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5 Easy Ways to Increase Student Engagement

Olivia Jones
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Educators know that student engagement is key to student success. We know that with students around the country returning to in-person class this fall, many educators are interested in using new techniques to seize this opportunity to engage their students in their education. Here are five student engagement strategies you can use to make your material accessible and fun for students.

5 Strategies to Increase Student Engagement 

  1. Let the Student Be the Teacher
  2. Integrate a Reward System
  3. Low-Barrier Competitions
  4. Draw Them in with an Icebreaker
  5. Movement

Strategy 1: Let the Student be the Teacher

Student engagement is all about flipping the script so that students take a more active role in their education. What better way to get students to actively participate than organizing activities where they take the teaching role? This is a great opportunity to give students a taste of something new and challenging. In addition to being a different, fun way to engage with class material, this strategy is also an effective way to actually learn. Studies show that teaching fosters a genuine, long-lasting understanding of concepts.

So what does this strategy look like in practice? It could mean incorporating peer feedback or partnered work into your curriculum. Fifth graders from Copperas Cove ISD in Texas, participated in an activity where they taught their teachers how to code with Splats! One fifth grader in that group even said it felt like “opposite day”.This simple flip in roles promoted student led learning, excitement, and lowered the barrier to learn computer science for everyone!  

Students teaching teachers to increase student engagement
Click the play button to see the action!

Strategy 2: Use a Reward System

Another way to get students more involved in lessons is to use rewards. Motivate your students with something fun, like extra outside time, candy, or even a class party. Little things like these can help engage students who would otherwise feel detached from lessons. When learning feels like a game, it becomes less of a chore.

One type of reward that we’ve seen improve student engagement is the ability to help others. Unruly partners with the nonprofit KABOOM! to create a nationwide competition. Throughout the month of March we held our coding competition, Stomp Madness. For each stomp on a Splat, we donated one penny to fight playspace inequity. This totaled out to be 250,000 pennies! We heard from educators that students who participated in the Stomp Madness competition to benefit charity were more engaged in their coding education. One student from the Unruly Community said, “I am really excited and glad we get to give money to people who really need it!” When your hard work contributes to a worthy cause, it’s easier to get invested in learning!

Strategy 3: Create Low-Barrier Competitions

Similarly, you can engage students in the learning process by creating a competition for them to participate in. It’s important that whatever you create is accessible for your students; a competition with material that is too difficult, or out of reach for some students, can frustrate them rather than encouraging them to lean into their education. Instead, go for a topic that allows them to practice what they already know or build on existing skills. For example, South Euless Elementary students use Splats to combine coding and physical activity. To make the lesson more engaging, teachers added a competitive element. Students broke out into teams, coded the Unruly Race in Place, and then competed for the most stomps during a set amount of time.

“Students understand that they are in control when coding,” said Angela Brown, Library Media Specialist. “The ‘machine’ can only do what you tell it to do, so if something is not working, go back and check your code. The immediate feedback when their code works is so rewarding. They are having fun while learning.”
competition that increased student engagement
Click the Play Button to See the Action!

Strategy 4: Draw Students in with an Icebreaker

Starting lessons with a fun, challenging icebreaker is a great way to get students engaged right off the bat! Studies have shown that taking breaks can improve focus and increase creativity. You can use this break as an opportunity to encourage development of social skills for your students or to allow time for physical activity— both of which are vital yet often overlooked components of a well-rounded education.Our Unruly Brain Breaks activity pack includes three interactive and fun icebreakers for your students. The icebreakers are designed to be collaborative to encourage social-emotional learning (SEL).

Computer science teacher from Montessori Magnet School in Hartford CT, Heather Sutkowski, uses Splats as an engagement tool for her younger students. Right off the bat, she has students step on the lit up Splats when they enter and leave the room. 

Heather said, “One way I had prek/k enter and leave the room, is by lighting up 6 splats green and then it would make a sound - shows play and coding, but also gamifying.”
icebreaker for increasing student engagemnt
Easy icebreaker using Splats!

Strategy 5: Get Moving

In a recent study, researchers found that students who were physically active during instruction may have better academic performance, memory, and focus. This evidence supports the idea that physical activity among students can lead to better student engagement in the classroom. Take advantage of these benefits by incorporating physical activity into your lesson plans. This could mean brief breaks for physical activity, like we mentioned previously. Or even better, you can combine physical activity with the contents of your lessons. Melanie Zukeran, a 1st grade teacher at Solomon Elementary in Hawaii, does this by combining physically active games with math problems. Her students use Splats to play a modified version of Four Corners, with math problems added in!

These strategies will keep your students engaged in the learning process and getting the most out of school time. If you play any of these games with your students, we’d love to hear about it! Reach out to us on social media or via email.

Unruly Studios makers of Unruly Splats, programmable, stompable floor tiles that help kids learn fundamental coding skills through recess-style play. Best for elementary and middle school students from PE to science or coding class, a great addition to the classroom for active STEM coding and play!

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