The Power of Social Motivation

Erin Pierson found herself contemplating a very specific social need: she wanted a new, modern radio for her car, and she was driven by a sense of satisfaction she would feel by installing the radio herself [Affirmation].

Phil Schlechty often wrote that learning begins with a product, performance, or exhibition about which the student cares. Erin chose a meaningful product, a new radio in her car [Product Focus]. She also set a very high standard for achieving her goal. When she was finished, she sought a professional grade installation that included looking and performing like a factory installed radio [Clear and Compelling Product Standards].

Erin had to learn a lot to bring the goal to fruition. She had never installed a car radio before and had no idea where to begin. She did not choose traditional learning methods like reading an instructional manual or attending a lecture at a local tech school. Instead, she chose to create her own learning platform. She curated appropriate video tutorials on YouTube. She also consulted local experts for advice and necessary content. In this learning platform she went down a few uncharted roads as her learning took her towards a variety of new content that she did not even know she would need at first,  like how to solder wires together and the electrical concepts of how radios work [Organization of Knowledge].

What did she achieve?  She mastered the motor skills required to remove and install the new radio [use tools, solder wires, estimate fit, etc.]. She learned about electricity as she mastered concepts of which wires go where and why.

When she was finished, Erin sought more affirmation from significant others – namely her friends. She blogged about her experience on Facebook, and in doing so received a lot of positive feedback from friends and family.

“Tonight, I installed a new car stereo in my car, for me, all by my freaking self. Yes, there were lots of curse words and a last-minute trip to Fred Meyer. Thank-you nice salesman who didn't make me feel like a fool when I said I needed a "smoldering" tool instead of "soldering," and then helped me find the solder I needed when I had no idea you even needed that to go with the tool. I didn't even know if I was supposed to solder the wires together, and took a wild guess. The moment I turned it on and it actually worked, I almost cried. I did it. Me with no electrical experience, some YouTube videos, and my stubborn woman spirit said I'm tired of paying men to do stuff for me. I'm trying this myself.”

In completing her project, Erin demonstrated a textbook example of profound learning occurring through engagement by way of Phil Schlechty’s Design Qualities in action.

The story is a powerful metaphor for how students engage in learning. Students often seek the affirmation of meeting a challenge. They tell us this repeatedly in student interviews. Twenty first century students are showing an inclination away from traditional learning strategies like the lecture and toward self-directed learning platforms like curation and primary sources. The importance of the affirmation of friends, family, and peers is evident in their use of social media. The rise of the Maker Movement is a testament to the power of Product Focus.

When teachers harness the power of social motivation, they can go a long way towards engaging their students in learning.

More Free Tools That Don't Require a Log-In

This is our second article on free digital tools that don't require a login. To see the first set, click this link.

The truth about digital tools is that there aren't many that are really free. Most "free" tools have some catch. The best tools give you a liberal amount of usage for free and then you can elect to buy more features. But many of these free digital tools have one seemingly insurmountable roadblock for some educators: They require the user to establish a log-in and password. While many school systems permit users to do this, some do not...especially when it comes to younger students. What follows here is a review of two excellent, free, digital tools that can be used online without a log-in or password or the divulging of any personal information. One applies to the world of reading and language arts. The other is a  math game site.

My Shakespeare. My Shakespeare takes four of the bards most famous plays and augments them with audio recordings, contemporary translations, pop-up notes, videos, performances, and character interviews. Anyone who has taught Shakespeare to high school students knows much of the enjoyment can be lost in a world of Elizabethan prose and poetry. With My Shakespeare, a young reader can instantly see translations of difficult passages, hear them performed with audio and video, or read applicable notes. My Shakespeare could seriously increase a students ability to engage with the bard because it addresses the Design Quality of Organization of Knowledge so well. Thanks to Caitlin Tucker for sharing this tool. She has an extended blog here.

Math Playground. Math Playground offers a large assortment of math games in a variety of topics. The content looks elementary to middle school in terms of topics and difficulty, but math teachers may find some of the games move into high school content. The good news here is students just go to the site and play - no login required. Another strength for this site is the sheer amount of Novelty and Variety. There are over 100 games available.

The list of digital tools that can be accessed without first establishing an account is growing. If your budget is tight or access is highly restricted, consider these tools and the others in our first blog.

10 Digital Tools for Classroom Use

We are often asked to recommend digital tools to our clients. We resist this because the attraction and use of any digital tool is dependent on many factors including the skill levels of the user [teacher and student], the intended use of the tool and perhaps most important: the Design Qualities a teachers is trying to leverage. In addition, we already publish a comprehensive list of digital tools at SC Web Resources for Schoolwork.

