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Engaging Students

A while back, a parent asked me an important question.  "What kind of active learning opportunities do you provide?"  At the time, my instinct was to feel a little defensive.  My class is pretty fun, but we were covering some somewhat dry content that week.  And I was not on my best game.

Once I got over the perceived insult, I thought a lot about that question.  What are the ways I provide active learning that engages each student?  The discussion broadens when you think about work product - what are we asking students to produce that is engaging and meaningful?

These questions are so important that we must never stop asking them.  But it helps to think about some possible options, some tried and true ways to engage learners purposefully and meaningfully.  Here are a few that have been working for me lately:

Pear Deck - Pear Deck has been my go-to source for fun lessons and formative assessments.  My students even ask "Can we please have a Pear Deck today?"  In essence, Pear Deck allows the presenter to share information -slides, pictures, videos -  and ask questions that require a variety of different responses - numbers, text, drawing.  Teachers can share the responses with the class (which are pretty cool when there are numbers involved) or not, depending on the purpose.  It is a great way to give each student a voice, spark a lively conversation, practice writing skills, clarify thinking - you name it!  Pear Deck sends me weekly emails with data about the number of students engaged each week and the times each student participated.  Last week, I learned that 16 students engaged a total of 299 times - which would not be possible in a traditional classroom set up.

Drama - As the mom of a budding actor, I have grown to appreciate this performing art.  The benefits for the audience are one thing, but the actors themselves learn a great deal about their character and human nature in the process.  As a result, we act things out often.  Not simply confusing chapters in the book (see picture below), but confusing content in science, history and math.  Why did people volunteer to fight in the Civil War?  What does mitosis look like?  How can we find the average of our heights?  These questions require deep understanding, which is nearly impossible to obtain from simply reading the text book or listening in class.  Having students act out difficult concepts allows them to be engaged and invested, which supports their understanding in powerful ways.

Build Things - I am not particularly good with my hands, but nothing gets a class excited about learning quite like the opportunity to create things.  Models, machines, inventions - it really doesn't matter.  Building stimulates thinking, creativity and movement.  Messy, but fun!

Engagement matters.  Students need to participate actively in their own learning if it is to have meaning and value.  Our world requires thinkers and do-ers and the beauty of actively engaging students is that they learn to become both.


  1. Thank you for the new tool to investigate - pear deck - and the fact that you model professionalism and a growth mindset!


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