If you can google it...

I love this picture.  It illustrates exactly the problem with lectures:  the students are asleep, the teacher is not engaged with the students, and the class seems to have become all about the teacher, not all about the students.

I hate lectures.  I hate sitting through them; I hate giving them.  As far as I can tell there is nothing redeeming about them.  Online lectures (you know what I am talking about) are no better.  A 100-page powerpoint is not a great way for students to get engaged in a subject.  We retain only "20% of what we hear."

I know, I know, giving students that hands-on experience is time consuming.  It's much harder to create engaging activities than to develop a lecture.
Here's my quick tips to creating your own hands-on learning:

  1. What's the big picture?  Think about the big concepts from the area you are teaching.  How can students "live" those ideas.  For example, when I teach about the Protestant Reformation, my students focus on the idea of the reformation in terms of a PROTEST against something and a call for REFORM(change).  Students apply this to modern concepts by building their own protest campaigns.  When we actually "meet" Martin Luther, they understand that at the core of it, the Reformation was about a call for social justice.  Some students go beyond the classroom, and bring their own campaigns to light.  Recently, one pair started a website for climate change.  (Sorry, done bragging...just so proud of them).
  2. Think in centers.  By creating centers with different activities, students can access information in different ways.  When learning about Leonardo DaVinci, students chose from nature sketches, building catapults, and herbology among other activities.  Then, students teach each other about what they learned.  
  3. Let students be their own teachers.  Sometimes, students just need to learn certain pieces of material to understand the context or to orient themselves.  Rather than lecture, how can students learn about the topic?  I love to do inquiry-based activities such as character detectives or quick and easy newspapers.  I give students all the information (or access to resources such as books and internet) and a list of topics.  They work in groups to find information and then report on it.  Students love the goal to "get the scoop" and get the cursory information necessary to get oriented in subject.  Then, it is easier for students to delve deep into specific areas and topics.
  4. Have fun!  Learning should be both challenging and fun.  When I am getting ready to teach a subject, I love learning about it.  Why not give your students the same opportunity?  How can students have fun with the topic your teaching?  Is there some cool cross-curricular connection?  Instead of sitting at a desk putting fractions in order, have the students get up and be the fractions.  When teaching probability, have students be the teams in a tournament.  What's the probability of any one of them making it to the end?  
What's your favorite tip for engaging students?  Please comment below.  Our collective knowledge can benefit all.

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