Engaging kids is not something I've really struggled with over the course of my career. Generally, I love what I do and getting students to participate fully hasn't been a stretch. However, there are activities that are more or less engaging for students.
Direct instruction still plays a roll in our classroom. While direct instruction has evolved, it still involves kids sitting and listening rather than kids doing. The major shift in direct instruction in our classroom is in who is doing the bulk of the talking. I am working so hard to talk less and listen more. In the end though, lessons that are direct instruction in nature, can result in disengagement if structures aren't in place to keep kids actively involved. Even though structures like "turn and talk" and asking kids to share their partners strategies or thinking help to maintain engagement, some students will be vulnerable. It is our job to stay tuned into all the learners in our class and to adjust our practice when needed. Over the course of the year, we grow a culture in our classroom where students become accustomed to thinking deeply about the math so that they can solve problems. Students practice arguing so that they can agree or disagree with their classmates based on what each is noticing about the math. This work is important to developing how kids think and support their thinking with proof. This work is reliant on their being a variety of view points in the room. Students have to practice listening to one another, thinking about what they've heard and integrating the new ideas with what the student already knows. Some of this work has to happen in the context of direct instruction.
Today, students in our math class investigated the number of raisins in a typical 1 oz. box of raisins. Now, this lesson was engaging! Everyone was focused. There were NO off-task behaviors. There were no zoned-out expressions. Students were productive. First, students had to count the raisins in their boxes. I was so interested to see how students were counting their raisins. There is a real emphasis on using counting bags with students across elementary grades. I can see why. Students whose number sense is secure approached this task differently than students who struggle with number sense. The more confident students were very systematic about their approach. They organized their raisins into equal groups of five or ten and were able to count with efficiency and accuracy. The less able students counted one-by-one. They sometimes loss track and had to start again. When a final count was secured, there didn't seem to be a sense of confidence. The counting part of this activity was fascinating!
Next, students posted their findings on the SmartBoard. The data was recorded in alphabetical order according to each child's last name. Making any generalizations was challenging. The students were sent off to analyze the data and present it in ways that made sense and were easy to make meaning of. The was a perfect hum in the classroom as the students attended to their task. I didn't pre-teach line plots or bar graphs. It would have been all too easy to announce that we were working with numerical data and therefore the data lent itself to the construction of line plots. How efficient. How boring. The students likely wouldn't have learned much. Kids have to figure out things for themselves. Students presented their representations beginning today. The students critiqued one another's work and noted the merits of each sort of representation. Learning should be meaningful. As the presentations unfolded, students were respectful and attentive to the student-led conversations that followed each presentation. The students were engaged.
Our director of technology integration came in to deliver some professional development during our preparation period at our request. He shared an application that would allow our students to use multi-media and green screen technology to produce photos and videos. He gave us a mini lesson (think direct instruction) and then cut us loose with a tiny project. During the practice phase of our lesson, I took a photo of my colleague and tried to place her in a cafe in Paris. She was way too big! I intuitively used two fingers to shrink her and move her. I couldn't help it, I squealed with delight. There is no doubt about it. Technology can be very engaging, even for old bird school teachers like us. We were eager to jump in and work on our mini projects.
My key take aways on the day: