One of the greatest challenges that educators deal with in the classroom is trying to keep their students engaged, especially when it comes to younger students.
Perhaps the most intimidating subjects to teach younger students lie in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields. There’s something to be said about the few layers of irony surrounding the challenge in communicating STEM ideas, as the disciplines in these courses seek to demystify or simplify the world with every step forward. The best and most effective way to engage younger students in STEM classes can be achieved in two ways:
1) Having your students participate in experimental/class activities, and
2) Drawing connections between their everyday lives and classroom materials.
First, enabling your students to actually perform an experiment or witness a scientific concept in the classroom is a great way to maintain their interest. I’m certain that this isn’t news to those reading, but new teachers/educators often find that following the standard curriculum won’t always work in every situation (to clarify, don’t subvert the curriculum, but expand upon it if a student is struggling). To give an example, making elephant toothpaste can help introduce primary school students to the idea of chemical reactions. They get to see the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide as it reacts with yeast and soap to produce a giant, foamy tower. At this age, primary school students will view chemical reactions as a foreign concept. Should you have the resources, performing this experiment in the classroom can jumpstart their interest in the natural world. Even showing them a video demonstration (specifically if funding is an issue) can have a profound effect. Its dire that your students have something tangible, or physical, to work with in STEM subjects; this is only one example, but there’s a plethora of experiments for any lesson that can intrigue your classrooms with ease.
The second pillar of engagement not only applies to STEM classes, but to your humanities lessons as well. Helping students draw connections with the course material and their day-to-day lives is essential to engaging them and helping them understand that day’s content. For a STEM lesson, t
his might mean that during the elephant toothpaste demonstration you explain reactions just like this are happening all around your students, even inside their own bodies. It can open the door for expanded discussion and review without forcing them to switch gears. For the humanities, like English (which are generally seen as being easier to connect with), describing that every bit of writing carries an example of a particular lesson in class. You could choose to relate it to a TV show, a movie, or even a video game. Engaging in guided reading, as opposed to round robin or popcorn styles, will be much more effective in boosting students’ comprehension. The bottom line is that making your lessons informative is just as important as making them relatable.