Easy K-12 Classroom Engagement Ideas to Make Life Easier

Click above to listen to this podcast episode. Below is the transcript for Student-Centered World Podcast Episode 20: “Classroom Engagement Ideas for Easily Adapting the Classroom with Steph Sperber”

On today’s podcast, I had the opportunity to chat with 14-year teaching veteran Steph Sperber who is currently teaching in a middle school classroom. I met Steph in Spring 2020 through our Student-Centered World mastermind Facebook group; Steph was so instrumental in helping teachers in our group transfer their classrooms to a digital setting. I bring up stuff a lot when I talk to other teachers because I specifically remember her saying that, given her regular classroom was already student-centered with classroom engagement ideas, she actually had more time on her hands when school went digital.

No one ever believes me when I tell them that, but it’s true. The teachers that I’ve trained and the students that are learning all had the same sentiment that there is more time because of the nature of how the classroom is run. In talking to Steph today, you’ll hear exactly how it’s done.

Welcome to the Student-Centered World podcast where we talk about all things hands-on teaching and keeping your energy and sanity in the classroom. This teacher turned consultant is making it her mission to help as many teachers as possible become the best version of themselves and keep their passion for teaching on fire. It’s her hope that we never forget why we desire to have a passion for educational progress. This is Student-Centered World, and this is Jenn Breisacher.

Jenn Breisacher: Why don’t you give us a little introduction about who you are and where you’re from and all that good stuff.

Steph Sperber: Great. My name is Steph, I am in my now 14th year of teaching social studies. I am currently in Connecticut where I grew up. I spent a few years teaching out in Hawaii before coming back here last year. I was teaching at a small private school when we started to go distance learning so that was an experience. Then right before the school year started, the school decided to close completely, forever.

So, I am now a long-term sub at a large public school. So major shift and that’s how I am starting my year and I’m in a maternity position. So, I’m in for the long haul until March.

Jenn Breisacher: So, you and I actually first met in the mastermind group on Facebook talking about classroom engagement ideas. We started that back in March 2020 when everything went to where it went. I actually think you are probably one of the first people that joined the group, and you were super active right away. Do you remember how you found it or anything like that?

Steph Sperber: I’m a little bit of a Facebook PLC addict to the point where I have sometimes have to mute some groups because I’m just in too many. But I’m pretty sure that’s how I found it through another one of those groups. My Facebook started as a normal person’s Facebook. I was in college when Facebook started so I got into it. Nowadays, all PLC, all different teacher groups and tech groups and things like that.

Jenn Breisacher: Absolutely. So, for anybody who is not familiar, PLC means “personalized learning community” in the teacher world. If you’re not part of one I suggest doing so.

Steph Sperber: They’re a lifesaver. They really are a lifesaver.

Jenn Breisacher: They really are. You get some of your best ideas. I started off on Twitter. One of my admins was like, “You need a Twitter just for work.” I was like, “But it’s social media. You’re not supposed to be on social media as a teacher” and she was like, “It’s different. I’m telling you, it’s different”.

So, I learned a lot on Twitter and then obviously on Facebook. there are all kinds of groups. The same thing, I started Facebook in college. So, that is certainly morphed throughout the years and then now I find that Instagram is the happening place where all the teachers are like posting their things and lots of great ideas and stuff there.

So yes, if you are listening to this, and you are not part of that community, get on that. It’s some of the best free professional development and classroom engagement ideas you will, in fact, ever find. So, speaking of that, in the mastermind group, we decided to come up with a whole bunch of free training that people signed on. They did little videos on different tech tools and you know, ways of doing things in the classroom just trying to help one another through that time and I know you jumped in and I forget which one you did.

Steph Sperber: Actively Learn.

Jenn Breisacher: There you go. Yes. Again, one of the first people that was like, “I’ll do it, I’ve got it” and jumped in. Great video. We wound up with 39 of them, which was fantastic. People were just jumping in and helping one another. Towards the end, people were like, “well, what about this?”, but nobody knew about that. So, just grabbing them from YouTube and putting them in there and it was a whole thing.

But one of the things that I think struck me the most in terms of classroom engagement ideas. Obviously, we help each other a lot in that group and the tone changed from week to week. It went from oh my gosh, what are we going to do to I can’t possibly do this too well, how are you doing it? It’s just like every week the conversation in there changed.

