Can The Blended Classroom Help Instill ‘Grit’?

Can The Blended Classroom Help Instill  ‘Grit’? first appeared on Navigator by Compass Learning on April 24, 2014.

By: Kurt Bauer

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about ‘grit’ and its place in the classroom. ‘Grit’ has more or less officially entered the lexicon of edu-speak. ‘Grit’ has been equated to perseverance or resilience, or both. As defined by psychologists, grit is “an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal . . . coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve” that goal. For decades, these same psychologists, along with educators and others, have debated whether grit is an inherited trait or a quality that can be introduced and fostered. Putting aside the nature-versus-nurture contentiousness for a moment, let’s assume that this attribute, combining desire with stick-to-itiveness, is both worthwhile and teachable.

The idea that grit is a good thing for a student to possess is pretty hard to argue with. Plenty of studies suggest that students who set high goals and don’t become discouraged by setbacks are statistically more likely to achieve academic success than classmates who cannot articulate a goal or find it difficult to overcome failure, almost regardless of comparative levels of intelligence. The idea of grit generally appeals to our common sense as well. So how does one go about instilling grit in one’s students—or encouraging and developing the trait in students who appear to possess it?

In a traditional classroom, an educator could encourage risk-taking and create an environment that students might recognize as supportive by instituting risk-free homework grading policies; that is, credit is given for completion of practice tasks, with no final grade penalty for making mistakes. Alternately, one could give opportunities to regain score points lost to wrong answers on practice assignments, homework, or assessments by reworking missed problems or questions, encouraging students to keep trying. But if these well-worn models are at least theoretically workable, how much better might a blended learning environment be for instilling grit?

In a blended setting, where teacher-directed instruction is combined with digitally-delivered content, practice, and assessment, customizable and adaptive digital instruction systems contribute the multiple advantages of easy, student-controlled review, repetition, and reinforcement of content, student performance tracking, and mapping learning paths that precisely address student learning gaps based on results. This automation frees the teacher to serve as a coach and mentor, to encourage students to keep trying, and to use the precise data generated by the digital tools to focus his individualized efforts with each student.

But all educators are aware that simply creating, or attempting to create, a learning environment that encourages risk-taking and grants a ‘license to fail,’ seldom suddenly or magically motivates unmotivated students. Michael Horn argues that digital delivery of a mastery-oriented curriculum mitigates the gloom of failure, though, and turns the periodic, repeated discouragement of falling short into a daily, incremental opportunity for encouragement and motivation. When the student immersed in such a blended environment has the opportunity the very same day to circle back onto an analogous but not repetitive learning path and prove herself on another assessment, the looming boogeyman of test anxiety doesn’t have the chance to be quite as scary.

And what’s more likely to put grit into students—trying, learning from mistakes, trying again, and succeeding, every day, or dreading the unit test lurking out there in the murky distance?

Seems like the blended model is worth a try.

A Survey of Performance Assessment and Mastery Tracking Tools

It’s testing season and lots of kids are taking multiple choice tests–more online than last year but lots of the same old item types. It’s part of a 100 year old ‘teach then test’ cycle of assessment as a summative activity.

At some schools, projects and multi-step tasks supplement more traditional forms of teaching and learning–they extend and apply learning and provide a form of alternative assessment. At a few thousand schools (most are part of Deeper Learning networks) the instructional program is a sequence of performance tasks. These schools have made the shift from assessment of learning to performance assessment as learning.

Performance assessment, as detailed in a December post, is the application of knowledge, skills, and work habits through the performance of tasks that are meaningful and engaging to students.” Performance assessments make new standards real, personalize learning and can serve as authentic gateways in competency-based systems.


The problem is that it’s hard to string together a series of performance tasks for every student that challenges them in interesting and appropriate ways while reflecting common standards. An exemplary system would be a full learning management system with a library of prompts, projects, instructional materials, standards-based rubrics, scoring and communication tools. A super gradebooks, a robust portfolio, implementation support, and professional development would round out the desired platform attributes.

New report. Despite marked progress in the last year, the tools for creating and managing performance assessments and tracking student progress are still inadequate for teams creating next-generation learning environments–that’s the conclusion of new market research report on the status of performance assessment tools.

