It’s Computer Science Education Week! This is an international event with the mission of teaching students about computer science. Every year, people around the globe participate in an Hour of Code where they engage in a variety of coding activities.
I have the privilege of teaching adorable kiddos about STEM — specifically technology. Generally, they’re fans of it. There’s definitely more than one hopeful future Snapchat engineer in the midst.
However, sometimes even tech class isn’t a basket full of puppies in terms of student engagement. As a first grader innocently asked earlier this year, “But Mr. Mishleau, where’s the fun tech stuff?”
So I realized that it was time to turn the spiciness level up and pull out all the engagement stops!
Here are five strategies I’ve tried to get students excited about STEM:
1. Flocabulary & Nearpod
The Loops video is one of my favorites; it makes repeat loops in computer programming much more “sticky” and fun.
I utilize the computer programming quiz as well as the Lyric Lab to challenge students to write their own rhymes as an independent formative assessment. Students love the opportunity to be creative, and I appreciate seeing how deeply they internalize the content we learn.
Nearpod is another great tool for student engagement when teaching technology. They have so many amazing STEM lessons, from algorithms to coding. One of the most engaging activities is their Virtual Reality career tours, where students learn about careers in a variety of STEM fields.
The Flocabulary and Nearpod team have recently unlocked these incredible lessons so that all educators can incorporate them at no cost.
2. Robot Time
Students know that when they are working hard, showing persistence and self-calming, I might plop a little robot hat on their head.
They yell out “It’s robot time!” when I place the hat on one of their peers. These awesome hats are available on Amazon and they tie in nicely to a lot of the content we learn.
3. Can I Get a “What What”?!
Another tried-and-true product to the tune of $9.99? Mini-microphones. I’m pretty sure that students know they aren’t real, but that doesn’t keep 1st or 4th graders from shouting out loud and proud when I hold it up to them or pass it around when we’re reading from the board!
It’s a much more effective and fun way to ensure students are internalizing the material we are talking about and it ensures that I hear every student’s voice.
4. Pillow Mode Activate!
As anyone who teaches from a cart will tell you, #CartLife can be hard! However, I’ve actually found it sometimes easier than having my own classroom (shhh, don’t tell anyone!). One reason is that my cart is stacked with the things I might need, such as pillows!
Okay, more like circular padded mats. But to kids, they are luxurious pillows that you must earn in class. They fit neatly into a few drawers of my cart, and they make technology class feel like an extra-special, different time. I mean…do you get to activate pillow mode in math class? Nope.
I build on to the excitement by having students chant “pillow mode, activate!” before giving any out. It reminds kids that it’s fun to be good in technology class.
5. @ Me, Bro
Traditions and routines have made my classroom a much happier and predictable space for kids. One of those traditions is the Tweeter of the Day. Every tech class, a student writes a Tweet to share via our school’s Twitter account. I use the class roster to make sure all students get the opportunity to Tweet their hearts out.
So much of teaching is communicating to kids:
1) I love you!
2) This is important!
3) You can do it if you work hard.
To convey these messages, I think joy and challenge in the classroom are paramount. Some of the tools mentioned are definitely (intentionally!) a little silly, but they all drive at making students feel welcomed, seen, and making them think and talk about the technology content we are learning.
What do you use to drive engagement, culture and achievement in your classroom?