Inciting Engagement through Excitement

While I don’t remember much from my ninth grade biology class, I will forever remember all about tapeworms and international travel.  It was a warm autumn day in early October when I learned everything I would never want to know about parasites.  I had Biology class right before lunch, which was usually never an issue.  Yes, we dissected worms and such, but that was fun and not disgusting.  This particular day was different.  About ten minutes prior to the end of class, my teacher decided to tell us a story about the time she got tapeworms.  She went into elaborate detail about her trip to South America and how she tried to avoid all of the water and foods that might make her ill.  She didn’t think lettuce or salad would be a problem.  Unfortunately, she was wrong.  When she arrived back home in the US, she started to notice problems with her digestive system.  She was constantly hungry.  It all became very clear to her what the issue was early one morning.  As she slowly began to awaken from her slumber, she remained lying down for a while.  That’s when she felt the tickle in her throat.  Soon after the tickle, a tapeworm crawled out of her mouth.  YUCK!  Then, the bell rang and we were on our way to lunch.  While I was a bit grossed out, the fear and excitement I felt within were enough to make me overly cautious about where I travel and what I eat.  To date, I have felt no tickle in my throat or worms wiggle out of my body.  Yah for me!  Clearly, my teacher used the fear and excitement of her story to inspire us to want to learn more about parasites and how they affect living organisms.  Because of her story, I was engaged throughout that short unit.  I wanted to learn all about those creepy crawlies.

To help inspire my students to want to learn or become engaged with an activity or unit covered in class, I attempt similar subterfuge.  When students are excited or a bit scared, they become curious and motivated.  I decided to put that to good use today in STEM class as we began the Climate Change portion of our Weather Unit.

I began class by sharing my excitement for what we were about to begin learning and working on today in class.  “We are beginning a brand spanking new project never completed by any group of sixth graders in the history of Cardigan.  You are the first class to ever be completing this project.  I’m so excited to see what great ideas you brainstorm to help save our planet.”  At this point, a few sets of eyes that were not directed my way began to move in that direction.  Yes, I was beginning to hook them, I thought.  Then, came the slam dunk.

We watched and discussed a short video explaining climate change and its causes and outcomes.  I had the students take copious notes on the big ideas mentioned in the video.  After every main idea, I paused the video to allow students a chance to take notes on the important vocabulary terms and facts.  This break also allowed them the opportunity to ask questions regarding the content and their comprehension of it.  I reviewed the facts shared in the video before we continued watching it each time.  At the close of the video, we reviewed the big ideas regarding global warming and climate change.  I closed our discussion with some powerful thoughts: “If we don’t find a way to stop increasing global warming at such a rapid pace, the world will suffer dramatic changes, causing much death and destruction.”  Like dogs, their ears perked up at this point.  Some of them had shocked looks on their faces.  Yes, they are listening and engaged now.  That’s when I introduced the Climate Change Project.  The crux of the project is, working with a partner, to create a unique solution to an aspect of the recent Paris Agreement.  They were fired up about it.  They seemed motivated and excited to be problem solvers.  I even suggested that perhaps one group in our class could generate such an innovative and realistic solution that we will find a way to fund the creation of it through grants.  This excited them.

The students were so focused and productive in class today.  Perhaps it was because of my motivating words.  Or maybe they are just very interested in climate change.  Maybe they were empowered when I reminded them all that they are the future of our world.  They are the ones who will be responsible for bringing about major changes regarding climate change.  Perhaps my excitement was contagious and got them excited.  Or perhaps it was a little bit of everything, much like the seasoning my wife uses when she grills chicken, that produced the results I witnessed today in class.  The students were excited to learn about how the world is changing due to human activity.  They were focused on generating ways to solve the problem of climate change.  I couldn’t have been more proud.  My biology teacher had it all figured out way back then.  Inciting a little bit of fear and much excitement within students motivates them to want to learn more and accomplish the task at hand.

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