“Assessing Deeper Learning: A Survey of Performance Assessment and Mastery Tracking Tools” was developed for Envision Learning Partners and partner organizations Asia Society, ConnectEd and New Tech Network. They share a common interest in better performance assessment tools.

The report outlined numerous barriers to better performance assessment including:

  • A wide range of performance tasks and the open-ended nature of the responses make it challenging to build generalizable capabilities;
  • No recognized standards or best practices in measuring non-cognitive variables;
  • Attempts to add flexibility add steps to construct a standards-based performance task; and
  • Tools specific to school networks are not available or useful outside the network.

Twelve key features identified as important by the sponsors include interoperability, calibration of scores, a library of tasks, support for multiple revisions and collaboration, standards-based project rubrics, available professional development, reporting tools, customization, student portfolio development, an updated user experience and an affordable price tag.

The most promising performance assessment tools reviewed in the report is ShowEvidence, a new product nearing final release and used by some of the sponsor networks. Project Foundry is a similar project-based learning tool used by the Edvisions School network. Additional investment would support improved functionality and scalability of both.

The report also compiled a list of mastery tracking tools. While there has been improvement in this category as well with products like EngradeKickboard, and JumpRope, applications are still inadequate for managing a fully competency-based environment.

Performance assessment and mastery tracking are an example of categories where leading schools are out in front of the market. A combination of philanthropic and venture investment could quickly improve products in these categories and fuel the next-generation of schools.

Robotic Petting Zoo Replaces Animals With Plastic Tentacles

“This is about as humane as it gets using technology. In this Mashable article from Eva Recinos, we discover an art exhibit that uses XBox Kinect technology to replace live animals with the ‘sensory experience’ of petting a live animal. The robotic zoo was conceptualized and created by Stephen and Theodore Spyropoulos.”

via Mashable

It calls itself a petting zoo — but this installation at a French art center looks a lot different from what you might expect.

The architecture and design team Minimaforms, formed by brothers Stephen and Theodore Spyropoulos, created a robotic Petting Zoo that uses XboxKinect sensors to bring animal-like qualities to plastic tubes.

Now on display at the FRAC Centre, the tubes hang from the ceiling waiting for curious visitors to interact with them. They can move playfully or angrily, mimicking the reactions of animals in a traditional petting zoo. They also light up different colors to accentuate their reactions.

“Petting Zoo” uses Processing to program the plastic tubes’ movements. The structures can identify more than one person at a time and determine which viewers seem the most friendly.

As Minimaforms’ website explains, the structures use “camera tracking” and “data scanning” to detect human visitors and their movements. The use of “real time camera streams” makes for a truly interactive experience. Even if viewers simply stand in front of the structures, the plastic structures might react to show their boredom.

The team also used Processing to avoid repetitive behavior and allow the plastic tubes to create their own sorts of personalities. Each structure can detect more than one person at a time, and respond accordingly.

video shows the structures interacting with humans by changing colors and moving when touched. They can interact through specific modes — named “follow,” “play” and “angry” — which use different colors. In the “angry” mode, for example, the plastic tubes light up red and bounce around as if annoyed.

One thing this petting zoo doesn’t require: those little food pellets you may remember from childhood trips.

Teach Digital Citizenship with … Minecraft

Minecraft is a game about placing blocks to build anything you want. But more importantly, it holds the potential to help teach global digital citizenship. The nature of the game promotes creativity, resource management, and cooperation. These elements help to make Minecraft a wonderful, gameful way to cooperate with others to obtain a shared goal—exactly what is expected of them in the workforce of today and tomorrow. Written by Josh Ward, and hosted at Ask a Tech Teacher, this article describes some interesting ways to incorporate the game into instruction.”

via Ask a Tech Teacher

A “digital citizen” is generally defined as “those who use the Internet regularly and effectively.” With children and teenagers moving more and more toward the Internet and away from television for their recreational and informational needs (95% of all teens from ages 12 to 17 are online, and 80% of those use social media regularly), the next generation of digital citizens isn’t just arriving, they’re already here.

Advertisers and corporations have known this for some time, and have begun targeting the youth demographic that will drive the country’s economic future, making responsible and informed “digital citizenship” that much more important.

The Internet has come to play a huge part in not only our daily lives, but our educational future, and these formative years are a perfect time to stress the importance of a free and open Internet, as well as developing a strong sense of civic identity, cooperation, and participation.