At one point, I recall you saying something along the lines of it really wasn’t that hard for me to make this switch and I find that I have more time on my hands now that I’m not in the classroom than I did when I was in there. I’ve used that line with so many teachers, and none of them believe me, because…

Steph Sperber: I feel like everyone’s going to come at me now after saying that. What I’m reading now is like, “Oh my God; how do I balance? How do I reclaim my normal life?” Before I get in to respond. I get very defensive. I know that teachers are going to come at me

Jenn Breisacher: No, because this is explaining why that’s a thing. That’s why we’re doing that to explain why it’s okay, why it should have been that way.

Finding the Balance

Steph Sperber: I have had the fortune in the past few years when I was in Hawaii and when I came back to Connecticut, of working at two schools that really allowed me to explore a lot of tech resources and classroom engagement ideas. That does not mean that they paid for them. I just want to be clear. Sometimes I was negotiating with companies. Sometimes I just had to make do with free. But over the last, specifically, last three years I got really into using Actively Learn, which I’m happy to talk about.

But I also had been in Google schools that embrace the G Suite for education. So, not just email, but using Google Classroom. I had begun really spending my summers to be quite blunt. I probably should have gotten a summer job but instead, I was like going down the rabbit hole of professional development for myself and really embracing the two things that I think changed my teaching.

I’m still in touch with a lot of my former students because I’m teaching high school, so a lot of them are in college now. They say that these two things really shaped my classroom when I asked them what made them feel successful. Google Sites, creating a landing base and I’ll say what I did with that, and mastering what looks like very fancy Google Slides, but in reality, is not fancy at all.

It’s just a few tricks here and there with classroom engagement ideas. So, the way I use technology, yes, I learned about Pear Deck very early on and used it a few times and definitely more during distance learning. I used it as an add-on to Google Slides that is interactive. So, you’re getting immediate feedback from students and you can share answers to questions through a slide deck but it’s it can be anonymous, or you can have students working collaboratively.

But what really made it an easy shift for me or an easier shift than some of my Facebook world friends are experiencing is that I had already built Google Sites for my classes before the year started. I use those sites and it doesn’t have to be Google. Now I am at a Microsoft school so I’m learning a whole new bag of tricks. But I set up my website really geared towards minimizing my contact with parents and tutors.

I made it very, very basic. My presentations were available unless there was some big reveal or secret mystery. I always tried to make them available before I taught the content. So, I use Google Slides for everything or PowerPoint if you’re a Microsoft person. I still use Google Slides at my Microsoft school.

So, I use Google Slides for everything, for instructions for an activity that I can keep up on a share screen or on my projector. I use it as a landing page for links. So, what I would do was each unit would get a subpage on my website and I would plop everything in there, I would have the slideshow or the website or video, whatever it is with the daily agenda. I’m not talking the objectives that the admin wants you to put on the board.

I’m saying what we actually did so that parents and tutors and students who are absent or need a reminder can always go there. That was open to the public. Those sites were available to anyone and I put them in my links. So, my class had already for years been set up in a way that my students knew how to pace themselves. I did this with 9 through 12.

So, when we switched to online, not much actually changed because I was also using Actively Learn, which was an interactive digital textbook platform. So, my kids already had a digital textbook that they were already answering questions and doing the reading and annotating. That did not change my classroom engagement ideas at all. I already had the Google Site set up. I already knew about Pear Deck.

So, for me, a lot of it was embracing technology as a tool before it became a crutch during distance learning. I use Doodle Notes a lot. So, I make little worksheets that look fun for kids to color in while they’re working. But in reality, it’s keeping them from getting distracted, while they’re still kind of listening and taking in and it’s guided notes.

So, for my kids who need guided note accommodations, that takes care of it and they don’t have time to doodle. Recently, now that my kids are gone, and I can’t hand things out, I’ve shifted to putting those in a Microsoft notebook. If I was at a Google school, I would make them the background of a Google Slide or make them available so that kids could draw on them with styluses. Still interactive.

So, I think what made it easy for me is that I really embraced interactive technology and classroom engagement ideas while I was still in the classroom. So, the small things like, “Oh, I can’t do my stations, but I know how to hyperlink.” I was smart.

