George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Emotional Engagement in Education, Part Three: Take It to the Streets

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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This is the third post in a three-part entry. Read part one and part two.

How can you involve your students in community efforts to address a societal, medical, or environmental issue? All it takes is a phone call or an email message.

3. Connect your kids with your community: A young person who contributes to his or her community is less likely to behave in a way that hurts that community -- and apathy is a hurtful behavior.

Right now, municipal committee members in many of your communities are sitting in meetings and wondering, "How can we get the word out to folks about the West Nile virus and how important it is to empty standing water and trim back shrubs and tall grass?" What if you were to call them up and say, "My students and I were hoping we could help you work on an effort to educate the community about how to combat the spread of the West Nile virus. Would you be willing to come in and talk with us about how we might partner with you?"

Those planners would jump at the chance, and you'll have real, live community members asking your kids to help, telling them they have the power to save lives and expressing how much they are looking forward to working with them on the effort. Now you can say, "That persuasive-writing piece has to be done, because Ms. Jackson is coming in to see us next week, and she wants to read it before we send it to the Council of Churches," rather than stating, "It has to be done, because that is just when it is due."

So, there you have one idea about how to base a classroom project on an authentic concern. I know there are so many more. Please let us know what you are thinking and doing: Care enough to share what works for you in terms of increasing student engagement in learning. Thanks in advance -- your contribution will help us all.

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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

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Mark Spahr's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

"A young person who contributes to his or her community is less likely to behave in a way that hurts that community."

This really hit home with me when I read this. I teach Culinary Arts in a juvenile prison in Maine and every day I work with students who have "hurt" their community in one way or another. Jim, you have inspired me. West Nile virus may not be an issue here in Maine, but hunger certainly is. We make bread in class almost every day. Why couldn't we make bread for a local food pantry? We could provide fresh bread once or twice a week. There are several aspects that could be included in the project, including calculating the financial cost of making the bread and making a written proposal to the administration. A project like this could help my students make a positive impact in the community, something many of them have never done.

Clara Elder's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading your three part series, I agree that learning should be relevant to students' lives. Student apathy is an ongoing problem in the classroom. If we as teachers don't find a way to get students to take their learning seriously, then all of our efforts are in vain. One of the best ways to get students interested is to make their learning relevant to their lives. I teach high school science, and I find that when I can tie content in to what is going on in the news or something that students have a strong interest in, students get a lot more out of the lesson.

Another good way to get students to care about their work is to make the lesson fun. Using hands-on activities will get students involved and will lead to more success. After conducting labs about cells and DNA in class, I have had students ask numberous questions about those topics, truly wanting to know more. I think the idea you presented about West Nile is an excellent example of a hands-on project.

We as teachers need to do better at making learning relevant to students' lives and fun and interesting in order to keep students involved and caring about their learning.

Faye Allen's picture

We are required to teach character education. Each morning students will take turns presenting a "public service broadcast" to the rest of the school on our live broadcast.
Also, classrooms will pick students who demonstrate the character of the month...for example August=responsibility. Each month the students picked will have their parents show up for a character assembly. (The students will not know who is chosen from each room until it is announced at the program.)
Hopefully, this positive attention will motivate students to exhibit good character.
It should be a goal for all students to be picked for at least one!

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