Building Worlds Together

Games like Minecraft can actually be a valuable tool in building digital citizenship. Unlike many traditional games, Minecraft places a strong focus on creativity, resource management, and cooperation.

Minecraft’s basic gameplay is deceptively simple — the player exists in a large, open-ended world, gathering natural resources to survive in a world populated by hostile creatures. To survive, a player must chop wood, mine stone, build shelters, acquire food, and build weapons to survive, using only the materials found in the game world itself. The game has often been compared to LEGO building blocks, only digital (and thus functionally infinite).

Beyond this simple concept, however, lies a deeper level of gameplay. Once a player masters the basics of survival, the potential of an open-ended game world reveals itself. A player can build anything he or she can conceive, from buildings and gardens to elaborate architectural and engineering marvels. Industrious Minecraft players have done everything from recreating fictional or historical buildings to building working virtual machines.

Minecraft can teach not only logic, problem-solving, and resource management, but also the value of cooperation, coordination, and leadership. Many Minecraft players, including students, set up Minecraft servers in which many players can cooperate on a single goal.

Servers and Sharing

Setting up one’s own Minecraft server can be a project in itself. Since Minecraft runs on Java, anyone desiring to set up their own server must at least know how to install and run both the server software and the game client.

Setting up a server from scratch requires some basic networking knowledge, such as IP addresses, ports, and rudimentary network configuration. While there are extensive step-by-step tutorials on setting up one’s own server, there are also many hosting companies that offer server “rentals,” taking care of the heavy lifting of server setup and allowing users to get started playing right away.

Once the server is set up, the administrator may invite several players to join, who can all play together in the same persistent game world. A game server is a single machine, running a single instance of a Minecraft “world,” which can then be accessed via an IP address. There are already thousands of Minecraft servers on the Internet; some open to the public, others restricted to a few chosen members. The administrator of any server decides not only who can participate, but must manage membership and play style — an open server, for example, is subject to vandalism by random players, who may discover the server and alter, damage, or even destroy the creations built by other players.

Minecraft also features other types of gameplay — for example, “Adventure” servers, where players may have to cooperate to solve puzzles and achieve a single goal. The base game also includes a “Creative” mode, which removes the need to harvest resources or survive against monsters, freeing players up to build whatever their imagination can conceive.

A Minecraft server can easily become a thriving microcosm of a real community. For large construction projects to be successful, resources must be coordinated and shared, and if the server is in “survival” mode (where monsters appear after sundown to attack players), time management, shelter, and defense become important skills.

For example, a Minecraft “village” might feature a farm of domesticated animals, which must be herded, fed, and protected. Trees, an important source of wood, must be replanted using saplings, lest virtual deforestation occur and wood become scarce. Rare ores and minerals can be stored in chests for use by the group — and the larger the project, the greater the need for organization and leadership.

The educational possibilities for a game like Minecraft are manifold — not only can the game teach skills like resource management, cooperation, and leadership, but it also touches on ecological themes (such as deforestation and mining). If students should set up their own Minecraft servers, kids and teens can learn more about hosting and basic computer networking. While deceptively simple on the surface, Minecraft can be a valuable tool in teaching digital citizenship to students.

Josh Ward is the Director of Sales and Marketing for green hosting provider, A Small Orange. Their vision is simple: perfecting hosting while maintaining a homegrown feel with a focus on people – customers, employees, and the community. Josh is originally from Southeast Texas, but has called Austin home for almost 20 years. He enjoys writing about his passion for all things Internet related as well as sharing his expertise in the web hosting industry and education.

How 3 Different Generations Use The Internet

This infographic posted on Edudemic by Katie Lepi provides us with a profile of past and present generations and how they play, connect, and interact with the world. ”


via Edudemic

The web is filled with videos, social media chatter, and more resources than your brain can handle. Who is putting all that stuff online? According to a new study on internet usage by different generations, all the content on the web may be coming from some unexpected places.

That’s because the millennial generation seems to be far and away the most connected and ready to share online. 20% of all members of that generation have posted a video of themselves online. That’s compared to just 2% of the boomer generation.