Before we left for good. I took pictures of my classroom, so that I could use them as a background in a PowerPoint, and put my Bitmoji in. Before this classroom engagement ideas Bitmoji craze, I had always been putting my Bitmoji into my presentations. But I literally grouped my kids around a table. They can’t see my air quotes, because it’s a podcast, but around a picture of a table, and then those kids would click on the link where their name was, and it would take them to a station.

So, I really tried to keep it the same and that meant a lot of learning for me and I mean, that’s how I found you is that we extended our spring break, which gave me extra time to learn as much tech as possible, learn new classroom engagement ideas, and find all these groups.

So, I think people who were really hesitant to embrace tech before, clearly struggled more. Even if you like embraced tech or used tech as a tool, maybe you didn’t have the unrealistic number of Facebook groups to get your answers or you didn’t have four or five YouTube tutorials where you learned things. in terms of classroom engagement ideas. It was a pandemic, so it felt a lot crazier than it was. and ultimately, I just tried to keep the same consistency that I had started early on.

Making the Hands-On Switch

Jenn Breisacher: I think there’s a lot to be said for what you just said. So, I mean I’ve been training teachers with classroom engagement ideas since before the pandemic. Most people just didn’t know me and because that’s when I was like, “Hi, hey…over here! Let me help you.” But all the teachers that I helped prior to the pandemic, whether it was when I was still in the classroom when I was doing workshops or whatever, all kind of said the same thing of it wasn’t as hard because they already had the students in the group.

They weren’t what I like to call the “sage on the stage” anymore. Things were hands-on and a lot of the people who struggled the most and still kind of are having an issue are trying to do their old traditional way of teaching in the classroom but doing it online. You just can’t.

So, that’s one of the reasons we put all those classroom engagement ideas trainings together to try to help people like, “Hey, find something that you like and that your kids are going to like, and you can make those transitions.” Trying to tell people about Nearpod, where you can still do a PowerPoint and have it interactive, or that you can take a slide that you usually use on a smartboard and put it into Seesaw, and the kids can still draw on it.

There are ways to do it, but a lot of teachers were so far behind the eight ball in advancing their technology skills, and some of them it was to no fault of their own because their district did not have the tools at hand. I think that’s honestly, a silver lining of all of this is that disparity is now no longer an option. They’re trying to either update it.

Some places are still trying to update, or they did it then or it is the silver lining of the teacher that has the mentality of if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it and they’re not trying to learn all of these new gadgets and now they have to and they’re finding that it does make some things easier in the classroom, it does engage their students more, they do get more out of it. So, it’s so funny to me that you immediately went on the defensive of like, people are going to yell at me, but it’s the truth.

You’re not the only person that I spoke to that says “I had more time on my hands.”

When you’re doing student-centered learning, when you have great classroom engagement ideas, when you’re doing hands-on learning, the concept is that the kids are all trained, and it takes a little bit of time to get them there. But once they’re there, they know, they come in, they do whatever is made for them, and you’re going around the classroom, and you’re helping each kid individually, and you’re having those conversations and you’re monitoring what they’re doing.

So, when you’re actually used to having that hands-on element for you, and then you don’t have it anymore. It’s like so I have everything set and the kids know what to do. They’re not struggling. You might have the kids that are logging on and that’s a different issue. But yeah, I mean, people had extra time on their hands which blows the mind. So many people.

Easy Classroom Engagement Ideas

Steph Sperber: And also like, I mean, it was the little things. I cut out my 30-minute commute every day. I didn’t have to deal with advisory every day. I had done a lot of research in this free time before when I really was jazzed and energetic and I didn’t have classes to teach over the break. I did a lot of research about what is best practice in terms of scheduling and classroom engagement ideas.

I really miss my school that closed. It was the first school I felt like really embraced me. I sent an unsolicited two-page email about here’s how you should open when you reopen in a week and here’s what I suggest the schedule, and it was only my first year. But they took it because I was doing a ton of research and it worked. I see a lot of schools going eight to four all day online. I’m like, I maxed out at 45 minutes. Are you kidding? Then give them asynchronous time.

The other pitfall I saw a lot of people falling into was assigning a ton of work because they thought kids might be bored, or they need the same number of hours that they physically had in school. So, I actually scaled back. I was giving some pretty high-level reading because I put a lot of pressure, not pressure, but I have high expectations of my students and I give them pretty high-level stuff. I scaled that back.

I was cutting pieces of the textbook out when I was assigning it and highlighting. This was for my 11th graders, highlighting significant portions so they still had to read and answer questions, but I took out the struggle piece for them because we had less time in class online. It was the beginning of a crazy time and they actually succeeded at the same level with these classroom engagement ideas.

I gave online tests. I made them open note and I knew who was answering questions in class and through my platforms, I could see who was doing the reading, plug for Actively Learn. You can see how long they spend on the reading and what words they’re looking up and their writing level.

So, I knew. I knew how long things were taking and I knew who was translating, my ELL kids. How much they were translating, versus how much they were really writing their own annotations. It made me work less.

I have a good work balance because I embraced this tech early that involve some objective multiple choice that was self-grading, which all of a sudden everyone knows about and embraces and are great classroom engagement ideas. I really focused on what were the most important parts. Did I get all the way to 2001 like I wanted to know? No. Did we make it roughly well into the 80s in US history? Yes. So, okay, two decades, not bad.

Jenn Breisacher: As a former history teacher, you schlepped through those last few decades. This is already in my lifetime. I lived through this part.

Steph Sperber: It’s so true, I did get to avoid some awkward Clinton conversation that I usually have to have with the seniors. But honestly, it really was scaling back, using the tech that I knew, and crafting solid classroom engagement ideas. I didn’t try to learn a million new things. I looked at Flipgrid for a hot second. I’m sure it works well, for a lot of people and teachers that I work with. Didn’t interest me one bit, didn’t catch it and my kids didn’t suffer for it.

I used what I knew for classroom engagement ideas. I knew what my kids enjoyed because, you know, we did have six months together before we went virtual and I amplified that. I really just tried to do what I knew they were successful in while still keeping it challenging and meaningful. I think if you cop-out, and you just give them worksheets to do, they’ll know and they’ll become uninterested.

The worst thing you can do is have apathetic students that are just behind a turned-off camera and a muted mic, and you can’t tell what they’re doing until the class ends and they don’t leave the meeting, or you call on them.

classroom engagement ideas

Jenn Breisacher: They don’t respond, they’re not there.

Steph Sperber: Yeah, I think you really have to reset your expectations of classroom engagement ideas and I will acknowledge that. I mean, thank God, I ended up in a really awesome public school now, because I’ve been in other public schools that with my experience would have been very different. But administrators play a big role in not only access to this tech and what the district allows you to use.

But the expectations, you have to understand what the limits are in terms of classroom engagement ideas and that’s a lot about reclaiming your time. I’m sorry, this presentation isn’t bells and whistles, but we’re going to have a chill day today. I’m not going to do a tap dance. Maybe next weekend, I’ve had a weekend, I’ll do a tap dance for you.

Professional Judgement and Growth

I think that that’s something that administrators need to realize as well. Sometimes I think they’re also trying to just do things as it was and try to keep the continuity, but there’s no shame and I think you actually would get more respect from the staff, just from hearing teachers who are saying, we don’t know how this is going to go. We don’t know what’s going to work.

We’re going to try this and then we’re going to reconvene, I want to hear from you guys to know if this is working. I was talking to one girl, and we were going over, I think she was in the group if I’m remembering correctly, it was a bit ago. We were going over oh, there are all these different trainings and all these different programs.

She’s like, our administrator says we’re allowed to use like these five programs, and that’s it. None of them were really engaging. None of them were really exciting in terms of classroom engagement ideas. It was just finding a way to just give the students the information. That will, especially in the environment that they’re in now. If you’re not keeping them guessing every day. If they’re not constantly wondering, like what is she or he going to have for me tomorrow. What craziness are we going to have?

They’re just going to become apathetic and when it turns into I know I’m going to log on and I’m going to have to do this and then this and that. As adults, we would totally zone out and we would try to find ways around it and we would try to find cheeps to get through it and we’re grownups and we know better. So, you can’t imagine the kids without the frontal lobe fully developed there to know maybe I should give this a shot.  It’s not going to happen.

The other thing I did that is exactly what you were saying, but kind of the reverse. I signed up for a lot of PD in the summer. Did I complete it all? No. I also started a mask business on the side, which really took off, which took away from my PD time and coming up with more classroom engagement ideas.

