5 Ed-tech Programs to (RE)engage Students in the Classroom

As teachers, we think it’s the student’s job to be engaged in every lesson we teach. Listen to us lecture, take notes, and understand our every word. And we think that a well behaved student is an engaged student (and this couldn’t be any further from the truth). Being an 80’s kid myself, I think we have all seen what a behaved, yet unengaged student looks like, cue Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

a54e11_2c526984d7ea40958b51190b01adcca4Ed-tech has supplied teachers with the ability to meet students “where they are” and supplement teaching with fun and engaging alternatives. This graph shows how student behavior and student engagement go hand-in-hand. But what is missing is the most essential part- where behaved and engaged meet forms learning. A well designed lesson that engages students should both foster a well behaved classroom (as students are immersed in the activity) and thus help establish a culture of learning. So as a teacher, how can we (re)engage our students in classroom? With all the ed-tech out there, which programs will not only bring engagement back but also assist in the learning process and allow our students to engage more deeply with the subject? Here are 5 ed-tech programs that will help cultivate student engagement and make your classroom the more “happening” place to be.

It should come as no surprise that an LMS (Learning Management System) is the key to a student-centered, self-driven, engaged classroom. Today’s students are a new breed, spending countless hours on their mobile devices that seem to be “attached at their hips”. And if it isn’t the cellphone, it’s an MP3 device, e-reader, and/or tablet.
An LMS affords the teacher an opportunity to take the content we know so well, and make it readily accessible in the format students today can get a hold of, understand, and appreciate. I’ve said it time and time before, and I will say it again. It is about meeting students “where they are”. Get away from the Ferris Bueller way of delivering content, and deliver it in a way that students “get” and “do” almost every day of their lives. Blend their (the students) learning… by using an LMS as the central house for all of your documents, handouts, projects, rubrics, and even videos. Assist them in organizing their work, and make learning readily available, whenever, wherever they want. Imagine a classroom in which students learn both physically in class, and online in class, at the same time! That is a pretty engaged class.
Poll Everywhere prides itself on “Making Engagement Happen”, so what better than fostering engagement in the classroom? An easy-to-use program, polleverywhere helps you gather live audience and/or class responses at any moment. They offer a few different plans, but free is one of them. How does it work? You pose a question to your class, they respond in real time using a tablet, chromebook, or mobile phone, and they can see all of the responses live on the web! Imagine reading a novel segment in class, then posing a question as to whether the character’s actions were genuine or not, and having your students respond in a real time poll. Or what if you were teaching the concept of the American Dream, and you asked students to respond with what the American Dream means to them in one-word answers, and your student responses would appear in real time in a word cloud. Not only does this afford the teacher an opportunity to see where the students’ heads are at, but it fosters engagement in the classroom, as well as accountability and learning.
Insert an SAT question, math problem, multiple choice question, or even practice for PARCC. Save the results in a PowerPoint slide to later reflect and gauge your next lesson. Polleverywhere supplements the lesson with real time, interactive polls, whenever you want to engage the class.
Place the learning back in the students’ hands and make them accountable for it. This is the name of the game with Pear Deck. Peard Deck is a presentation program that syncs directly with GAFE, making it easy to transition from Google Slides to Pear Deck, or save your Pear Deck in your Google Drive.
What Pear Deck does is create a live session that students can join on their tablets, chromebooks, or even mobile devices. What separates Pear Deck from a normal presentation program like PowerPoint or Google Slides, is that you can create pre-planned questions or ones in which you improvise on the fly, that students can then respond to through the program using a number of interactive features (multiple choice, draggables, click, etc.) What is also nice, is that it works in real time, much like polleverywhere. Your students are right there with you in the presentation, answering the questions you pose in real-time (see: engagement up). You can then sort through the answers, pick specific questions to look at/highlight, and overlay all student responses.
Students learn better when they become a part of the learning process, grappling with questions, debating issues, and collaborating with peers (not pears). Engage your students by being interactive and create self-motivated learners. Pear Deck puts the learning back in the student’s hands.

Want to gamify your class, make it fun, and enhance student learning by fostering engagement? Gone are the times of PowerPoint Jeopardy and in are the times of interactive games and programs like Kahoot. Imagine students ASKING to review for an upcoming test because they want to play a game and enjoy competition. That is what happens in my class. My students are constantly asking me to play Kahoot. Why? Because it’s fun, simple as that. If students are having fun, they are engaged. And if a student is engaged, they are behaving, and all of this = learning (win!).

Kahoot is a free game platform that allows students to interact and compete with eachother in a way that stimulates collaboration, friendly competition, and social learning. Teachers create the game, by creating the questions they want to ask. After you’ve created all of the questions, students can access the game with an access code that Kahoot automatically provides and voila! Students are in the game. What do students love the most? Creating their “gamertags” at the onset of the game. Prepare for your students to want to have the funniest name they can come up with. But you know what, let them do it! Let them buy into the friendly competition and be immersed in their own learning. You can even embed/link youtube clips and images to your game. Have students watch a segment from a film, or documentary and then respond to the question that follows (if this doesn’t meet common core, I don’t know what does). Get ready to have a loud, fun, and interactive class that students in other classes will be wishing to be a part of.

Plickers on the other hand, allows the teacher to collect real time data and information WITHOUT your students needing any tech devices. You control the tech- and the students control the learning. All you have to do is give students printed copies of these coded forms that look like QR codes. You use Plickers to quickly check for student understanding and knowledge of the given material by “scanning” the student forms they hold up and Plickers does the rest. You will quickly know who understands the BIG concepts and has mastered the key skill.

It is very similar to what polleverywhere has to offer, without teh students needing the tech to drive the outcome. What makes Plickers cool is the physicalness of students holding the form, and rotating it to the answer they want. It places the learning “physically” back in the students’ hands. This allows those students in your class who may be self-conscious to participate and engage in the learning. Kids love it, and for a lot of them, it feels like a game.

Most of your students have one. You most likely have one. And even your parents drop a “tweet” every now and then. Why not use this tool/app that students have become so accustomed to, in the classroom. Twitter is best used as a form of backchannel. Backchanneling is where a group of people has a conversation about something they are watching/doing, behind the scenes (hence BACKchannel).
In the classroom setting, this could simply be reading in class, having twitter open on the projector, and allowing students an opporunity to chime in with their questions, comments, and concerns, and share ideas with fellow classmates. Imagine watching a film or documentary in class, and students backchanneling during the process. It keeps engagement up, fosters collaboration in a friendly way, and cultivates learning in multiple mediums. It’s almost like doing two things at once… something students are really good at doing, adn it goes hand in hand with an LMS, in that students are both in the physical space of the classroom and the online space.
Equally as impressive, is the voice that twitter and other backchannel chat programs give to students who do not like to speak out in class. This becomes their outlet. Some of the best responses I have received have been from students who would normally NOT share their opinions and answers in class. Even better? I can screen shot and print out the twitter feeds if students said some really brilliant stuff. Backchanneling will certainly add another element to your classroom, while increasing student focus and engagement and offering “voice” to those students who are self-conscious.
SO! Are you ready to (Re)Engage your students in the classroom? Try your hand ata54e11_f513d458a2394acc87ccc0d50a410608 a few of these programs and put the learning back in the students’ own hands. And if all else fails… you’ll be the happening classroom in the school.
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