Bear that in mind the next time you hear about just how vast the web is. It’s getting filled up (quite quickly, mind you) with lots of resources made or shared by the younger generation. While I’m not saying everything on the web is by a 14-year-old, I don’t think I’d be surprised to learn if a large portion of the web actually is from people that age.

To put this all into context, think about your classroom or fellow students. They are the ones shaping the content of the web right now. They’re the ones who will be using the web the most relative to other generations. They are next in the line of overseers of the web. In the very near future, members of the millennial generation will begin taking on roles that dictate the future of the web, what it can and should be used for, and more.

As a teacher, it’s important to understand that.


How Cloud ERP Can Aid Educational Practices

“Aimee Claire talks about how the same ERP (Enterprise Resource Management) programs that work for businesses can also work in educational practices.”

by Aimee Claire 

It’s almost a given that kids are smarter than adults when it comes to adopting and using new technology. Whether it’s in the realm of gaming, writing and producing music, videos and films, or just knowing much more in general about the wired society through social media, kids always seem to have a head start. Once new technology and ideas are taught, they can ramp up their knowledge base with a few pad taps or mouse clicks.

So introducing them to ERP—Enterprise Resource Planning—could give them some major advantages in their educational development that could give those who are interested in developing careers in the IT industry a head start.

Introducing ERP for education

The complexities of running a school, college, or university lend themselves perfectly to using ERP. It is a software solution that integrates data sources from a range of departments where it is deployed to give managers a real time overview of what is happening, has happened, and needs to happen. Data inputted by one department—for example, administration looking at student attendance—can be seen instantly by those checking student achievement without the need for data to be updated by inputting for the individual department.

Instead of having to wait for reports to be produced, perhaps using classic paper and ink technology, there can be instant examination of data and trends by senior management, giving far more control over the enterprise and identifying weaknesses that can be addressed much more quickly. Not only is this good for the institution, it’s good for the students—especially those who can be identified as needing additional academic or pastoral support.

Head in the Cloud

It’s a classic expression for people whose minds seem to be elsewhere rather than focusing on what they should be. Yet it could easily become an expression of appreciation as the development of Cloud Technology, the provision of on-demand services through the Internet, is becoming a go-to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution.

As with any technology, the more students understand what it can do, and do for them as well as the academic institution, the better equipped they are to move forward after their education to develop careers in IT. Even if they do not go into that industry, the benefits of Cloud ERP are rolled out across all industry sectors and they would be well positioned to take advantage of this with the knowledge base about ERP gained from their studies.

Kentucky Cloud

The state of Kentucky has rolled out its financial management system to Cloud ERP and considers it to be a real success in terms of making its services more reliable, as well as helping to reduce costs. The state’s associate commissioner for the Office of Knowledge, Information and Data Services, David Couch, said:

“Cost reductions are a benefit of cloud-computing, but for Kentucky schools, our primary driver was increasing the reliability of services beyond what our aging on-premise infrastructure could provide.”

As Cloud Computing develops further, there are many advantages that academic institutions could offer to their own infrastructure and to teach their students.

30 Apps Perfect For BYOD Classrooms

Katie Lepi from Edudemic gives us a list of 30 terrific BYOD apps in the following article. She’s also kind enough to provide a Symbaloo to explore in her article that will take you straight to the apps themselves, so go have some fun!”

via Edudemic

BYOD classrooms can address a number of issues. It can solve the problem of not having enough (or any) devices for your classroom. It can enable students to do web-based work when they might not have otherwise been able to. It can allow them to do work on the same device at home and at school. But it doesn’t come without issue.

One of the issues that we’ve heard about from many teachers is that since students come in with different devices that run on different platforms, finding apps and tools that work across a wide array of devices is a necessary evil. The handy symbaloo below takes a look at a bunch of different apps that work across a variety of devices – perfect for the BYOD classroom. A listing of the apps is below, or you can click on the link above to use the interactive Symbaloo to reach each site.

Great Apps For BYOD Classrooms

  • Skitch
  • Evernote
  • Today’s Meet
  • Infuse Learning
  • Zondle
  • Socrative
  • Gaggle
  • Vimeo
  • Brain Pop
  • Live Binders
  • Edmodo
  • Whiteboard
  • Class Dojo
  • Quizlet
  • Khan Academy
  • Twitter
  • Popplet
  • Sliderocket
  • Wikispaces
  • Poll Everywhere
  • VoiceThready
  • Studyblue
  • QR Stuff
  • Code Academy
  • Scratch (MIT)
  • Tynker
  • EasyBib
  • Discovery
  • Padlet
  • Atomic Learning
  • The App Builder

Click the Symbaloo below to visit the interactive version and get the clickable links to each app!

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 2.45.36 PM

The Biggest Lie Students Tell Me (and How to Turn It Around)

José Vilson is a middle school math teacher and coach, and he believes in possibility. As children, many of us (including myself) were brought up with a portion of the academic intelligentsia of our school days making us more aware of our weaknesses than our strengths. In many cases we were raised with mindsets of limitation rather than possibility. That’s why Vilson believes that his students speak a falsehood when they proclaim ‘I can’t.’ His mission is to turn that thinking around in them, and he tells us how it can be done in the following article he wrote for Edutopia.”


via Edutopia

It’s easy to say that students lie to teachers all the time. Frankly, everyone, including teachers, has a lie in them, and these untruths keep the schooling process rolling along. When adults say, for instance, that they develop rules with the students, chances are that students often develop rules that teachers already thought of anyway. Or, when adults say that a student can’t use the restroom during certain parts of the day “Just because,” rather than “Because the hallways is crowded, and I don’t want you distracted from the lesson in the classroom,” that’s just one more micro-fib in a collage of fibs that we tell children.

But my push today is to talk about the lies that students tell, specifically the ones that keep them from growing into the best students possible.

“I Can’t Do This!”

This statement is perhaps the worst possible offender, and we have layers to this that we ought to unravel. If students say it often enough, they can prevent themselves from giving an honest effort toward learning the material. The student gets to fall back while the teacher explains and re-explains the material, which might have gone from a more implicit, constructivist explanation to a straight-up “This is what you do!”

Thus, it also works as a signal to the teacher that, perhaps, the student can’t learn the material. The teacher, human and serving 30 students at a time, will focus away and leave that student to his or her own devices rather than insisting, “Try your best.” The teacher might stay away from the student, hovering over and hoping that her or she will come back into the fold again. The student often won’t.

The discussion around “I can’t do this” can be broken down into three general levels:

  • They genuinely don’t understand the material.
  • They’ve had a long day and just don’t have the energy to work any more.
  • They have a situation at home that currently distracts them.

There are levels to “I can’t do this” that don’t get discussed, either. The current discussion around lack of effort focuses on “grit,” the cure for lack of effort — and with good reason. Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and The Hidden Power of Character gives you a sense that he believes, with the right level of effort and conditions that help translate effort into success, any child can overcome his or her disposition.

Yet for some, the argument has taken a twist to mean that, rather than trying to address structural and pedagogical issues in our schools, we ought to focus only on the attitudes espoused by our students. If they try hard enough, that argument goes, and if they work longer and harder than their peers, they too will surmount the incredible odds against them and acquire a proper education.

To an extent, I believe this, as I am a product of a poverty-stricken neighborhood. I was fortunate to go to good public and private schools (including Head Start) throughout my formative years. With enough effort, I made it out of the hood — only to teach in a neighborhood similar to the one where I used to live. My teaching reflects this, too. I have high expectations for my students, and I keep in mind that I should ask questions before getting emotionally bent out of shape around a student’s lack of compliance with the assignment.

Strategies for Comprehension

Thus, here are some solutions for the student who says, “I can’t do this!”

1. Ask why before all else.

Don’t just ask, “Why?” and let the answer linger. Often, the student will just say, “Because I don’t.” Your next question could be, “What part do you get?” Once you reach the point where they’re unsure, ask follow-up questions from that point onward. Push for them to answer questions rather than listen to your personal line of reasoning out the material. If they can vocalize the process and demonstrate understanding before you take them through it step by step, then let them do it. And keep asking why in the meantime.

2. Give breaks within reason.

Some of my students just need a genuine break. This isn’t about being soft, though I try not to run my classroom like a jail. If adults constantly bombard them with speeches they call lessons, then these students have had an entirely passive experience of education that doesn’t allow them to think for themselves. If you see a student who looks tired or has a hard time concentrating, firmly ask him or her to take a break just to breathe. Letting students take a small break might energize them again.