Steph Sperber: I signed up for a lot, most of them were one-off or two-day PD sessions and they were so boring. I mean, I get that we’re adults and that we don’t need the same level of edutainment that ninth-graders might need. But some people and I get it. We’re all struggling. There are so many things that I am terrible at as an educator.

But, if you are going to do a zoom, or live streamed interactive where it’s live, not just a pre-recorded video, please have at least a visually appealing PowerPoint. At the very least.

Jenn Breisacher: When I got into doing professional development all I kept thinking of was all the professional development that I had done before that wasn’t actually helpful. The ones that would explain to you how to make things hands-on by standing there lecturing at the PowerPoint. So, when I run a workshop, when I personally go out into the field and run a workshop, I’m running a student-centered workshop.

They’re hands-on and they’re doing stuff because there’s nothing I think’s worse, and this doesn’t even have to do with the classroom engagement ideas piece of it. There’s nothing I hate more than when you go to professional development and they talk all about the theory and you’re so gung-ho. “Oh, this sounds awesome” and then they’re like, “Okay, bye.”

Number one, you can’t contact them again. They always say here’s my card, but they never respond. You don’t have time to actually implement any of the stuff that you learned because it’s back to the grind the next day. So, you throw the folder on a shelf somewhere saying I’ll get to it later, and then it gets covered and then you don’t. So, even the course that I offer, teaches you how to do all the student-centered stuff.

But when you’re done with the course your lesson is done, or your unit is done. I crafted it like that on purpose because I’m like what else is the point. Why are you trying to teach people how to do stuff without letting them do it or helping them do it? Just talking about it is everything that education is anti now.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes. Yes. It’s the opposite.

Steph Sperber: A lot of it because, and this I felt a little bad about and one of the sessions did like accommodate that. I didn’t think that was too annoying. But a lot of it was geared at the very, very base level. I had a hard time and again, I’m a history teacher who fakes it until she makes it with hyperlinked PowerPoint slides that everyone thinks is like a godsend. I’m like right-click, hyperlink to a different slide.

That’s why I build all these crazy maps. But I found a lot of them were super basic. It was really frustrating in the beginning.

People didn’t know how to use the chat feature. People didn’t know how to change their name. I was shocked at some of these. I’m sure they’re amazing educators. I was just shocked at how little tech knowledge people had. That was a shock to me, and it made me sad and it made me want to, like you said I jumped up to offer assistance because (a) that made me feel like I had a purpose.

On my worst days of teaching at the very least, I knew that the folks in the middle school social studies Facebook group would embrace me for the PowerPoint I had uploaded for them, or the Doodle Notes I shared. I really felt like oh, this is something that I can offer to people.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah. I mean and that’s why…

Steph Sperber: It doesn’t take much from me.

Jenn Breisacher: Right. That’s why I transitioned out of the classroom. I love being in the classroom. I love the students and the classroom engagement ideas and the aha moments and stuff,  but I would start doing workshops because people would be like to tell us about student-centered learning. Tell us about how this works because we don’t get it. And again, I’ve had them work through stuff and I’d always give them time at the end. Why don’t you find an activity online, that’ll work for something that you have coming up.

They’d be like, this is fantastic. I never knew this existed before. The last school district was a CTE district. So, like a technical school. There was one of our vet tech teachers that was in there and I remember he jumped up and was like, well, it was actually both of them because we had two different campuses.

So, it was a male and a female, and they jumped up and they’re like, “We just found a cat dissection, a CAT dissection!” They were so excited and didn’t even know this existed before. I was like, yeah, and the more I did that, the more I was like, this is it because I can help so many kids outside of my own classes with classroom engagement ideas and it’s not hard.

It’s not hard to make the change and adopt new classroom engagement ideas, you just need someone to tell you this is how you do it. Like you click, click, and now you have a link. It just seems so simple but when somebody you don’t know what you don’t know. Then I changed however many people’s everything because now they know how to put in a link to another slide.

Steph Sperber: I say this all the time, my students, when they outgrow me, they’ve either graduated or I’m not teaching them anymore. They figure it out. They’re smart kids. I say this all the time because I do the same thing. I beg to offer professional development on classroom engagement ideas because it’s easier for me to get it all out at once than have admin send people to me.

But the title of my professional development, which I stole from, so I cannot remember where I heard this. But the magician’s best trick is fooling you. You don’t have to be an expert at everything, you just have to make it look like you are trying and try a few things that look impressive.

