The spring is a challenging time, with standardized testing, spring events, and other demands that lead to a dip in student engagement. In my Spanish class and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) class, I use the end of the year as a time to branch out and engage students in new ways of learning. Here are some innovative teaching ideas to help motivate students.
Active Learning to Boost Student Engagement
1. Learning stations: Learning stations boost students’ activity and help them build social and emotional learning (SEL) skills. The end of the year is a great time to try learning stations. Because I noticed a drop in student engagement and wanted to focus on building relationships, I divided students into small groups and had them rotate through the stations. When I did this, it created a flow that gave students the opportunity to both work hands-on and use digital tools.
For example, in my Spanish classes, we were learning how to narrate in the past tense using vocabulary related to childhood. Here are six ideas for stations that my students could rotate through.
Station 1: Use Edpuzzle to create an interactive video lesson with multiple-choice or open-ended questions for students to respond to and check their understanding.
Station 2: Provide materials for making flash cards or a review game.
Station 3: Give students a worksheet to complete together on the basics of the unit.
Station 4: Work with the groups individually on the material.
Station 5: Make game-based learning tools available, such as Gimkit or Blooket, for students to work on the vocabulary at their pace. Here, I could also use a Nearpod lesson that included content such as videos, virtual tours, or my own slides and build a lesson that also included activities and assessments such as quizzes, matching pairs, a collaborative board, and open-ended responses for me to check for student understanding.
Station 6: Include video response tools such as Flip to provide a space for students to express their ideas or respond to discussions.
At each station, I created an activity that gave students the chance to interact with the content and each other. I used Classroomscreen for keeping track of the time and posting other information on the Promethean board at the front of the room.
2. Design thinking: Design thinking involves a creative and iterative process of problem-solving and can be used in all grade levels. In the design thinking process, the students engage in the modeling phase after they work through the ideation and prototyping stages. Once they have brainstormed and developed initial prototypes, they can decide how to create detailed models of their designs. Coming up with a design involves translating their ideas into tangible representations, whether done using physical models or digital simulations.
At the end of the year, find real-world problems for students to learn about. For example, in a history class, have students think about how to create an improved structure for a historical landmark using modern technology. In science classes, they can think about the habitats of animals and design a better living space for them. In language classes, they can find challenges being faced in communities around the world and work to design a solution, while engaging in ongoing reflection of the process of learning itself. In my class, we look at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to identify global goals and then research some Spanish-speaking countries to learn about their needs.
Then you can use traditional tools or digital tools such as Tinkercad or SketchUp to help students bring their designs to life. All classes and grade levels can bring design thinking into the classroom, and it can be done with or without technology.
To get started, it takes a little time to learn about the resources available through some of the 3D design tools. Through Design Squad, students can choose areas of interest or focus on finding solutions for global challenges and explore projects created by other students. Another way to explore design thinking is by bringing in some emerging technology, such as augmented and virtual reality tools like the Merge Cube or CoSpaces Edu. Using these tools, students can create their own representations of 3D objects or virtual spaces to become more immersed in what they are learning and how they represent their learning.
3. Gamification: In my Spanish class, I use a variety of games to practice the vocabulary and verbs that students are learning. Incorporating game elements into the classroom can make learning more fun and engaging for students as they enjoy some collaborative competition. It leads to a more interactive learning environment and can often get students up and moving more.
I have used traditional games like bingo, scavenger hunts, Scrabble, and Hedbanz, all of which can be played in Spanish. You can also task students with designing their own game. Once groups have created games, their products can be used throughout the class with other groups of students, showing the value in their work and in a more personalized and creativity-sparking way. Game design also requires students to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
There are a variety of digital tools to support games in the classroom. Options such as Kahoot, Quizlet, and Quizizz are easy to get started with and offer a variety of modes of play for in-class use and practice. There are ready-to-use lessons and games available. A tool like BookWidgets can be great for having students race to complete a crossword or word search or choose from the many templates. Genially also offers templates for creating escape rooms, and I have used both Padlet and SpacesEDU to design scavenger hunts for my students.
When it comes to deciding which to use, always consider the purpose. If you want a quick check on students’ understanding, then select some of the game-based learning tools. If you want students to apply their knowledge and create or collaborate, tools that boost creativity and collaboration such as Genially and Spaces EDU can help.
4. STEM and STEAM challenges: These challenges involve presenting students with a problem or challenge and allowing them to work collaboratively to find a solution. For example, students could work on engineering challenges using tools like Design Squad to find engineering design challenges from NASA. These can be good ways to prepare students to engage in design thinking with a bit of support. Students can also participate in coding challenges using tools like Code.org or resources for STEM curriculum such as Microsoft Hacking STEM, Microsoft MakeCode, and Minecraft Education.
I’ve recently explored Lobee Learning, which offers hands-on STEM lessons for students to explore. There are resources that focus on STEM and SEL and connect students with the content in ways that build essential future skills and foster a strong learning community.
When students are engaged in their learning, they are more likely to develop a deeper understanding of the content, acquire critical thinking skills, and, we hope, develop a love of learning.