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How to light a student engagement fire

Through authentic learning, we can improve student engagement and demonstrate how the work they do in class has an impact on the broader world

Recently, one of my colleagues shared a story when he was in high school. In one chemistry lesson, his teacher lit a fire in a plate and began to mix different compositions. First the light turned green, then purple, and then blue. The students, who usually had difficulty doing coursework, were quite thrilled. They started asking questions, building hypotheses and started researching the topic themselves. There was a fire in that class, both literally and metaphorically.

Such stories remind educators of the power of student participation. Training is in many ways similar to making a fire. You just collect the kindling (tools and strategies), create a spark (curiosity), and then add a few logs to the fire (content). However, many of us may have trouble holding this match. Too often the attitude of our students may feel muffled by apathy or extraneous distractions.

Flame construction

So how do you create the circumstances to fuel student interest? I believe we start by using their innate desire to learn. Curiosity is how we discover and ultimately navigate the world around us. By persuading this curiosity about life, we can also ignite students ’interest.

Here are some strategies to get you started:

Mysterious box: Begin the lesson by asking students yes / no questions to find out what’s in the box, or to include objects in the window that are poorly connected to the content, and to allow students to communicate.

Decreases: Take a photo or screenshot of what students will be learning. Zoom in on this image and zoom out throughout the lesson until you find the object. With each decrease, let the students guess what the object is.

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