It's that time of year when there are lots of things happening in our schools that keep us all busy. During this time, we may see a decrease in student engagement in learning and also may feel a bit stressed as we work through a busy time of the year. However, I believe that spring is the perfect time to explore some new ideas and tools, and finish the school year strong. It's also good to be able to dive into new learning experiences before the end of the year so that over the summer, we have some new ideas to reflect on. We can think about which strategies and tools made a difference throughout the year and consider how to implement them in the new school year. Here are five topics, whether fueled with strategies or tools, that you can explore to get your students and you up and moving more and finish the year strong. It’s not just about creating more active learning but also serves to boost student engagement, leading to better content retention. With a variety of strategies and tools, it also helps students with the ongoing development of the essential skills such as SEL and other skills that they need to be successful now and in the future.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
Have you explored augmented or virtual reality in your classroom yet? They have become more popular in K-12 classrooms in the past few years and there are many tools available to explore. These tools amplify the learning experience for students by immersing them in an environment or giving them the opportunity of being able to hold and manipulate an object in augmented reality for example. Students can not only consume the content, but they can create using a variety of options available to bring learning to life.
Or you can take students on a virtual field trip to places they would not otherwise be able to visit, such as the bottom of the ocean or the surface of Mars. Using VR experiences for simulations for career exploration or science labs are a great way to engage students and help them learn in more authentic and meaningful ways. Using AR or VR, students could create 3D models of objects, which they can then explore and manipulate. The hands-on learning leads to better retention of content. It can also be a great way to help students understand complex concepts, such as the human body or the solar system. There are many tools available for students to create their own AR and VR experiences which can be a great way to help them develop their creativity and problem-solving skills.
I recommend starting with the VR trips available through Nearpod and use the interactive lessons to engage students in a variety of learning experiences. We have enjoyed using CoSpaces EDU in my Spanish and STEAM classes. There is a library full of example projects and also lessons available that make it easy to get started. Students also enjoy MergeVR, a holographic cube that enables them to hold and interact with different 3D objects in their hand. The cube can be used with a variety of apps, including Merge Explorer and Object Viewer, which allow users to create scenes and place objects in the real world. You can have students create their project on a Merge cube using CoSpaces EDU!!
Escape Rooms and Digital Breakouts
One of the most important skills that students can learn from escape rooms is teamwork. In order to successfully escape from the room, students need to work together and communicate effectively. They need to be able to share ideas, listen to each other, and problem solve and within a certain time limit. These are valuable skills that can be applied to many different areas of life.
With these options, students build problem-solving skills as they solve the puzzles and challenges in an escape room. They also need to think critically and creatively. In preparation for future learning and careers, students need to be able to identify problems, brainstorm solutions, and test those solutions. These skills can be applied to all academic subjects and even grade levels which makes escape rooms and breakouts a fun yet beneficial learning experience.
Escape rooms or breakouts are great for students and teachers, especially for professional development! Typically there is a content-related theme to use for a hook. The purpose is to engage students in learning, making connections to the content area, while boosting student engagement. The theme also creates excitement for learning! Choosing tools such as Flip, Wakelet or using Google Forms and a website are great options for these.
On April 22nd each year, we celebrate Earth Day which is a worldwide event. First celebrated in 1970, it has become a significant global event, with over 1 billion people from more than 190 countries around the world participating each year. Earth Day is a fantastic opportunity for schools to help students understand how they can take action towards finding solutions for these challenges and creating a more sustainable future.
It is important to help students to develop greater awareness of the world beyond our classrooms, which promotes social awareness and helps them to develop empathy. We can amplify their learning experiences by finding opportunities to collaborate with local businesses and organizations or connect students virtually with people who work in an area of their interest.
With place-based learning, students see the relevance in what they are learning and as they apply that learning to the real world, they build a variety of essential skills. Involving students in STEM focused activities or challenge or project-based learning are good ways to have students build essential skills and learn about the importance of sustainability.
In my own classroom, to do some review at the start of the year, I had students paired with a classmate and they each chose a topic that they felt confident teaching. Students were paired with classmates who either said they needed some help or had been identified based on assessments. Students came up with their own ways to teach or explain and then reversed roles.great way for students to also build confidence and comfort in the classroom while building relationships.
During this experience, there were a lot of different topics covered and teaching methods being shared by the students. I learned some fun new ideas that I could use in my practice. Students said they felt more valued because of those more meaningful and authentic experiences. They took the lead and shared their knowledge to help others and also had the support that they needed. Some students made games with Kahoot! or created a Nearpod or Edpuzzle lesson for classmates.
For students who prefer speaking rather than writing to communicate their thoughts and ideas, podcasts are a great option. I started my own podcast using Anchor, now via Spotify, as a way to reflect on my teaching practices and share what I was learning and how it impacted my classroom. Students build their communication skills and sometimes will be more expressive when they can talk through their ideas in a space that is comfortable. It is also helpful for them to guide reflections on learning.
Students could create a podcast focused on a class topic, a favorite activity, or as a way to engage in reflections on their learning experiences. It gives them a way to share their unique perspective and insights while also refining speaking and communication skills and building confidence. They become better at articulating their thoughts and collaborating.
These are just a few ideas to explore that can help to boost student engagement and creativity. With the right methods and tools to facilitate them, we can spark curiosity for learning and all student needs and interests will be better met.
Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.