Recently, a co-worker of mine shared a story from when he was in high school. During one chemistry class his teacher happened to light a small fire within a dish and began stirring in different compounds. First the fire turned green, then purple, and then finally blue. The students, who normally struggled to engage with the coursework, were completely enthralled. They began asking questions, forming hypotheses, and started investigating the subject themselves. A fire had been lit in that classroom – both literally and metaphorically.
Stories like these remind educators about the power of student engagement. Teaching, in many ways, is like building a fire. You simply gather the kindling (tools and strategies), create a spark (curiosity), and then add some logs to the fire (content). Still, many of us can have trouble striking that match. All too often, our students’ attitudes can feel dampened by apathy or outside distractions.
Building the blaze
So, how do we create the circumstances for a roaring fire of student interest? I believe we start by tapping into their innate desire to learn. Curiosity is how we discover and ultimately navigate the world around us. By coaxing that curiosity to life, we can also kindle student engagement.
Here are a few strategies to get you started:
The Mystery Box: Start your class with having the students ask yes/no questions to figure out what is in a box or include objects in the box that loosely connect to the content and have students draw the connection.
Zoom Out: Take a photo or screenshot of something that students will be learning about. Zoom in on that image and throughout the lesson, zoom out until you reveal the object. With each Zoom out, have students guess what the object is.
Jamie MacPherson is a Learning Solution Specialist at Van Andel Institute for Education, an educational nonprofit dedicated to building classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive. If you found these strategies helpful, be sure to check out Van Andel Institute for Education’s free webinar on engaging students in the classroom.