Thursday, May 30, 2013

Create to Motivate: Put the Fun Back in the Classroom!

By Dr. Shirley Disseler

Often educators find themselves perplexed by the lack of motivation and enthusiasm of students in their classrooms. As teachers it is often hard to get excited about teaching when the creativity has been eliminated from the classroom and replaced by program after program of canned curriculum mandates. Most educators learned from the beginning about the importance of the role of play and imagination in learning through the study of such theorists as Vygotsky, Piaget, and Brunner; but we fail today to find much of what these theories purport in our current classes.

With the new Common Core, coupled with the Next Generation of Science Standards, things are about to change. STEM is presently in the forefront in almost every state in the nation. As we allow students to once again explore what it means to learn through discovery and imagination we will see the motivation and engagement increase. The need for increased literacy in the classroom is evident, but should be done through other areas such as science, math, social studies and art.

Companies like Lego Education are working hard to bring creativity and imagination back into the classroom through core content. With products designed for the classroom teacher such as Story Starters, teachers can teach parts of a story, story telling, social studies reenactments, and cultural education. With the STEM program, students can create solutions to real world problems, and investigate real engineering concepts, and with robotics animals can come alive and lead to research about biomes, and adaptations. These are only a few of the many ideas that are coming out of the work of curriculum and development at Lego Education.

Other companies are beginning to create more hands-on minds-on approaches to reading, math, science, and social studies that make students want to learn about topics that are difficult. With the technology available to students today all content can come alive with the push of a button and many are using this to their advantage with robotic adventures. Engineering is Elementary units bring together, in a wonderfully integrated format, all areas of content. Students are taken through engineering challenges involving environmental issues that require research, journaling, and presentation from grade one. As elementary educators we must work to make motivation and engagement a priority if we are to see a rise in test scores. If we are looking to enjoy teaching students who enjoy school we have to put “play” back into the classroom hidden within the content. We have to seek to find the fun in school!

Recently, students attended a full day of STEM exploration at a low performing school in NC. The students in grade two were mesmerized by the experiments they were allowed to do, third graders were excited by robotic animals that they created, kindergartners created story sets and retold stories with Lego bricks.  One student said “If I could do this everyday, I would not be out so much!”

We need to create this learning environment on a daily basis. Students deserve it, we deserve it, and the world deserves it!  Allowing students to create will lead them to be motivated to learn whatever we want them to learn. Nothing will be too hard if structured correctly and leveled appropriately! Challenge them to reach the highest level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Challenge them to create. If we create challenge we will motivate our students to learn. Rigor is where the motivation lies in curriculum. Rigor can be fun, exciting, yet frustrating. We cannot be afraid to challenge young minds and stretch ourselves to learn new topics. Teaching will be different in the next decade than it has ever been before, but as professionals we should embrace and welcome the changes for these changes will allow us a bit more creativity once again!

Dr. Shirley Disseler is an Assistant Professor of Elementary & Middle Grades Education and the STEM Coordinator at High Point University in High Point, NC. Dr. Disseler is a member of the Global Lego Education Advisory Panel where she shares her expertise in product development for current and future products. She is also on the Executive Board for the NC Association of Elementary Educators, currently serving as Secretary.