Boosting Student Engagement and Curiosity

As educators, we need to be comfortable with taking more risks in our classrooms. Whether we dive in and try new ideas, bring in new digital tools, or shift to more of a facilitator role, it will promote more student-driven, meaningful learning. With more options available, we will foster student agency, boost engagement and increase student motivation in learning. We need to embrace and model risk-taking as we create opportunities to place students in the lead more and experience purposeful learning fueled by choice. 


With methods like project-based learning (PBL) and through a variety of traditional and digital tools, we will more authentically engage students with the content, and their role will shift from consumers to creators. Students will appreciate the process of learning and as a result, it will positively impact overall achievement. 


In my classroom a few years ago, I recognized a lack of true student engagement. While I had offered students choices in the types of projects and tools they could choose from, these options did not promote student-driven learning. Through PBL or using choice boards for example, we can promote more independent learning for students. When students have more autonomy in their learning experiences, they become more motivated and engaged in the learning process. For students to make significant progress, there needs to be sustained engagement. 


When we started to do PBL and use methods like choice boards and Hyperdocs in my classroom, the process of learning was ongoing and iterative. Student engagement increased and they enjoyed these new experiences. They were tasked with decision-making and as a result, became more curious about what they were learning and focused on the process rather than the end product. Students told me that they looked forward to different opportunities and the peer collaboration that was happening in our classroom.


Boosting Curiosity in Learning

Promoting curiosity in learning is essential for student engagement and motivation. As we move through the school year, at times, student engagement decreases whether as a result of activities and tools that do not promote more choice, exhaustion from testing, busy schedules, other challenges experienced. To better engage students, we need to provide options for them to problem solve, to create, to collaborate and take some risks with learning. As they connect more authentically and meaningfully with what they are learning, it will spark curiosity. 


Curious students become more invested in the process of learning and their next steps in their learning journey. As we help students shift from consumers to developing as creators and innovators, they will be better equipped with the essential skills to be successful and flexible in the future whether in education or careers.  With learning opportunities that are hands-on and in some cases, non-traditional, we will spark that curiosity for learning that leads to sharing their work with others.


Here are a few ideas:

  1. Engage students in inquiry-based learning and focus on an area of curiosity. With a method like genius hour, students choose what they are going to learn about and then need to set goals for their work. As they design their learning journey, they will build essential SEL skills such as self-awareness and self-management. 

  2. Ask students what they are interested in learning about. Promote the development of social-awareness, one of the five competencies of SEL by focusing on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As students explore global issues, find out what they are curious about and engage them in some problem-solving and critical thinking by asking them to identify similar challenges in their community. 

  3. Connect students with the community and focus on place-based learning. Find opportunities to collaborate with local business owners, entrepreneurs and other organizations. Expand beyond the local community and connect students virtually with people who work in an area of students’ interest. Experiences like these give students an opportunity to apply the content they are learning in the real world. Students may even find opportunities for job-shadowing or internships and better understand career options that are available to them and learn about their themselves and their interests too. 


When we provide opportunities for students to set their pace for learning, to collaborate, to explore topics of interest, they invest more and become more curious for learning and the next steps.


For some educators, it can be uncomfortable at first to place more control in students’ hands, but there are many great benefits. Students take the lead more, develop essential SEL skills and skills that will be transferable to multiple areas of work. With more independent learning, we encourage self-monitoring, peer collaboration, decision-making and guide students as they become more confident with taking risks, setting goals and reflecting on their learning journey.


Why Curiosity for Learning Matters

Teaching the content is important, but finding ways to spark student curiosity is also important. It is also essential that we help students discover what they are most passionate about. What makes them curious and draws them in to learning and applying and then sharing their learning? 


We can start by using a hook to pique their interest, experiment with a new teaching method or digital tool, or ask students to brainstorm ideas and plan with us. When they feel valued in the learning environment, it will positively impact learning and foster the development of many essential skills. 

We must continue to look for innovative and student-driven activities to best prepare them for the future. With more independent, choice-infused earning through methods like PBL, genius hour and place-based learning, students will shift their focus to the process of learning rather than on points or a specific final product. Students will be curious about the next steps in their learning journey and their connection with the content and their learning community will be positively impacted.

About the Author:

Rachelle Dené Poth is an ed-tech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, and teacher. Rachelle teaches Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle has a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. She is a Consultant and Speaker, owner of ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting. She is an ISTE Certified Educator and currently serves as the past -president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service to education. She is also a Buncee Ambassador, Nearpod PioNear, and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.

Rachelle is the author of seven books and is a blogger for Getting Smart, Defined Learning, and NEO LMS. Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU



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