3. Make modifications to how you teach and how they learn.

The push for higher standards, rigor and accountability often means that our students’ humanness gets pushed to the wayside in some classrooms. We try to force students to see the material the way we estimate that a test-maker would, rather than developing lessons that work for as many students as possible. For instance, instead of using definitions from the textbooks, let students create explanations for the words. These explanations should come as close as possible to the definitions that you would create.

4. Teach students the art of the good question.

Unlike many of my colleagues, I do believe in smart questions (and not-so-smart questions). We ought to teach students how to ask questions that clarify, expound or enhance meaning. Students ask a lot of questions, and we ought to encourage them to get in the habit of questioning. Yet, we can differentiate between asking a question that adds value and a question that doesn’t.

All together, this means we can only control our own actions as educators in the classroom. We can teach students to persevere. We can teach students to work harder, and to see the fruits of their efforts in the learning they do. We can ask them to translate these attitudes to their lives overall.

We as educators must also keep in mind the vast personal experiences they bring into class, especially if they don’t get what we’re trying to teach them. Sometimes, there are a lot of things they’re not getting for reasons we can’t imagine, and it’s our job to provide sustenance in the meantime.


3 Keys To Making BYOD Work For Your Classroom

Many teacher who want to truly bring successful Bring-Your-Own-Device practices into their classrooms struggle with how to go about it in the right way. There are so many things to consider, but luckily we have Ilan Paretsky to give us some advice in the following Edudemic article. ”


via Edudemic

BYOD continues to change the learning ecosystem, which includes administrators, teachers, faculty, students and school IT. Today, schools supplement books and whiteboards with smartphones, web portals and other technologies that make education an interactive experience. The consumerization of IT (CoIT) is driving widespread adoption of mobile devices throughout K-12 programs, supplementing school-owned desktops and laptops.

While there are many benefits of BYOD and CoIT in education, getting everyone involved in the learning process (including parents) to collaborate in and outside the classroom is the most compelling. Another advantage is that BYOD allows schools to stretch IT resources, and do more with less. And even with tighter budgets, they can overcome technical and socio-economic barriers that may impact a quality education.

More than a technology initiative, however, BYOD can be an equalizer; it can democratize education and enable universal learning environments, accessible to everyone. The combination of affordable devices and growing adoption of BYOD in K-12 is enabling schools to succeed in achieving their 1-to-1 computing goals.

Among those served by BYOD – school administrators, teachers, students, parents and IT personnel – a successful program requires centralization, browser-based accessibility, and mobility.


Schools must centralize their technology infrastructure to extend the life of their Windows desktops, applications and legacy systems. By centralizing these resources, IT can provide secure access to learning curriculum across a broad range of school-issued computers and devices in addition to those owned by teachers, students and parents.

Moreover, centralization enables understaffed IT teams to manage day-to-day operations more efficiently and cost-effectively. Aside from cost savings, however, the real value of centralization is the flexibility for teachers and students to be more productive in and outside the classroom.

Browser-Based Accessibility

Today’s HTML5-compliant Web browsers provide universal, device-agnostic access to school resources. One result is that schools no longer have to manage endpoint devices and install software and updates. Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari all support HTML5 and are widely available on smartphones, phablets, tablets and computers. Browser-based accessibility removes the technical barriers of installing and managing device specific apps, reduces costs and most importantly gives teachers and students flexible options to connect, collaborate and learn.


The pervasiveness of cloud computing and mobility will continue to provide new opportunities, streamline processes and create unique learning environments. However, the utility of mobile devices will only be as good as the resources schools can make easily accessible. Remote access technology  enables schools to deliver next-generation education and curriculum to anyone, from anywhere using an array of devices – all via a web browser.

As students, teachers and administrators increasingly use their own computing devices, schools must rethink how they can take advantage of centralized IT resources, browser-based accessibility and mobility to garner efficiency and identify new opportunities that ensure a positive learning experience.

About the Author

Vice President of Marketing at Ericom Software, responsible for the global marketing activities of the company. Prior to joining Ericom in 2005, Paretsky held various leadership positions in marketing, business development, project management and software development in the global software and telecom industries. Paretsky holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Sciences from Bar-Ilan University in Tel-Aviv, and an MBA from the University of Heriot-Watt – Edinburgh Business School.