When you say to make a video of yourself, I’ve been using Screencastify for a while because I got tired of explaining the same thing over and over. So, I’d just make a video once and put it on my little website and then kids knew how to access the grade book, or whatever, and parents and tutors. But then it became well, how do you do this, and I was like, well, let me make you a little video.

All of a sudden everyone thinks you’re some YouTube star. I was like no, I learned this by watching other people and I’m just sharing it with you. But it makes such a big difference, especially within your own organization because if you’re using, the same platform, or you’re trying to do the same thing. It just makes everything so straightforward.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Steph Sperber: Before my school closed unexpectedly, I spent all summer really doing almost one on ones or small group PDs in my living room on Google Meet. I’m just coaching them on how to start a Google Site because we knew we were going to be hybrid or how to use these different platforms. Honestly, you can find so much that is already made, and people are really trying to help.

Somebody said how do you do your notes for Supreme Court cases and my seniors three years ago still tell me about their little SCOTUS Notice, which was something that I came up with just because I thought I could slide the rhyme. I titled a little doodle page worksheet. That’s the thing that blew up in the government Facebook group. It’s the littlest things that you can contribute and make somebody else’s day so much easier. That’s what I found. Just find the things that are going to make your life easier.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Making Classroom Engagement Ideas Easy on Yourself

Steph Sperber: I hear a lot of concern about classroom engagement ideas, and I agree kids’ social, emotional, it’s really hard being isolated. It’s hard for adults to be isolated. But honestly, just make it easier for yourself. I tell myself every night when I am spending way too long removing backgrounds from images to put into PowerPoint, way too much time. It doesn’t have to be the best you’ve ever done this year. It does not have to be everything that you would normally do.

Jenn Breisacher: And when you do switch to a model like this, your life gets significantly easier. There’s more work beforehand, getting everything together but then once you have it, you have it, and you can tweak it and you can adjust it, but you’re not stressed out in the classroom and you’re not sputtering around trying to do things and the kids, they just fall into knowing exactly what they to do and they’re engaged because, again, there’s always that little mystery.

What’s coming up next? What are we going to be doing here? You know, it’s a game-changer. It’s not hard to adapt at all.

Steph Sperber: Yeah. The other one, I’ll say besides the magician’s best trick is fooling you, which I love is an illusion is everything. So, I’ll give you an example. Historians whoo! There’s an Iceman that was found in Italy named Ötzi and it’s like a big thing. I do a huge CSI. I put a dead body on the floor, and I have all the evidence scattered around the room, and I have a crime scene across the front of my classroom.

Jenn Breisacher: I did the same for the Renaissance.

Steph Sperber: Yeah. Kids get so into it. I was like, “Huh, how can I do this digitally?” Because I knew we were starting off the year remote. I put a map and I did everything I would normally do. I just reorganized it in a hyperlinked PowerPoint. I’ve used it before, before COVID. A lead up to the American Revolution.

It started off, one slide was like the Boston Massacre and then I had a little button at the bottom that said, do you want to go to the tavern to hear what people are saying? And when you click on it, it just brought you to another slide and you could click on the different people to read primary sources. Then it was like, people want to go to the harbor and dump the tea. Do you want to go? Listen, the kids don’t have a choice. They have a note sheet that they’re taking notes with.

Jenn Breisacher: But they buy-in with these classroom engagement ideas.

Steph Sperber: They have a choice of which primary sources they read. They have a choice. I did like a 1960s music cafe where I had six different subjects like the women’s movement, or Black Panthers, or Woodstock. The kids could go quote wherever they wanted. Well, they only had six choices, but it gives them the illusion of choice and control.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Steph Sperber: And that is huge. We do this all the time as educators; you orchestrate your entire experience of classroom engagement ideas, but they think that they’re being given a choice. That is huge. It does take a little time to set up. But that’s a three-day activity and then you won’t have it in you to do it for three days.

Jenn Breisacher: It is the teaching equivalent of asking your kid, do you want to wear the blue coat, or do you want to wear the green coat?  It doesn’t matter. They’re still wearing a coat, but the little kid thinks like, ooh, I got to pick. Student choice is everything with classroom engagement ideas.

Steph Sperber: It’s everything.

