As with all good secrets, they are locked up within the beholder….and in the case of how to achieve class engagement, this secret very much belongs to the students. The great news is they are willing to give it up, all we have to do as parents, educators and, in my case, an app creator, is connect with them.
Teachers are very skilled at engaging their students, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Not only is there a huge range of tools and approaches to employ, the children themselves have their own methods to engage themselves which we all try to compete with. It’s stiff competition, as they are using digital technology to explore the world right from the palm of their hand, and who can blame them, as adults we are just the same (here you are reading this!).
So with this in mind, I’d love to share some of the things I have experienced that help engage, not only kids but really us all as humans. Please allow me to preface all this with “In my honest opinion”.
Comfort and Freedom
First of all I don’t think I’ve ever been able to engage, embrace, adopt or connect with anything I was forced to. Being forced is always uncomfortable, and I discovered very early on that I could not learn about anything unless I was comfortable. Perhaps the reason why reading books is so relaxing is not just the immersive content of the book, but the physically relaxing position we take up while we read. Another key aspect of books is that we often get a personal choice! As we are free to pluck books off the shelf in a library, we take ownership of that decision. Ownership over that decision automatically connects us deeper to the contents of the book. Therefore the freedom of choice and the comfort that welcomes a person to do so is the foundation of engagement. Kids can’t often choose what they are being asked to do, but we can make it comfortable and give enough freedom to allow them to own the experience.
Do you have Robins in your garden? Feisty little birds that’s for sure, no other bird in my garden is welcome without little Robin’s approval. Robins aren’t just bossy, they are also insanely curious. I wanted to film a bird up close with my 360 VR camera. I set up the camera and sprinkled some seeds, expecting to wait for days to capture a shot, but guess who showed up within minutes (and wasn’t even interested in the seeds)….
The point here is that anything innovative and new also sparks curiosity in us. Introducing something new to kids is a sure fire way to get their attention. This doesn’t have to be complex or techy...but tech does speak much closer to their interests. Bring in a 360 camera to a classroom and you will get the same response the robin gave me. That curiosity can then be leveraged onto any topic you choose, especially if that means making 360 videos as a class. Like I say, it doesn’t have to be techy to be new, but it’s an obvious place to start.
Going back to the concept of ownership and choice, when we get to decide how we reach an objective we connect with it in a much deeper way. One of my fondest memories in school was being asked to make the tallest structure I could with just 5 sheets of plain paper. I had a simple objective and all the freedom in the universe to reach it. In the end, the only extra resource I used was scotch tape... but the real freedom was within my mind in the design decisions I made. The fact I remember this experience 28 years later is a testament to the power of creative freedom.
Sometimes all we need is a simple objective and the freedom to reach it:
I’d like you to put your hand up in the air (stretch while you are at it), easy isn’t it! However, in a classroom, there can be some kind of gravitational/cosmic force stopping children's hands from going up. These mysterious forces of nature are complex. While theoretical physicists are looking into this... for now let’s perhaps recognise that social pressure and the risk of putting oneself forward is a pretty heavy influence. Once the ice is broken, we all feel more comfortable with the risk of contributing something stupid or wrong. Asking silly questions is a great way to break that ice, in fact when making Curiscope promotional films with schools we ask the kids really silly and fun questions. We find that as a film crew this builds trust in that we are just as playful as they are, after that point the kids are very keen to volunteer to risk looking silly with us.
My point here is not just about silly questions, it’s about breaking the ice, levelling the playing field so that no-one is afraid to contribute. Contribution is not only a sign that people are engaged, it’s also a key confidence builder and plays right into building that sense of owning a bit of the shared experience.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to just be able to conjure up anything you needed to inspire, amaze and engage?! You’d have to be a magician though right? Correct….though here at Curiscope we are working to change this...so stay tuned for future products via our twitter @curiscope.
Bringing something magical to the classroom or home is just the same as bringing in anything new except that with an illusional or mysterious element the engagement is supercharged! Just like a catalyst, the reaction is increased exponentially. With magic, we can do all of the things discussed in this article but with super efficiency. I appreciate that magic is hard to find and, whilst we work on making this easier, we do have something you can work with right away: The Virtuali-Tee. Ed and I formed Curiscope initially around a product with the simple idea that the ultimate way to learn about the body was on a human body! So we created an Augmented Reality t-shirt to allow you to do just that! You can find out more on our website.
Here is a taster of what a magical-supercharged-engagement-reaction looks and sounds like:
I hope I never stop learning and through Curiscope I get to meet and chat with wonderfully passionate teachers and educators from whom I learn so much. So seeing as you are here, I’d like to ask you a question: What are some of the tips you have for engaging your students? Comments below!
Feel free to engage and connect with me via twitter! @benthat3dkidd