Engage Students with Authentic Learning at Home - Digital Promise

Engage Students with Authentic Learning at Home

May 12, 2020 | By

As schools and districts across the country transition to remote learning, educators are seeking new ways to engage their students in powerful learning experiences at home. In this post, we highlight how HP Teaching Fellows Josh Luukkonen, Chad Sorrells, and Mahfuza Rahman are designing authentic learning experiences that connect learners with real problems and audiences.

Technology Lends Itself to Authentic Audiences

Prior to her school closing due to COVID-19, Rahman was leading her biology class in a Challenge Based Learning experience on illness prevention. Students’ investigation led to a discussion of the pandemic and how people share information on illness prevention.

Rahman explained, “The students brought up social media as the platform. They compared audiences of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and they decided what would make a message go viral.” When schools closed, Rahman’s students continued designing and sharing their social media campaigns. She said, “It gave me the opportunity to talk to them about how these are skills for the future “and how being a social media manager is a real job opportunity.”

Sorrells, a math teacher in Alabama, also uses social media to connect students with authentic audiences. As social media director for his school, Sorrells shares examples of student work from across grades and content areas. Showcasing their learning for an authentic audience shows students that their work is valued beyond the classroom. One recent post, a student essay reflecting on the personal impacts of COVID-19, even received the attention of their city’s mayor.

Because students know that their work could be featured on the school’s social media pages, they are motivated by the prospect of that authentic audience. “It’s been a huge culture builder at our school; all the students want to be a part of it,” said Sorrells. “The students are loving it even more now because they aren’t able to see each other and socialize; seeing each other’s work there has given them a bright spot.”

Opportunities for Authentic Connections are Everywhere

When Josh Luukkonen’s school closed due to COVID-19, Luukkonen’s junior high social studies students were studying economics. With standardized exams cancelled and all grading formative, Luukkonen saw an opportunity to approach instruction in an unconventional way. He considered the core concepts of the curriculum and began creating short videos to prompt discussion about concepts, all based in the community. “There are a lot of examples I could get from the internet, but I didn’t want to do that,” Luukkonen explained. “I wanted the examples to show how it’s impacting us today.”

Luukkonen grabbed his cell phone and drove to the landfill to film a video about the environmental impacts of economic decisions. He also went to the mall, usually bustling but now closed, to discuss the economic impacts of its closures. The videos became prompts to think about and discuss those core curricular concepts.

While Luukkonen found ways to bring the community into students’ homes, Rahman and Sorrells found ways to bring students’ homes into the virtual classroom. Rahman asked students in her chemistry class to look in their kitchen and brainstorm experiments that could be done with common cooking ingredients. Sorrells asked his middle school math students to demonstrate concepts using everyday objects around their homes; to show transformations, his students used objects from silly putty to sidewalk chalk.

Sorrells said, “When you teach that in the classroom, it’s hard to get students to move their thinking outside of the coordinate plane. Now’s the perfect opportunity. Their learning is taking place around them. They can look for real life examples of how they can demonstrate this in their physical space, beyond the coordinate plane in the classroom. And if we can’t use it in real life, why are we learning it at all?”

Get Started Creating Authentic Learning Experiences at Home

To get started creating authentic learning experiences at home for your students, Rahman suggests that teachers ask students questions in order to understand what is important to them. “What’s authentic to us as adults, may not be authentic to them,” Rahman said.

Luukkonen shared the following advice for teachers: “Relax. From the study of creativity, we know that when we relax, that’s when we get creative and start making connections.”

Regardless of how or where authentic learning experiences are designed, Sorrells urges teachers to “just go for it. There will likely be errors or things that you need to fix, but in the end, going for it, putting yourself out there and trying the activity will benefit you and your students.”

Ready to design your own Authentic Powerful Learning experiences?

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