5 Ways to Make Class Discussions More Exciting

“How do you make classroom discussion more exciting? Dr. Richard Curwin has the answer. Dr. Curwin is the director of the graduate program for behaviour disorder at David Yellin College. A few of the exercises that he profiles in this Edutopia article are similar to ones I’ve used in theatre studies to connect and engage with others. Try them with students—they’re fun and effective in equal measures!”

via Edutopia

Classroom discussions have been a staple of teaching forever, beginning with Socrates. I have taught using discussions, been a student in discussions, and observed other teachers’ discussions thousands of times — at least. Some have been boring, stifling or tedious enough to put me to sleep. Others have been so stimulating that I was sad to see them end. The difference between the two is obviously how interesting the topic is, but equally important is the level of student participation.

It’s not enough for students to simply pay attention — they need to be active participants to generate one of those great discussions that end far too quickly for both the teacher and students. The worst types of discussions are serial one-on-one talk between a student and teacher, leaving the rest of the class out of the process. Many students stop listening, begin to fade or disengage during this flawed procedure.

The best discussions keep everyone active, either by sharing or thinking. Even those students who rarely, if ever, contribute can still participate in other ways. Here are five of my favorite ways to design discussions in a dynamic and exciting manner.

1. Lightning Rounds

Just the name “lightning round” suggests energy. Make it even more dramatic by playing up the concept of speed, fun and excitement. Have your discussion questions prepared in advance so that you can ask them faster. Short-answer questions obviously work best for this technique. Students have 30 seconds (or a more appropriate time for your particular class) to answer. They can either answer or pass — and no negativity is associated with passing. Ask the questions rapidly while growing the anticipation for each next question by imitating quiz show lightning rounds: “Are you ready for the next question? Here it comes.” Ask the question before calling on a student so that all students must be ready to answer. The lightning round should take no longer than ten minutes, the approximate time that the energy begins to diminish.

2. Throw the Ball

When you ask a discussion question, call on students by letting them catch a ball. With young children, you can use a beach ball and roll it to students in a circle. Older students can catch a beach ball or nerf football. This way of calling on students can either be a lot of fun and full of energy, or it can be a disaster. Be sure to keep the throwing distance short enough to prevent chaos. Make the rules clear and stop if they are broken:

  1. Do not intercept the ball.
  2. Do not throw the ball at another student.
  3. Do not try to break anything in the class with the ball.

In spite of the potential danger with using a ball, I have seen this done with much success and great student involvement. A variation that is safer and fun for grades 1-3 is to pass a teddy bear to the student who will answer the next question.

3. Group Answers

Two commonly used discussion techniques can be put together to allow a discussion that involves everybody at the same time. One is to form small groups of about three students. When the teacher asks a discussion question, every group has a small discussion of its own to come up with an answer. Questions of complexity work best with this method. Add to that the use of small cards with each having a method of group identification. After allowing enough time for each group to develop its answer, randomly pick a card and let that group give their answer. You can pick more than one card for each question. When the answer has been completed, put the used card back in the deck, so that no group can relax and think that their turn is over.

4. Agreements

Keep each question going longer by engaging more students in the discussion. When the first student answers a question, ask another student if he or she agrees or disagrees with that answer. Then ask another student, and keep going until at least five students have participated in each question.

5. Questionnaires

A fun way to discuss famous people or fictional characters is to choose someone you are studying. Divide the class into groups of two or three, and have each group come up with three to five questions they would like to ask that person in an interview style. All group members should agree on all the questions. Each group then passes their questions to another group so that all groups have someone else’s questions. Each group then has the task of answering one question in writing, with full agreement, and in a way they imagine the person might answer. Papers are changed until all questions are answered. Then encourage each group to share their questions and the answers they received.

One final point about good discussions: most students can easily hear the teacher, but depending on room arrangement, it can often be difficult for students to hear each other. Have you ever tried to follow a press conference on television when you could not hear the question, only the answer? Our response ranges from frustration to giving up listening. Be sure to repeat student answers if any class member can’t hear it.

I’m sure that every reader has either a variation of these discussion methods or some great ones of your own. I hope that many of you are willing to add yours to my humble list. Let’s create a dynamic discussion of ideas in this space.