I’m what you might call a free spirit. For that reason, I probably should never commit to doing a blog series, because if something more interesting catches my attention, I will definitely abandon the series to go to that topic. That’s just what happened when I paused to talk about blended learning and email/file straight-up strategies. Anyway, here is the long-awaited conclusion for my series on choosing the right tools for your classroom. In previous weeks on Facebook Live and in this blog, I have addressed how to choose assessment tools as well as content delivery tools and my favorite recommendations for each. If you missed those parts of this series, go back and read them or watch the videos. So with part three, we’re going to talk about student engagement tools. No matter what grade you teach, you probably struggle at least some of the time with your students’level of engagement. I know I did and still do, even with my adult students. And we’re only making the problem worse when we lecture or do worksheets or even show videos for extended amounts of time with no application. I’ve referred to the 10-2 method as I’ve discussed benefits of blended learning and other best practices. What do you do, though, with those two minutes of application? Well today, I have four tools I’d like you to try when you’re ready to engage your students. But before we get down to the tools, let’s talk my favorite topic: pedagogy. How do you know what tool to choose? What if the tools I recommend don’t work in your school or those companies go out of business? You can’t get too attached to a tool. I’ve learned that as one of my favorites, Office Mix, is retiring in a couple months. I have to instead get attached to what the tool does, and that’s what I want to help you learn as well. So without further ado, let’s dive In.
Choosing the Right Engagement Tools
What are the best features you should look for when you’re trying to find a tool to engage your students mid-lesson?
- First of all, look for live response. There’s nothing that excites a kid more than to see his or her name or nickname pop up on the board with a response. It could be exactly the same thing that we previously would have had them put on a sticky note, draw on the dry erase board, or write on a piece of paper. It’s not the topic. It’s the methodology.
- Next, you will want a tool that will allow you to have either anonymous or name-associated posts. Sometimes you need your students to be accountable for what they write. At other times, though, you might be looking for survey tools that will allow your students to do a response, especially if you’re expecting honest answers. Make sure what you pick is appropriate for the job. You could use a tool that allows anonymous or named posts, or you could use two different tools for either one. That might add some nice variety anyway.
- Number three, and this is basic, is to choose a tool kids like. Referring to what I just said in tip two, that pursuit of the elusive student interest might mean that you have to change things up every once in awhile. I showed the tool Sway, which I’ve discussed in a separate post, to a sweet male teacher a couple years ago. He fell so in love with it that he said, “Suzy, I’m having my kids make a Sway every week!” While I shared his excitement about loving this tool, I’m sure the kids did not enjoy working with the same tool week after week. So pick a good one, but don’t be afraid to change it up.
- Number four is to make sure the tool is free or affordable. You are the boss of how you spend your money, and maybe you’re still in one of those blessed school districts that still has classroom budgets to give out. Or maybe you can talk PTA into giving you some money. But if not, free is the way to go. If you do decide to pay for a tool, look at how many times you’re going to use it and divide that up from the total cost. That way you can see if you’re really using a tool that’s worth it.
- My last tip before we go diving into some of my favorite tools is to make sure that the tool does not mine student data. I am loving the new Common Sense Privacy Evaluation Initiative research. I was at ISTe when the organization launched this initiative to a small group of us at dinner, and the project asks companies to evaluate and provide evidence of their abilities to protect student privacy. I know it may not come to our minds all the time, which is why I’m sharing this tip here, but you really should care about what the cost of free is. Make sure the tool does not give away more than you would want to share about your classroom and the students in it.
Four Powerful Tools for Student Engagement
Now let’s get into the fun part and the reason that so many teachers go to conferences. I get it. You want tools you can use today or tomorrow. So let’s get down to business.
- Have you heard of Mentimeter? It’s a great pulling tool that allows you to collect student options in word clouds and eleven other ways. From their phones or devices, students simply go to menti.com and put in a code for your presentation. Preparation on your part is minimal, and students can respond to form a word cloud, take a poll, take a quiz, and more. If you’re using the tool to have students vote or give feedback to each other, I also love the ability to present only the winner, complete with a confetti celebration. Here’s a video that shows how the tool works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfKj2s69nio Mentimeter has been the go-to tool at many conferences I’ve attended recently, so it definitely merited a place on my list. However, I don’t want to ignore the tried-and-true.
- Poll everywhere is a tool I’ve used for years. Though I’ve been out of the classroom for 5 years, I’ve still found use for this tool even in church camp settings. It allows students to respond to an open poll, again in word cloud or graph style. A practical classroom use I had for Poll Everywhere was the ability to have my students instantly vote on debates. I matched my freshman students in mini one-to-one debates for three minutes. At the end of each debate, other students were instantly able to vote for the winner. Though I graded everyone individually, the winner received bonus points. It was a great motivating factor. Any time that students can give instant feedback, that feedback is going to be more valuable. Also, the fact that the feedback comes from peers makes it ten times more exciting for students than if the teacher had just graded them.
- My third tool is Today’s Meet. Again, it’s an oldie but a goody, and I don’t want to assume that everyone’s heard of it. Today’s Meet allows you to open up a temporary room where students can chat or answer question you’ve provided. After the amount of time that you selected, the link deactivates, but there is a transcript feature while it’s still open. When I was first introduced to back-channeling, maybe ten years ago, this is one of the tools that caught my attention, and it still works well. A neat little feature that it has also is that students can’t put their full name in. When they start to type more than one word, it limits them–the tool respects student privacy. Try this fun little tool for shy kids in your class who may need to have an ongoing chat with you but don’t want to ask questions in front of everybody. You can also read any questions at the end of the lesson and answer them.
- Finally, Microsoft Forms is definitely a favorite. It replaced Excel Survey a few years ago,and has a beautiful layout that I was missing with the older tool. You can give surveys and graded quizzes. It also embeds beautifully in your learning management system or in a Sway. If you need to collect easy data and have beautiful visuals at the end of it, Forms is worth checking out. I actually did a whole webinar on this tool. Though some of the interface has updated, the basics are the same and I think you might find the webinar helpful.
Want to know more? Watch this video for a quick sample of all four tools in action.
So those are my tools and tips. I want to end, though, with two other little tidbits you might find valuable. First of all, try taking your link from one of the tools and pairing it with either a QR code or a short link or both. Any way that you can make the student link more accessible will just speed up the ability for students to get there quickly and to interact with you. You don’t want to waste the two minutes out of the 10-2 method just getting to the link. Also, as I stated earlier, you want to make sure your students have each other as the audience as often as possible. In addition to the debate idea I gave you, here’s another idea: two groups of students who need to give speeches could do so over Skype or video conference. As one student is speaking, the students in the other class are giving compliments and critiques via one of the tools we suggested above. These are just two more ways to get your students flowing with technology and engagement.
Do you have other engagement tips or tools? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.
With Tech and Twang,