “Yeah, well, those are professionals with a secure set of expertise. I’ve got a room full of silly 6th graders!” Even Google had to put a few parameters on the 20% time and you will too. Even so, it’s proven to be incredibly successful.
Many middle level and high school teachers have already adopted this philosophy, and their students are able to spend 20% of their class time working on solutions that are of interest to them. Genius Hour starts with a driving question or problem. The question or problem, although chosen by the student, must have a level of complexity that would require research. Once the teacher and student agree on the question or problem, the student uses a variety of different resources to try to answer the question or solve the problem. Finally, the solution is shared with an audience. Many times, these solutions are posted on a shared site for anyone to view. This strategy develops independent learning skills, fosters creative thinking and brings fun back into learning.
Makerspaces are small, dedicated spaces in a common location, usually a library or an empty classroom. In a makerspace, students can tinker around with almost anything of interest: Legos®, Kinex®, clay, blocks, circuit boards, craft items, gardening, health, etc. These spaces do not require any type of technology and can be tied to the curriculum. Students can learn about a math or science concept and then create something that represents what they’ve learned. Some Makerspaces have 3-D printers on hand for transferring the concept into a tangible item. Of course, students can share their creations with teachers, other students or the rest of the world. Expect to see an increase in student engagement, determination and creativity after a Makerspace has been implemented in your school.
Makerspaces can be found in New York, Colorado, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Ohio classrooms to name a few! Hopefully, some of these strategies will find their way into many more classrooms across the country.
Here are a few resources to help you find more information on how you can implement Genius Hour activities in your classroom: Makerspaces.com, Edutopia, How the Maker Movement Connects Students to Engineering and Tech, You Tube, What is a Makerspace?
Where to get even more great resources for professional development:
Check out The Teacher’s Academy website for some more great ways to keep teachers and students engaged all year long. Need to get caught up on those professional development requirements? Get them done this summer! The Teacher’s Academy is the place most teachers look to help maintain their certifications or fulfill teaching license renewals. Not sure if your district will accept TTA courses? Check out the Find your State Page and see if we can help. (We probably can!)
The Teachers at The Teacher’s Academy want to wish all of our amazing teachers and fun, safe and happy summer!