Jenn Breisacher: And you’re the one who’s deciding what they have to choose.

Steph Sperber: It doesn’t have to be scary.

Jenn Breisacher: We’re making sure that they’re getting all of the same information. But yeah, we’re making it seem like oh they have options.  You’re creating the classroom engagement ideas and options.

Steph Sperber: Yeah. The other thing I’ve discovered recently is that I probably should have done when we first switched. But since I had already had those kids in real life, for six months, it wasn’t necessary, but starting a new school year. I am not a fan of bellringer. In a regular classroom, I feel like they waste so much time.

But when it takes 10,000 years to take digital attendance. That’s been driving me bananas. So, I’ve been doing a quick five-question auto-correcting. Hear me folks out there in the podcast world, auto-correcting. You can do it with Google Forms, and you could do it with Microsoft Forms and 1000 other platforms.

Multiple choice, straight from the book, I may rephrase some things. I’m not reinventing the wheel, straight from their homework, five questions. It’ll tell them their score. It’s not for credit so they don’t freak out about will this go in the grade book. But you can share your screen when you’re done with attendance and you can see how many kids have done it.

You can pull up those little pie charts that show how many students you will have saved in your platform, whatever you use. Immediate feedback per different classes and the kids. It’s totally anonymous when you just show the full class pie chart. It will change everything because the kids will know exactly what they’re not getting, and a little bit of shame goes a long way

Jenn Breisacher: I call that positive peer pressure and great classroom engagement ideas.

Steph Sperber: There you go. You will know exactly what you need to review. They get immediate feedback and the best part here folks, turn it turn up the volume. Just put those questions on the test. Don’t make it harder for the kids just because you’re the adult. This is not Matilda where you need to torture them. Not all of them, use some of the same questions. Preferably the ones they didn’t really get. The ones that were not the easy ones.

I mean, go ahead, and make them easy but I usually choose a few home runs and a few that you didn’t even hear when I gave the correct answer, and you didn’t bother to correct yourself and after a while my kids get it. So, they know to study their old mistakes. It’s not rocket science. You don’t have to constantly be reinventing the wheel.

Jenn Breisacher: And as a teacher, that’s perfect data for you as you’re moving forward with your lesson planning and classroom engagement ideas. Hey, every single kid got that question wrong. Let me see if I can find a video online. We can slap it into Edpuzzle. We can do whatever with it just to make sure that they hear it a different way or they see it a different way or they touch it a different way to make sure that they get it.

Steph Sperber: Yeah, and that’s so easy to do is sharing your screen. It takes me five minutes to make those quizzes, but then I don’t have to really work that hard to make the test at the end. It’s all self-correcting. You don’t have to sit there forever grading.

The Benefits to Your Own Life

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah. It’s a game-changer and it’s true. All of this has been true. People need to understand that making these switches with new classroom engagement ideas is not scary. The kids learn better. They’re in a generation that doesn’t know life before technology. So, making these just small changes, finding just a couple of apps or a couple of programs to implement will make your life significantly easier.

You’ll love being in the classroom again. You’ll have better relationships with your students. There will be fewer that are falling through the cracks because you’re able to interact with everyone with these classroom engagement ideas.

It differentiates itself. It does all of the things that we’re supposed to be doing in the class, I just did air quotes too, that we’re supposed to be doing in the classroom but it’s so hard when you have a class of 30. This makes it easy.

Steph Sperber: Yes, yeah. I am now in middle school. So, the chat feature has been disabled at the high school level. Meet them where they’re at and you make a really good point that they have not lived a life without technology. But they are not digital native geniuses. They need guidance and practice.

Don’t throw 30 things at them. Throw three classroom engagement ideas at them and use them consistently for at least three weeks until they’ve mastered how to find this stupid worksheet folder so that you can stop reminding them every day how to find it because it hasn’t changed. But honestly, they will pick it up they will figure it out.

Jenn Breisacher: Absolutely. Just like every teacher who tries will also figure it out.

Steph Sperber: Yes. You can do it. I wish that people were less fearful of change and new classroom engagement ideas. Change is really scary. Change is often. We go through the same emotions as the grief of loss. Change is hard and there’s this added level of everything else going on in the world. Okay, here’s my list. Join some sort of professional community. Join Jenn’s Facebook group, the mastermind, join anyone.

