“Engagement has been our number-one priority, and engaging students in a distance learning environment has been very difficult with such large numbers as we’ve been dealing with, day in, day out,”
Keith Oswald, deputy superintendent, Palm Beach County School District. (EdWeek Market Brief)
Understanding how to engage students in remote learning environments has never been so important and so challenging. We have been hearing from teachers about the hurdles they face as they navigate new and varying learning styles, formats, and timelines. So we’ve put together a few ideas and resources to help teachers and parents keep their students actively learning.
1. Give them incentive
Without a doubt, the learning environment of 2020/2021 has been (and may continue to be) different than anything we’ve experienced before. Failsafe tactics of the traditional learning environment may not be available in remote learning situations and the incentive to get good grades and do well may feel a little less tangible when the school year has been so disrupted.
So, how can we keep students incentivized and focused if the new environment includes learning in their pajamas on the couch? A great way is through gamification! Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. Game-design elements can be:
- Earning points
- Winning prizes
- Donating to charity
Gamification has been proven to enhance students’ levels of engagement in learning. That’s why we’ve made it integral to the ChatterHigh platform.
ChatterHigh utilizes this strategy to engage kids in career exploration and other wellbeing topics. The site provides extrinsic motivation for students to do an activity that has high intrinsic value. We incorporate social elements, like philanthropy, forums and competitions to engage today’s teens. Learn more here.
2. Make it relevant
When was the last time you needed to know the formula for a Punnett square? Not since 7th-grade science? Exactly. There are certain topics that we know, even at 13, we won’t need to remember past the end of term. However, when a subject is linked to oneself, perhaps via a discussion about why Sally has brown eyes and her sister has blue, it sparks curiosity for further inquiry about biology. If Sally can connect that interest to a future career path, hope can be fostered.
How to make information relevant
Real-world resources: Utilize real-world resources like videos, podcasts, and reading material that is up-to-date and from reputable sources. This not only alleviates some of the pressure to create new things; it introduces students to reputable resources that they can continue to use as adults.
Reflection: Having students reflect on what they’ve learned is a great way to create relevance in topics that may otherwise seem dull. Recording reflections on their thoughts, feelings, and emotions about what they learned, and how to apply it in real-world settings can allow students to see the importance of the information. Knowing why we learn something can make it more valuable to us.
Student-directed: Lastly, make learning student-directed. Have them design their own projects or lessons! Self-management and autonomy are powerful skills that can be used for life. We don’t have other people always planning out our days down to the minute with workflows and deadlines. Learning young can’t hurt!
3. Keep them guessing
It’s the simple little things that can create memorable moments for students. Looking forward to such little things can increase the chances of engagement. Try some of these:
- Change your zoom background daily and ask for a guess in the chat before turning your camera on.
- Do a show-and-tell with an object near you.
- Conduct a scavenger hunt.
- Teach one fun fact every day (random and maybe useless information, but fun!).
If you’re in class, consider decorative sanitizer bottles or discussions about facial expressions you can pick up without seeing someone’s entire face. Get creative!
4. Utilize technology
It’s hard to pick up new technology, especially with so many options out there. Where do you start? Here is a list of some of the easiest tools you can use that can help you to engage students:
- Canva is a great tool for creating image designs, presentations, and videos with ease.
- Kahoot is designed to make remote learning fun through a neat digital platform with tons of different interactive tools.
- Miro is a collaborative tool with the interface of a whiteboard. Easy to use and free! Great for group brainstorming sessions.
- Ted Ed offers different branches for educators, students, or parents, igniting curiosity across a variety of topics.
Virtual field trips
Some of the best experiences in school were field trip days: beach days, museum visits, ecological centres, and sometimes even trips out of the city or country. From bringing home the permission slip, to raising money through car washes, bottle drives and donations, these trips were huge motivators that engaged students in learning. Such trips are not exactly possible in the current environment… or are they?
In the virtual world, students, teachers, and parents can now travel around the globe experiencing things we never imagined possible. There are now digital field trips where no permission slip is required! Visit the TNC Nature Lab to experience rainforests, coral reefs, and other exotic countries around the world. Or, take a virtual trip to the red planet with Access Mars! Can’t afford a trip to Paris? No problem! Enjoy the Louvre at home from your kitchen table. Or, take a trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History from the couch. Facilities that can’t open their doors to the public have gone virtual, giving people the freedom to explore places that may have otherwise been unlikely or impossible. A few more resources include Discovery Education Virtual Field Trips and Google Arts & Culture.
5. Engage parents
The line between work, home, and school is pretty blurry at this point. With parents sharing the teaching responsibility during school/work hours, it’s essential to keep lines of communication open and align ourselves with a common goal.
A Common Goal: Keep Kids Engaged and Learning
We know that both teachers and parents are struggling to engage students in their school work, and it’s tough. A ‘we’re in this together’ approach can create open communication about options to engage students and the challenges each (parent and teacher) are facing. Brief, frequent conversations are more beneficial than lengthy and sparse ones. See these apps designed to improve parent-teacher communication.
Sometimes just knowing where to go to find information can help parents feel engaged. See these additional resources on information for parents to apply to their childrens’ education:
- Planning Parent Engagement (Ontario Public Supervisory Officers’ Association [OPSOA]
- 10 strategies for schools to improve parent engagement
- Teaching and Wellness Resources for Parents
- NAFSCE Resources for Professionals
6. Bring in guest speakers
We humans have always loved telling and hearing stories. Troubadours, as they were called in the Middle Ages, were storytellers sharing the myths and legends from thousands of years ago, passed down from generation to generation. Today, students are captivated when they listen to people tell fictional, historical, or biographical stories.
ChatterHigh would be happy to swing by virtually! Lee Taal, Founder/CEO, has spoken on platforms like TedX, sharing his story along with the benefits of career exploration. From working in the Royal Canadian Navy to locomotion engineering, digital marketing, to founding and becoming CEO of a company, he has quite the story to tell. Book a presentation today!