Every day in the classroom, you are challenged to find new ways to be creative—to come up with compelling ways to make learning engaging and even, dare we say, fun. Not so easy, is it? So we turned to ISTE’s Young Educator Network for some fresh ideas. These tech-savvy teachers definitely know how to both get and keep students engaged. Take a look.
1. Pump up the jam.
Music is always going to get kids excited. So take a tip from Bill Selak, director of technology for a school in California. A few years ago he was working with second graders who were having trouble learning their cardinal directions. So they decided to write a song called “Never Eat Soggy Waffles” (North, East, South, West). It started as a simple song but quickly grew, much to the delight of the kids. “We ended up writing a song and recording it in Garage Band,” Selak says. “Then we made a music video too. It was an amazing project, and I just had to trust my students and be willing to go down this path instead of dealing with a textbook.” Here’s a look at the video.
2. Relinquish control—seriously.
A beautiful thing happens when you put control in the hands of students. They take a whole new sense of ownership with their work. Soon, they’ll be coming up with ideas, lessons and approaches that you didn’t think of. Jennifer Williams is an instructional technology coordinator in Covington, Georgia. When she worked with elementary students, she would do this by allowing students to choose topics. Then they could create a lesson using a technology tool—tablet, computer, camera—of their choice. Williams offers just one piece of advice to teachers who want to try this. “Don’t micromanage them,” she says. “Just let them go because they’ll definitely teach you a thing or two.”
3. Bid adieu to the essay.
Mary Ellen Weeks is an instructional coach in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, and she has seen creativity blossom with her students ever since she started giving them an option to demonstrate their learning in ways other than the traditional essay. “We let our students demonstrate their understanding of standards through performance tasks. This might mean creating a poster, painting, song or even a video,” Weeks says. “The results I’ve seen have far exceeded the results I might get from an essay.” Here’s another take on this idea from a blogger in D.C.
SOURCE: Cottage on Blackbird Lane
4. You’re never too old to play pretend.
Another way Weeks has seen an increase in creativity is by performing role-play with her students. They do an activity called Cafe Conversations (pictured below) in her classroom where students take on the roles of two different historical figures and then have a conversation on a specific topic—as if they were in a cafe. “For instance, if we’re studying about world religion, it might be a conversation between Buddha and Muhammad,” she says. “The kids love this, and as long as the standards were clearly mastered, it was a success.”
5. Make time for creativity.
First, you have to have the space to be creative; this is absolutely essential. Additionally, the most important thing you can give students is time. Sarah Diaz believes this wholeheartedly. She is an international teacher, currently in a kindergarten classroom in Madrid, Spain. “Time is far more important than space,” Diaz says. “No one can be creative in five minutes. It’s just not appropriate for everyone, especially young children. So you have to allow time for that creativity to happen.” Diaz says kids will usually get to that creative space all on their own, which in turn helps them figure out what they’re good at and where their passions are.
6. Think like an engineer.
At the heart of every good engineer is someone who can find a solution for a problem or challenge. Sarah Fox is a third-grade teacher in North Dakota, and she likes to give her students weekly STEM challenges. “Every Friday, they get a new challenge,” she says. “I give them a problem to solve, and then they have to engineer a solution.” Here’s one of our favorite round-ups of good STEM challenges for the classroom.
SOURCE: Creekside Learning
7. Create an informal assessment wall.
Jennie Magiera is the chief technology officer at a school in Des Plaines, Illinois, and she says it’s important to stay active all day. “As teachers, we’re taught to teach, teach, teach, assess,” she says. “But instead of input, input and input with only five minutes of assessments at the end of the day, make it happen throughout the day.” Here’s an idea on how to get kids thinking and active throughout the day. Give students two different colors of Post-its. Encourage them to write questions on one color and things they learned on another color. Then at the end, they can post them on the board. This will give you a quick and easy way to assess and have a thorough, engaged conversation with all your students.
8. Give the suggestion box a makeover.
You might not see the good-old suggestion box around much anymore, but the concept is still solid. Think about bringing a form of it back into your classroom in order for students to generate creative prompts for the class. “Students can submit their ideas anonymously to a central location,” says Cailtlin McLemore, an academic technology specialist in Nashville, Tennessee. “Then choose something every day to share with the class.” Try to give students very specific examples of what you want them to suggest, and change it up. For instance, one week you might have students suggest a writing prompt of the day. For another week, you could have them come up with a “how does it work?”–type science question to solve. Another idea, related to history, is to get students to write about a historical figure they admire. Encourage them to be inventive and come up with a question that will really make their classmates think. Example: “I really like Jackie Robinson—what else do you think he liked to do besides playing sports?”
9. Connect with other teachers.
This one is so important for both mental health and sharing great ideas. For years, WeAreTeachers has heard from teachers about the power of connecting with one another, both at a local and face-to-face level and on a global level as well. One of the most powerful ways to do this has been through the magic of social media. Thanks to Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, you can easily find other teachers to connect with. Once you start learning common hashtags that teachers use (like #edchat and #teacherchat), you’ll find other like-minded people. When you seek out other educators to share with, it naturally inspires new ideas and creativity. Take a look at this video to see how members of ISTE’s Young Educator Network connect with other teachers.