Type it into the Facebook search or Twitter. Twitter scares me but Twitter or Instagram, whatever it is. Even at your own school, make a little club. Find your people who are going to encourage you and motivate you and give you new classroom engagement ideas and who have a different skill set. They can teach you something new.

Number two only pick a few things at a time. It is very enticing to want to master everything with new classroom engagement ideas.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Steph Sperber: Especially if you’re like me and you want to be seen as the guru and the coolest and the most knowledgeable I have to limit myself because, in this sense, I can only be a jack of a few trades. Otherwise, I am the king of nothing, queen of nothing.

Jenn Breisacher: There you go.

Steph Sperber: But pick a few classroom engagement ideas and once you have those down, and once your kids have those down with you, then introduce something new. Number three, ooh, it’s a hard one? Do not be afraid to ask but please ask Google first or YouTube. There are so many tutorials. Just plop the word tutorial onto whatever it is you’re trying to learn? You will find it. You will find it and there are some hyper-specific PLC Facebook groups as well. There is grade level, there are tech-specific, there are subject-specific tech specific.

There might be high school social studies teachers using Google Meet and use the search feature. Search first because there is so much out there.

Lastly, I think I’m up to four. Don’t worry. I worry every night that I’m not doing it enough and I’m a sub right now. My students are not getting the full me that maybe two years ago my students got or that I just can’t cover something in-depth, or that my kids are not going to have the best understanding of A, B, or C.

But this year, if they’re enjoying learning, and they’re moving forward, then that’s what I need to remember wiht my classroom engagement ideas. If they’re laughing and if they send me an email saying, hey, I heard about this on the news. They mentioned this national park we saw. That’s it, that’s the win. I will leave you with this, my last This is not on the list, but this just reminded me. Make your kids laugh.

I think I already said it, but like I said, I’ve been subbing and I’m bouncing around between 11th grade and eighth grade which has its own mental issues for me. It’s really, really hard. If your students like my students do not turn on their cameras, and there’s no mandate and there’s no obligation to really speak you can call them all you want.

But if they’re at home, not unmuting That’s it. You have to be comfortable laughing at yourself and just like moving on. If nobody responds, just move on. Don’t be a dead horse. I got an email from a student that I had for like three weeks before I moved to the eighth grade and she said, I just want you to know that I do laugh at your jokes. And at the gifts, you put in the PowerPoints and I really like them. But I think it would be too awkward to unmute myself just to laugh.

Jenn Breisacher: That’s fair.

Steph Sperber:  That was it. That was the email. We’re out here laughing; we just don’t want to unmute. And like that’s basically all I wanted. Are they going to remember reconstruction? Hopefully. But in reality, I made the first three weeks of a crazy school year fun for them. To be honest that’s what I’ve got.

Jenn Breisacher: I mean, even if you think back to your favorite teachers when you were in school, you don’t remember the moment where they’re teaching you content. You remember the goofy thing that happened or the thing that made everyone laugh and right now, we really need to be worrying about their mental health, our mental health, and the best thing that you can do while you’re trying to actually do the teaching part of your job is to make everyone laugh.

Steph Sperber: Yep, for sure.

Jenn Breisacher: All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us. So, since you mentioned your Facebook and your PLN and everything if anybody wants to find you minus stalking you in the mastermind group, what would be the best way for them to find you?

Steph Sperber: I really don’t have a digital profile unless you count my Etsy store.

Jenn Breisacher: You can plug it. It’s fine. You do masks. We all need masks.

Steph Sperber: So, they are masks for teachers. They’re geared towards content. I have math, science, English and history, and elementary school. It Steph’s Quilty Pleasure on Etsy.

Jenn Breisacher: And you can stalk her that way.

Steph Sperber: You can stalk me that way. People can ask me questions.

Jenn Breisacher: There you go, and everybody will know where you are. All right, so thank you then for being with us tonight.

Steph Sperber: Thanks for having me. It was great.

Stop Driving the Teacher Struggle Bus

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After moving from a teacher-dominated classroom to a truly student-centered one, Jenn found herself helping colleagues who wanted to follow her lead.  In 2018 she decided to expand outside of her school walls and help those out there who were also trying to figure out this fantastic method of instruction to ignite intrinsic motivation in their students.  Read more about her journey with Student-Centered World at studentcenteredworld.com/about

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