Unpacking the Mystique of Student Engagement

Unpacking the Mystique of Student Engagement

Connectedness Schools

Written by: Candace Herrod
Tuesday June 7, 2016

My Grade 9 Science teacher, Mr. Murray, would swear in class and occasionally disappear into his chemical storage room and return smelling like smoke.  If you happened to get him on a tangent you could end up with a colourful education on any number of subjects that he was passionate about, like composting.

Why do his students remember him and his outrageous tangents?  It was because he had the courage to tap into his own passions for all his class to see, and that’s what made what he taught so memorable, even 20 years later.  He connected with his students, made them laugh, and was real and relatable.

Student connectedness is an important topic in education, especially with the rise of tech in the classroom and an educational system that is having a hard time keeping up.  The impetus to assess factors affecting student engagement is more important than ever.

Daniel Lindenberger has been a tutor specializing in work with the profoundly gifted for the last two years, as well as lead programmer for Civic Mirror, a simulation-based education program allowing students to learn civics by effectively turning their classroom into a country.

When discussing the kinds of challenges teachers face when trying to gain student connectedness, he points back to the system itself.  “The biggest impediment to student connectedness is chronically underfunded schools which force teachers to try to do too much with too little. Add to that a teach-to-test environment, and the opportunities to make meaningful connections primarily come with heroic efforts from the teachers.”

With a reliance on quantitative assessment embedded deeply in the education system, how can educators tweak their teaching style to better engage their students?

“We need to encourage work and challenge, rather than just celebrating right answers,” Lindenberger stresses.

Lindenberger has more opportunity to connect and engage with his students than a teacher with a class of 30 because he has the luxury of working with one student at a time.  But the methods he uses can be adapted for more traditional teaching environments.  He makes careful observations to determine what a student is most passionate about, and pays close attention to how they learn.  By tapping into their interests you can start to generate rapport and achieve “buy in,” which is the essential ingredient to a student feeling connected to his/her teacher and engaged in the subject matter.  Research has demonstrated time and again that a school’s climate and the level of connectedness between student and teacher has a lasting impact on key areas such as school drop out rates, truancy, vandalism, violence, gang membership, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy.

What are some other strategies that teachers can employ to draw their students out?  How about authenticity?  Vulnerability?  Passion!  Teachers need to tie in a students’ interests in meaningful ways to understand their modes of learning.  One of Lindenberger’s math students really enjoys computer programming, so they work together on writing programs to calculate Aliquot sequences or define challenges in terms of “problem spaces” and discuss which forms of artificial intelligence would be best for coming up with solutions. For another, robotics are of interest, so a Lego EV3 Robot is sometimes incorporated into their work. In both cases, it has helped the students integrate the world of mathematics with their other interests.

Lindenberger also feels that we often teach
 backwards.   “Imagine if our math and
 science classes started by showing children
 the extraordinary, the mysterious, the
 unfathomed edges of our knowledge and
 the promise they hold, and then taught them
 the basic material needed to best explore those edges.”  In a tutoring environment, Lindenberger is not forced to stay within the constraints of the grade level like his traditional school colleagues.  Maybe that rigidity is another inherent challenge with the traditional education system as it stands today.




Parents can also support and encourage their children to engage with the material they’re learning.  If a parent knows the topic, they should share with their children their passion about it.  I distinctly remember my mother taking me outside with a full glass of water in her hand, and madly swinging her arm around in circles to teach me about centrifugal forces because the water stayed in the cup even when it was upside down.  For subjects that parents don’t understand, they should be transparent about that, and can ask their child to teach them about it themselves.  There is no better way for a child to learn than by teaching someone else.

Programming robots and discussing composting were undoubtedly not in the curriculum in Lindenberger or Murray’s classrooms, but it just may be the approach needed to shake up our concept of what education should be. The students think so.

The Balance of Tech Integration and Human Connectedness

The Balance of Tech Integration and Human Connectedness

Connectedness Intuitions Schools

Technology is the limitless potential of tomorrow and the positive reality of today. But is your school “Future Ready?” and what are the obstacles you face in getting there?

The Future Ready Schools initiative is a USA wide effort to help school districts maximize digital learning opportunities. Technology, which has long advanced other Industries, has gained significant momentum within Education. Schools are adapting tablets, digital tools, and software to help solve challenges unique to their environment. There are also Network Infrastructure updates happening to accommodate these digital possibilities.

