Something Completely Different: Rethinking Student Engagment
April 14, 2021
There are no deserts in Michigan, where I live, and so I was unprepared for the dry heat and the relentless sun my family and I experienced in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. I was unprepared for the cacti and the roadrunners, for the palo verde trees and the lizards, and for the stark beauty of the tree island mountains.
This spring, my family and I took a vacation to visit our family in the desert. A week later, I’ve noticed something about the experience: I remember it in vivid detail. This mnemonic clarity is typical; when we travel, our brains soak up our surroundings with alacrity. Everything is new and interesting — everything is worth paying attention to. And because learning requires engagement, visiting novel places creates incredibly rich learning.
Let’s leverage that idea in our classrooms — let’s take our students on new adventures.
Every year, technology opens new doors for teachers and students. Step through one to take your learners out of the classroom and into one of any number of incredible virtual field trips. A simple Google search can turn up a myriad of opportunities; here’s a list of thirty great examples for you to explore.
Your school doesn’t need to have one-to-one technology to take advantage of these opportunities; you can lead your whole class on a trip or, if you’re able, you can have students work in small groups to discuss and explore together. In fact, this small-group approach might be preferable, even if you do have enough devices to go around.
If you’ve got students who are traveling with their families, use Thinglink to help them annotate pictures of their travels. They can add their own insights, link to information on what they saw, and use the site to make it a deep learning experience for other students in your class.
Even a simple act like taking class outside can introduce enough novelty to make your learning more memorable, meaningful, and fun. When students go home at the end of the day, the content they learned outside will be the easiest for them to relate — and you’ll all benefit from extra steps and fresh air.
Plus, getting outdoors and into nature can help with a range of behavioral problems, and can help your students develop a deeper appreciation for our wonderful world.
Even if every computer in your school has crashed, and the weather is rainy and miserable, you can still create new and adventurous learning experiences for your students. Add a game to an otherwise staid lesson. Incorporate movement and action to get the blood flowing. Dress up in a costume related to your content, help your students create a song, or encourage them to make an artistic creation to express their understanding. The very fact that it’s something a little different will catch their attention, and attention is the doorway to learning.
Whatever you do, remember that sometimes the most powerful way to make learning a little different is to help it flow out into the broader world. Empower your students to share their learning with an audience outside the walls of their school. Encourage them to use their learning to make an impact on their community. Need ideas for how? Check out thirty free great seeds for incredible projects.
No, it might not be what your students are used to. They might be more accustomed to worksheets and lectures and standardized tests. But when it comes to creating real, lasting learning — sometimes the most important thing to do is something completely different.