Sometimes our master list at  SC Web Resources for Schoolwork can be overwhelming. After all, there a literally hundreds of tools listed there.

This blog is for teachers who would like to see a short list of tools that they can use in the classroom. We have no business connection with these companies.  We have used these tools and seen them in action in schools. All have a significant free use component.

Adobe Spark - Adobe has moved their Post, Page, and Video tools under one website. One of the easiest sites to work with we have seen. Create stunning posters, beautiful websites, and fast picture videos.
Lucidchart - Great graphic organizing that works seamlessly through your Google Drive.
Quizalize - A platform to create quiz games for students. Quizalize lets you send quizzes to students to complete on their own time.
My Storybook - This is a free, easy to use laptop storybook tool. Students can type text, draw, and insert pictures. The final product can be printed.
EDpuzzle - Allows you to import video, trim it, add questions, comments, etc.
Storybird - Collaborative storytelling. Match stories with artwork. Students can join a class without divulging personal info. Book Creator for Chrome isa  new version of the Book Creator app for laptops using Chrome. Students can create comics and books here.
StoryboardThat - Create comic books. Print as a PDF.
Plotagon - A viable free alternative to GoAnimate.  Plotogon is downloaded to your device.  You can work offline and it has life-like animation.  The free package is super and you can buy add-ons as desired.
Newsela - News articles published on multiple lexile levels. Another similar platform is TweenTribune.
eMaze - A neat "alternative to PowerPoint, Keynote, et al" presentation tool.
Blendspace - A great site to curate content. Now called TES.
NearPod - NearPod allows you to send slides to your student devices and control what they are looking at. It moves the screen from the front of the room to the students device. Also has interactive possibilities.
Kahoot - create quizzes, surveys, etc in a game-based format. A national hit!

Classic Cars and Classical Greece

One of Phil Schlechty's favorite stories was the metaphor of "Classic Cars and Classical Greece."

As a young teacher in the 1950's, Phil looked out across his classroom of teenagers, many of them boys, and wondered how he was going to generate any interest in teaching the history of Classical Greece.

Because he had gotten to know his student's interests and values, he was keenly aware that his class of teenage boys were interested in cars and driving, particularly old classic cars. An idea began to take shape. What if the students had to compare the concepts behind classic cars and Classical Greece? Questions began to surface like: What makes a car a classic? What made life in 4-5 B.C. Greece classical? The walls of Phil's classroom soon were covered with pictures of classic cars and Classical Greece. His students engaged and soon wanted to know more. They extended their learning deep into the history of Classical Greece.

Phil had leveraged the Design Quality of Authenticity. By linking content that was real and relevant to rigorous and challenging academic content, he got his students to commit their time and best efforts to learning about Classical Greece.

When a teacher decides to leverage Authenticity, it is important to remember that just picking three to four ideas that might be relevant to students is not going to generate authenticity. Teachers need to have hard evidence that ideas they choose to embed in classroom work are going to be authentic to the student. Such evidence be found out by listening, observing, and perhaps most important, asking. For example, a teacher listening to students talk excitedly before class about the weekend rides at the local theme park, has hard evidence that studying physics through roller coasters may genuinely engage students. Conversely, the teacher who simply decides all students like music and designs work that connects a sixties pop song to some academic content may find that the students don't like that particular musical genre and the hope for engagement will fade quickly. Many educators who have followed Phil Schlechty's work affectionately call this "knowing your who". It means a teacher has to truly know students values, likes and dislikes to leverage the Design Qualities.

"Classic Cars and Classical Greece" is an enduring metaphor from Phil Schlechty. In this simple story, the concepts of engaging students with Design Qualities comes front and center.

The Engagement People

Get Your Kahoot Jumble On

Kahoot may be the most popular quiz game platform used in schools today. In a nutshell, teachers sign-up for a free account and create quizzes at the Kahoot website. The quizzes are played live in the classroom when the teacher projects the quiz onto a classroom screen. Students go to on a laptop, Chromebook, tablet, or phone and they use that device to answer the quiz questions.  Kahoot adds a variety of music and sound possibilities that can really invoke Novelty and Variety if the app is not overused. Kahoot recently added a knew quiz type called Jumble that can add to the Novelty and Variety potential. In the past, Kahoot games were limited to multiple choice questions. Jumble allows the creation of questions based on proper sequencing. Teachers can, for example, create games that require sentence building and equation solving. In the video below, we demonstrate these features by playing the sample game from the Kahoot website.