Technology truly has the opportunity to transform the classroom into a place of personalized learning and student success. There is little question in the direction Education is heading, but there are many obstacles to achieving that tidy balance between tech integration for advancement and student connectedness.

Daniel Coghlan is a second grade teacher in British Columbia, Canada, and he takes a keen interest in what his classroom is going to look like as his school becomes ‘future ready.’ “Tech is already integrated into most aspects of daily life, so keeping it out of the classroom is unnatural,” Coghlan says.

The Digitization of the World is underway and Industries across the board will have technology weaved throughout their business model, whether traditional to their roots or not. Future jobs will be technology based. It’s time for education to catch up to the pace of the future. So what needs to be done?

  • Integrating tech into the education system first means transforming our entire traditional pedagogy. Teachers and educators first need to “buy in.” A strategy must be defined to outline the intended future end state for students, with how specific technology will achieve it.
  • Next there is the obvious challenge of the acquisition and allocation of robust resources to properly implement a program such as this. It’s not enough to buy an iPad for every student for example. Teachers need to understand the technology potential and then transition their curriculum. For better or for worse, this could be a slippery slope careening toward an overhaul to the entire education system and how children are taught.
  • Next, educators must carefully consider what needs to be in place to ensure equitable access to technology, both on a school level as well as on a student level. Coghlan feels that “classrooms need to reflect the world we want to prepare our students for.”

The emergency response protocol at Coghlan’s school requires parents to have high speed internet, a computer and basic digital literacy to log in to the system and update their student’s information and attendance. But not all families have these resources.

Coghlan and other staff at his school allocate their time to assist in parental compliance in this aspect of tech integration. This emphasizes the point that educators must look at technology as the multifaceted reality it is, thoughtfully packaging technology implementation with strategic integration plans into education and the lives of teachers, students and parents.

Somewhere at the heart of all of the devices, gadgetry and digital promise, educators can’t lose focus on the human connection. The most effective educators know their students by name, notice when a student is struggling, are interested in supporting their learning style and are dedicated to helping their students succeed. Students who are engaged want to come to class, are inspired, want to learn and the impact is felt throughout their school climate, graduation rates and in society.

Andrew Marcinek, a contributor at edutopia.org, reminds educators that “learning goals and objectives – not devices or applications – still drive classroom engagement.” The onus, then, is on Solution Providers to create products that keep student connectedness at the core of their intent, and on educators to choose their tech wisely.

Connection Intervention

Connection Intervention

Connectedness Schools

We are living in a modern world of hyper-connectivity. With your smartphone, you can contact anybody from anywhere – and they can contact you. Technological advancements are racing in all directions, and so are we. Phone calls, access to blog posts and media, messages from family and emails from work keep us in the constant loop… for better or worse. Social media feels like it’s maybe not so social after all.

It’s time for a connection intervention, beginning with fostering meaningful interaction between people.

There’s a term for this meaningful interaction between staff and students; school connectedness. Studies show that school connectedness is a strong protective factor for adolescents.

It decreases undesirable and risky behaviors such as:

  • substance abuse
  • vandalism
  • gang membership & violence
  • truancy and absenteeism

And, increases behaviors which set students up for success:

  • improving school attendance
  • improving test scores & class grades
  • helping students achieve their goals in all areas of their lives
  • ultimately, increasing graduation rates

That’s why we developed Intuitions to improve school engagement. We owe it to our future society.

Increasing Students Connection to School

Increasing Students Connection to School

Connectedness Schools

The school system spends more than $33 million a year on its various dropout-prevention programs in addition to the schools regular operating budgets. While school districts nationwide are trying a variety of approaches to combat high dropout rates, three common themes have emerged as keys to success: intense one-on-one attention; frequent testing to ensure steady progress; and partnerships with non-profits that provide resources not available in most urban districts.

In New York, only half of all high school students graduate in four years. But a local experiential school is changing those statistics. Students transferred are transfered to this intimate school after floundering in large high schools where they were lost in the crowd.

  • Staff at the experimental school is charged with getting involved
  • All of the 150 students have a counselor checking in every day
  • Counselors regularly greet students with reports on grades and attendance.
  • They call the cellphones and homes of students who fail to show.

The philosophy behind their elaborate anti-dropout programs is a simple one: Make students aware that somebody cares about their lives and futures. As one student says, “The teachers and counselors don’t let us slip away.”