More engagement strategies for distance learning

Do you need more engagement strategies of your distance learning students?

Are your remote students paying attention during class? Or are they, like mine, creeping their cameras up so all you can see is their ceiling? Are your students, like mine, unable to answer simple questions when called on (i.e. “What letter should we use for Window’s Peak” or “Which color on this map represents oceans”)? Are you competing with cell phones, video games, etc.? Do you hear “Sorry, I couldn’t hear you” far more than is reasonable?

We’ve been teaching hybrid for a few months. We work hard to deliver engaging content that is accessible for students, but I’m struggling with engagement. Maybe it’s just the mid-winter blues, or maybe plate tectonics isn’t as fascinating to 13 year olds as it is to me. A few months ago, I published 10 Ideas to Increase Distance Learning Engagement, and the info in that post is still true – build relationships, be present, give choice, provide feedback. But I feel like I’ve hit a wall. Students are barely paying attention when they are remote (the face to face kids have been, honestly , fantastic). I need more engagement strategies for distance learning. And if I need it, it’s possible that you need it.

Review of familiar strategies

Some things experienced teachers have been doing to build engagement all the time:

  • Build relationships with students. Students work harder for students that they like and that they think like them.
  • Maintain a predictable classroom routine. Bellringer, mini lesson, independent or group investigation, closure – that’s my daily routine.
  • Provide choice. This has been widely unsettling for everyone and kids in particular have little that they can control. Let them have some control.  Perhaps offer to let them choose groups to work with, or choose which assignment to complete.
  • Differentiate.
  • Digitize. Use the technology available to you. Try Answer Pad, Badaboom, Edpuzzle, Edulastic, IXL, PearDeck.
  • Allow students to work in groups, even remotely. We’re all worried about social-emotional learning. Give your students the opportunity to build connections with people.
  • Use brain breaks. 2 minutes of jumping jacks is far more effective than a 2 minute lecture on the benefits of paying attention.
  • Use phenomena to help students engage with the topic, not just with your class.
  • Provide feedback quickly. Let them know what they need to do to improve next time. Don’t let assignments be the last time they think about the subject.

More engagement strategies

This might not be new ideas for you, but maybe you need a reminder of how to use them and why they’re important. I know I do (and my students do).

  • Switch it up. Use varying modalities while you instruct. Keep your routine consistent, but provide lots of visuals and graphics as well as music and opportunities for students to draw or act. Let students create a video for small children explaining the layers of the earth. Have them create papier mache or edible models of the earth’s layers. Ask them to write a song about the layers.
  • Don’t depend on digital everything.  Let them cut out pictures or draw the water cycle on paper. If you have to, put folders in front of your school for remote kids to pick up a few days in advance.
  • Hands on learning. Hands on learning of course is very challenging in hybrid days, and I know I’ve depended on digital simulations a lot. Let your students assemble some ingredients (or have them pick up kits from school) and do a few chemical reactions (make pancakes) or different concentrations of salt water or make some rock candy or a density column. Definitely check out Science Bob  and Steve Spangler Science for labs your kids can do with household ingredients. Find one you can do next week. Give your students a few days warning to assemble the ingredients and then watch them engage. I know this is difficult and presents many challenges, but I also know that every year, students tell me their favorite part of science is the hands on learning. What are they going to say this year?
  • Gamify. Easy to use gaming platforms include Kahoot, Blooket, Quizlet, GimkitBoom cards, escape rooms. Everyone is more engaged during a game, and games are definitely not fluff. Kids learn when they’re playing. (Even adults learn when they’re playing.) Let them play.
  • Be kind to yourself. And to them. We are all in challenging circumstances and Maslow’s hierarchy reminds us that mastering Punnett Squares isn’t as important as your health and safety.

To sum up…

As I’m writing this, it’s been 50 weeks. We have come so far from where we were back in March of 2020 in terms of pedagogy and data. Use what we’ve learned to keep moving forward and setting the bar, for yourself and for your students, higher.

Published by JustAddH2OTeacher

Science teacherpreneur

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