Kahoot Jumble is a great addition to the Kahoot suite of games. Give it a try.

The Engagement People

Update: Virtual Reality Is Heating Up

When virtual reality first came on the scene (read 2015 blog), it was greeted with comments like, "Oh my gosh!" and "Unbelievable!" Educators in our workshops went scrambling back to their classrooms to unleash virtual reality (VR) experiences on their students, only to find that available content was, shall we say, somewhat lacking.

That has all changed as more and more content providers are offering VR experiences. One we particularly like is the free USA Today VR app. Some recent content examples from this app included a VR re-enactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, five VR experiences on the continent of Australia, and a VR experience covering NASA's Juno mission.

The cost and quality of VR viewers has also improved. Today, a viewer that will last a long time can be purchased on Amazon for as little as $15. These sets include head straps that allow the student to wear the headset.

Old cell phones are great for accessing VR apps and video. For example: An iPhone 5 that will no longer make phone calls still makes a powerful Internet browser and host for many apps. We continue to run USA Today VR and Aurasma on a decommissioned cell phone. Teachers might consider sending a letter home to parents asking them to donate old cell phones to the classroom.

All of this opens up opportunities to design VR student experiences that address multiple Design Qualities. A school could purchase a classroom set of five headsets for under $100. Using a station-to-station blended learning approach, a teacher could set up a VR experience as one station in a rotation of two to four connected experiences. Martha Lackey, a third grade teacher in Texas, blogs about this very activity using just ONE Google Cardboard device and one cell phone. Imagine the possibilities with four or five devices.

There are still some aspects of VR that need improvement. We found that cell phones often had to be removed from cases to fit into the viewer. This was slightly inconvenient but seems easily fixable.

If you haven't yet brought virtual reality to your classroom, the timing is right to dive in and give it a try. Related content is more readily available. The cost is coming down. New learning models make it easier than ever to create engaging experiences. With well-designed activities that use the Design Qualities to leverage engagement, you can be on your way in no time. Give it a try!

The Engagement People

Moving Engaging Work Forward With Trailblazers

This blog is for school administrators and teacher leaders who are passionate about creating engaging work for students. It is intended to share ideas about how to advance the capacity of educators to provide engaging work to students in this twenty-first-century digital world.

To begin, this post of the Engagement Connection blog assumes that readers understand the foundations of engaging work, including the following:

  • The definition of engagement: According to Phil Schlechty, students are engaged when they are attentive, persistent, and committed, and when they find meaning and value in the work.
  • The 10 Design Qualities of engaging schoolwork
  • The process of designing engaging schoolwork

But suppose you get all this and you want to see it move forward, catch on, and become a norm. What can you do? How can you lead this work?

A very easy next step is to use the power of Dr. Phil Schlechty's "Trailblazer Saga" and some commonsense sharing activities.

Dr. Schlechty believed that in any successful change process, there would be trailblazers who would take great risks to lead the work forward, pioneers who would follow the trailblazers, and settlers who would move forward when they felt safe because the pioneers had shown it was safe. Yes, there would be "stay-at-homes" and even saboteurs who would never change, but once the trailblazers, pioneers, and settlers were up and running, these naysayers would be minimized and unable to stop forward progress.

What does trailblazing look like in a school? It is not that hard to identify. Most often, it is YOU! You are the one who has studied engagement. You are implementing the frameworks in your classroom or in your school. You are the principal who is modeling design by using the Design Qualities in your school professional development sessions. You are the teacher who is thinking about engagement and taking the risk of creating work that leverages the Design Qualities. So now it's time to attract some pioneers and settlers!

If you're a principal or other leader, you can continue to model, but it is also time to showcase your teacher trailblazers. Here are some ways:

Identify your trailblazers through observation or, better yet, invitation. Encourage them to invite you to observe on those occasions when they have made the effort to design engaging work. Take pictures and video for them as you observe. Talk to students and ask why they are working so hard. Record them! Then take 20 minutes in faculty meetings to allow those (willing) trailblazing teachers to share an activity, overview of a unit, or lesson that you saw. Coach them to use photos, video, and engagement terminology when they present. Be part of the presentation yourself by sharing your reflections and your artifacts (pics and video). Be affirming! Repeat this process as often as you can. As the pioneers and settlers join in, you may need to add time on your professional development days for multiple teachers to present.

