It is important for educators to consistently evaluate their teaching practices and learning opportunities, and there’s no better time to reflect than the beginning of a new year. This article suggests four ideas for educators to kick off the new year —including choice boards, learning stations, Genius Hour, and Project-Based Learning (PBL) — each aiming to enhance student engagement, collaboration, and the development of essential skills aligned with future workforce demands.
Throughout the school year, there are some times that I believe are great for diving into new ideas and then taking time to reflect on the learning experience. For me, the beginning of the new school year is one of these times. Educators often take some time during the summer to reflect on the previous school year, the methods and tools used, and the impact. Some educators engage in professional learning opportunities through conferences or webinars and other ways of connecting and learning. The second best time for exploring something new is right after the holiday break, at the start of a new calendar year or a new semester.
We need to be intentional about consistently evaluating our teaching practice, the learning opportunities that we provide for our students, and the impact. For our personal and professional growth, as well as our students, we need to make time to reflect on our daily work as educators. Are there areas that we notice we have improved? Did we try new methods and tools or stick to what we believe has always worked? Is there something, whether a method or a new tool or technology, on the list that we just didn’t have time to try? Now, as we kick off a new year, it is the perfect time to reflect and dive into some fresh ideas! By trying some methods or focus areas and then leveraging the right digital tools, we can transform student learning and boost engagement in learning as we continue through the school year.
We want to encourage students to collaborate, communicate, foster creativity, and develop the essential skills they need for a successful future in whatever they decide to do. In reviewing the information provided by the World Economic Forum and the Job Skills Outlook for 2027, many of the same skills that we’ve been talking about, such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving, resilience, and digital literacy skills, will continue to be in demand. In addition to these, artificial intelligence and data analytics are number 3 on the list. Because of the increased demand for these skills and, in some cases, skills in emerging areas such as STEM, we need a variety of activities and tools to explore with our students to prepare students for the world of work.
How to decide? Always start by focusing on the why behind the choices we make. Consider the content and grade level that you are teaching. Try to focus on areas where perhaps you notice a decrease in student engagement or the content is challenging. Then, select a method to explore and select some tools to help facilitate that method. When I made some changes in my classroom a few years ago, I just dove in and started with one change and then continued to make some changes.
Here are four ideas to kick off 2024:
1. Choice Boards
I dove into choice boards by quickly drawing squares with activities on notebook paper. The idea was to provide different levels of tasks that aligned with Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) and that met students’ interests and pace but enabled them to level up and extend their knowledge at higher levels in a way they chose. The options can be for students to do hands-on activities, perhaps some STEM challenges, making games, or using digital tools that help to gauge student progress. The power of choice in learning for students makes a big impact on their engagement with the material and their motivation for learning.
2. Learning Stations
My second adventure was learning stations. Learning stations present many benefits, including time for students to work with classmates and build relationships while engaging with the content in a variety of ways and at their own pace. It can boost engagement and also lead to more active learning. Stations can be done whether in a traditional classroom or virtually. It just requires finding the tools to facilitate the activities. Think about the activities that you do in class, whether a discussion, a worksheet, a game, or a video, and then design stations for each of these activities. Some tools to explore are Edpuzzle, Gimkit, Nearpod, and Padlet which are good for having students collaborate.
2. Genius Hour
Students have an opportunity to explore an interest or a passion and then share their genius with classmates or beyond their classroom and school community. Genius Hour promotes inquiry-based and student-driven learning, which infuses student choice and student agency. Genius Hour helps students to build self-awareness as they become more confident when sharing their knowledge, or “genius,” and self-management skills as they set their goals. In elementary or middle school classrooms, this can be a great method for bringing in STEM-related learning activities and connecting them with the content while helping students build essential SEL skills.
4. Project-Based Learning (PBL)
For years I thought I had been doing PBL, however, I realized I was wrong. After some research and time spent working with students, I realized how PBL can amplify, personalize, and transform students’ learning experiences. Whether the focus is on a specific area for the class or students choose something, such as studying the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there are numerous benefits. Once the topic is decided, then it’s time to find the right tools for students. With PBL, it helps to promote independent learning as well as collaboration, communication, problem-solving, and many other essential skills. Students can choose the “what” to share their learning. Some of my students have used Nearpod to make it interactive for classmates or CoSpaces Edu to create a representation of their PBL experience and immersed us in the world of augmented and virtual reality! Explore the Defined Learning PBL Resources, which make it easier to get started in your classroom.
We must always start by focusing on the why the choices we make. Consider the content that you are teaching and then choose a method such as learning stations, choice boards, genius hour, or project-based learning (PBL), for example, to amplify and transform the learning experiences for all students.
Trying new ideas sets a good model for students. We want them to become more comfortable with learning and making mistakes and the process of learning itself, and when we model this, it encourages them to do the same.
About the Author:
Rachelle Dené Poth is an ed-tech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, and teacher. Rachelle teaches Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle has a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. She is a Consultant, Speaker, and owner of ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting. She is an ISTE Certified Educator and currently serves as the past -president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service to education. She is also a Flip Ambassador, Nearpod PioNear, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, and Wakelet Ambassador.
Rachelle is the author of eight books and is a blogger for Defined Learning, Edutopia, Getting Smart, and NEO LMS. Follow Rachelle on Twitter (X) @Rdene915 and Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU https://anchor.fm/rdene915. Book Rachelle for your next event.