Sunday, March 2, 2014

3 Strategies to Supercharge Your Classroom Instruction

3 Strategies Pt. 1 (A Continuing Series)

As educators, we deal with a myriad of challenges daily. Keeping students focused on their educational goals is paramount to success in our chosen profession. Do the job correctly, and your students will reap the rewards of a good career, personal happiness, and a lasting memory of a great teacher. Even right now, I am sure you can name off a teacher that was funny and really helped you.

Do that same job with apathy, antiquated methods, or ineffective instruction, and you can inadvertently contribute to a child's life full of drugs, prison, early parenthood, and far worse. I have seen kids go to college and seen them go to prison. Once that realization set in, I fully grasped the importance of what my chosen profession required.

Once I left the classroom after five great years, I continued my Doctoral studies so that I could work with both students AND educators to bridge the generational gaps and to keep learning fun. Here are some of the strategies I will share that could mean the different between an average class and a stellar one:

 Role Playing

The two best assignments I ever gave involved role playing. I had to teach a very math intensive subject (Engineering) to high school students in a low income neighborhood. I was trying to think of a way to make Engineering Design fun. Assignment One had the students choose one of three roles and team up in groups. They rolled dice to find out their education level and received play money that matched their level. They were designers in a company they created and had one elected CEO. Every three days I gave them a new project to design and they competed for government contracts. They were required to present, to write up formal proposals, to manage their company finances and the CEO had to manage his payroll. They LOVED it. They scrambled to get their work done, had furious meetings, and gradually grew into their roles. The quality of work I received was outstanding as well.

The second assignment was same topic (Eng. Design) and to teach the elements of style, I completely went off the grid and created a stock market game. What does that have to do with Engineering you may ask? Because after a week of high intensity trading, the students were required to create a portfolio that listed their performances, their holdings, research on the company, and incorporated all the elements of style from the Engineering curriculum.

Or I could have had them follow the boring text based assignment that they hated.

Role playing is such a powerful and innovative way to stimulate young minds. No matter what subject you teach, giving kids a chance to act out and have fun will yield BIG rewards.


Its easy to lose sight of the big picture in the classroom, between lesson plans, lectures, grades, and state requirements, we tend to forget to promote individuality and get to know our students on a personal level. If you are a teacher, have you had at least five minutes with each student to at least ask them what professions or schools they might like to pursue? Remember, for a student to find value in their education, they need to have an end plan, a vision on the horizon, otherwise, they wont sign on.

"A student needs a vested interest and to be able to perceive relevance in instruction."

Read that last sentence twice. Its the most significant statement in this section. If a student cannot equate good grades with college admission, or quality of work with future earning potential, they lose interest quickly, because it becomes all papers, homework, studying, and no fun. Students need to understand that they WILL see a reward for hard work and for building good academic habits. How do we instill relevance?

Develop associations of actions vs. results for the future
Expose students to multiple career paths and educational experiences
Incorporate Project Based Learning
Develop fun things to do in your classroom

Math Equals Money

Math is quite simply, one of the most hated subjects in school. It isn't rote memorization or literal demonstration of concepts, its more along the lines of learning a complete system, like a language. The very topic of math brings up some of the most defeatist statements I have ever heard from people.

"I'm not good at math"
"I cant remember all the formulas"
"I am never going to use this"

All of these statements indicate an attitude of failure and a viewpoint that will continue all throughout life. Why bother learning math when you can avoid it? I had this attitude and paid dearly in life because of my own ignorance.

So how to we rewrite these attitudes?

By teaching our students the correlation between math and earning potential. All students have the desire to make as much money as possible in the fastest and easiest way available. One of the first things that I did when I received incoming freshmen was to make them fill out their bills post-graduation. We tallied up rent, car payment, electricity, phone, food, and various other things. Then I took that total and compared it to what minimum wage accrued to every month. The sheer shock on their faces was priceless. Then I showed them the average monthly wage for an Associate's Degree, all the way to Doctorate.

For many of them, this was their first visual exposure to the value of education. Next I shared with them the highest paying jobs straight out of college. ALL of them were technical and required math instruction. The little light bulbs over their heads were refreshing and they started to correlate math studies with how much money they could make.

In summary, I hope these strategies unlock some creative ideas about how you can improve your teaching methods and reaching your students. If you ever need advice or ideas, write me:

Dr. Rob

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