How to light the fire of student engagement

Recently, a colleague of mine shared a story from high school. During a chemistry class his teacher started a small fire in a dish and started stirring in various compounds. First the fire turned green, then purple and then finally blue. The students, who usually struggle to get involved with the coursework, were completely fascinated. They start asking questions, make assumptions and start investigating the matter themselves. A fire was kindled in that classroom – both literally and figuratively.

Such stories remind educators of the power of student engagement. Teaching, in many ways, is like building a fire. You simply collect the kindling (tools and techniques), create a spark (curiosity) and then add some logs to the fire (content). Even so, owning one is still beyond the reach of the average person. Often, our students’ attitudes can be dampened by apathy or external distractions.

Construction of fire pit

So, how do we create the conditions for the roaring fire of student interest? I believe we start by tapping into their innate desire to learn. Curiosity is how we discover the world around us and finally navigate. By mixing that curiosity of life, we can also awaken the busyness of the students.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Mystery Box: Start your class by asking students yes / no questions to find out what’s in a box or include objects in the box that connect loosely to the content and force students to connect.

Minimize: Take a photo or screenshot of something that students will learn. Zoom in on that image and zoom out throughout the entire text, until you reveal the object. With each zoom out, ask students to guess what the object is.

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