Student Engagement: 15 Ways To Help Kids Learn Anything

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We all want our kids to do well at school. We also want our kids to be passionate and engaged in their learning. When it comes to student engagement, I’m sure there are times when you’d like to help your kids with their schoolwork, teach your kids something new, or tap into or ignite their passions.

  Do you know how?
Boosting Student Engagement
Boosting Student Engagement

My work in education over the past few decades—and now my much more challenging work as a parent—has taught me a few things about how people learn and the circumstances under which our kids enjoy school.

It all comes down to this: people think about things they care about.

That’s right—our emotions direct all learning. So, we need to engage emotions to learn. To do that we need to tap into their imaginations. Because imagination wakes up emotion every time. So whether you are teaching your kids something totally new, helping them with their homework, or hoping to reignite their passion for learning, use the following Tools of the Imagination to engage their emotions:

#1 Embed information within a story. This simply means, tell it like a reporter would—pique interest.

#2 Sing it. Clap it. Dance it.

#3 Draw mind pictures. Use words to describe an idea/concept in a way that creates a picture in the mind. (Be creative. What would it feel like to become this thing?)

#4 Move! Use the body to convey an idea (e.g. a gesture or a movement or facial expression).

#5 Identify patterns. Are there commonalities that stand out?

#6 Puzzle over mysteries in the topic.

#7 Notice what is super bizarre, weird, gross, extreme or exotic about a topic.

#8 Think about the topic as if it was a SUPERHERO—what would its superpower be?

#9 Seek uniqueness—what aspect of the topic evokes your sense of wonder? (in other words, how is this topic less ordinary and more extraordinary?)

#10 Organize information in different visual ways—charts, tables, webs, VENN diagrams, flowcharts, graphs etc.

#11 Find the human stories linked to topics—what person lives/breathes the topic now or did in the past?

#12 Change the context: Role play! What part of the topic can your kid become to help him or her remember or understand?

#13 Play. If this topic was a game of tag (or a board game or some other game) what would the rules be?

#14 Engage your kid’s inner rebel—what kinds of controversies are involved in this topic?

#15 Get involved. How could your child actually experience the topic/issue? How could he or she make a difference?

Here it is in a nutshell (or, the most important rule of all!)

To get kids interested in a topic, you have to think like a kid. Your kid.

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Gillian Judson
I am an educator, researcher, and parent. In my role as a Faculty of Education member at Simon Fraser University (SFU), I teach mostly about an imagination-focused approach to teaching called Imaginative Education (IE) and the specific ways to engage imagination in learning all aspects of the curriculum. We often forget that all meaningful and memorable learning involves the imagination. My current research explores imagination and ecological or place-based education. I began with the question, How can we develop students’ ecological understanding as part of their everyday education? It has developed into an approach called Imaginative Ecological Education, or IEE. IEE is about engaging the body and emotion in place-based and imagination-focused teaching. All ages, all topics, all contexts. I am also a parent of two girls. As a parent, I want to maintain and enrich their sense of wonder and engagement in a world that is mindbogglingly cool. I believe worms never get boring and birdsong is never ordinary. I believe mathematical, scientific, and historical concepts are best learned within the contexts of the hopes, fears, and passions of those who developed them. I believe the semi-colon, colon, exclamation mark, and interrobang are unsung heroes and deserve our utmost respect. Most of all, I believe teaching is story-telling. The curriculum offers us many opportunities to experience this wonder-full world. P.S. If mindbogglingly isn’t a word, it should be.