Getting Student Engagement through Authentic Experiences

#edtech #edchat As it is now summer and I have begun my conference speaking tour, I am often asked after one of my workshops; “How do you get your students to do what they do?” Since this has been coming up a lot I decided that I needed to take a closer look at the “how” behind the student tech projects that I do. So with the borrowed expertise of my wife, who is a district tech administrator and can do Where’s Waldo like nobody’s business, to help me find out the motivation of my students to do great work. If there is anyone who can find an anomaly in data it is my wife.

So after some digging around and reviewing my tech projects she concluded that it must have something to do with the authentic experiences that my students get by doing these projects. You see, everything I do with my student I try to make as real as possible. I guess without really even knowing why, I have always felt that if we are going to do a tech project, then it had better look like the real thing. And as it turns out, these are called authentic experiences. This explains why our podcasting studio looks like a real radio station, and our movie productions follow the Hollywood style.
Last week I participated in the Summer Academy that my school does every year just after regular school gets out, and as a case in point I would like to talk about the LEGO NXT programming class that I taught to 8-10 year olds.
First off, rather than calling it LEGO NXT Programming, I called it the Mayan Adventure, based on a book by the same name. Then I created the sets for each mission, I made tunnels, and got twine to mimic what was used in the story. For each mission, my students really believed they were in the real challenge. There is something about a young student’s brain – they are easy to trick what they think reality is (which is why they can’t watch scary movies at this age). Every day for 3 hours my students were 100% engaged in these activities and missions. They loved every minute of it and learned a ton about how to program little LEGO robots.
So my advice is this; before starting any project with your students, think about ways to make it authentic in how it will appear to them. I think you will be surprised that it really doesn’t cost a lot in money, it may in time, but the payoff is well worth it.
Here are some photos from my recent Mayan Adventure…


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