If you are a teacher leader, invite your fellow teachers to come to your room and observe those times when you have designed engaging work. Take pictures and video of the work. Then meet with your colleagues later and ask for feedback. Have a conversation about the work. The next thing you know, teachers all around the building will be inviting you to observe and give feedback! The result of this good work is that sooner or later your building leaders will hear about it. When they ask, offer to share in faculty meetings and on PD days.

Simply put, a school that is not sharing the good, engaging work going on in classrooms will find it very difficult to build success schoolwide. So think about it. Identify your trailblazers. Provide opportunities for sharing. Watch the pioneers and settlers move in. Watch engagement grow!

Good luck on the trail!


The Engagement People

P.S. The Trailblazer Saga appears in Phil Schlechty's Inventing Better Schools, pages 210–219.

Lucidchart: Graphic Organizing

Digital graphic organizers are powerful tools for use in the classroom. Graphic organizers can address Clear and Compelling Product Standards. They can bring a sense of Product Focus to organizing ideas and data. In the initial stages of use, they will lead to a certain amount of Novelty

Lucidchart is an excellent tool for graphic organizing and can be a powerful tool in the designer's toolbox. Here are two reasons why:

  1. You get lots of options in the free version. Specifically, there are templates you can use. Plus, there are a variety of shapes that can be placed on the workspace. This is in contrast to some platforms that limit shapes to a rectangle, at least in their free versions.
  2. Lucidchart works seamlessly with your Google Drive. In fact, the easiest way to get it is to open your Google Drive, select "NEW," scroll down and choose "Connect more apps," and then search for and add Lucidchart. When you save your creations, they go directly to your Google Drive.

Here are a few tips to remember:

  1. The more you add to your Google Drive, the more space you will use. Eventually, you will get prompted to buy more space.
  2. We have been able to operate in the free domain in Lucidchart without issue. This is in contrast to the very nice Lucidpress which only comes with a seven-day free trial.
  3. You will need to stay within the three-document limit to use the platform for free. Do this by deleting old documents.

Enjoy this short video tutorial:

If you like Lucidchart, you might also try MindMeister. MindMeister works the same way and just has a different look and a few unique features. It can be accessed through your Google Drive just like Lucidchart, or directly at the MindMeister website. It has the same three-doc limit for the free package.

We hope you enjoy trying Lucidchart!

The Engagement People


Coding. The very word can strike fear in the heart of a classroom teacher: Isn't coding that funny-looking machine language I see right beside the sharing link of any YouTube video when I click "embed"? Well, yes, it is. So, on top of everything else I have to do, now I am supposed to teach computer coding?

First off, let's back up and take a deep breath. Coding presents a wonderful opportunity to engage students. And no, we are not talking about HTML coding. We are talking about the world of block coding. Block coding gives students an opportunity to grasp coding concepts well before they go into the formal world of Fortran, C++, or HTML coding. It is really a simple and elegant process that allows even the youngest elementary student a chance to learn the concepts of coding.

In block coding, the heavy-duty machine language is converted into blocks that are simple to organize and attach to one another in order to create programs.

But writing code, even block code, needs a purpose—one that a student can relate to.

Enter Dash, a robot.

For around $150, any classroom teacher can purchase Dash the robot from Wonder Workshop. Dash is a fully programmable and quite adorable robot that responds to block coding. Meet Dash!

To program Dash, all you need is the free app named Blockly. Blockly allows you to control Dash with block coding. Look at the picture below. Each of the color blocks represents a command.  For example, the green blocks tell Dash to move forward a certain amount of centimeters. The blue blocks tell Dash to look around.

When students assemble the blocks in a logical order, it looks like this:

And it will make Dash do this:

Here is what it can look like in a first-grade math classroom:

Block coding can be used in any classroom. All it takes is some imagination. In a language arts classroom, students might program Dash to complete a task, and then they might write an expository paragraph explaining what they did. In social studies, students might research the role of robots in economics and then demonstrate with Dash how a robot is used in a retail environment.

In the initial stages of use, the Design Quality of Novelty and Variety is going to drive engagement with this tool. However, over time, the novelty will wear off. When that happens, don't be surprised if Authenticity, Clear and Compelling Product Standards, or Organization of Knowledge take over!

Block coding is approachable by any age group. The example above is from a first-grade classroom. And this sixty-three-year-old writer is still coding with his Dash! Take a chance and dive into block coding. You won't regret it!

The Engagement People

Newsela: A Reading Tool with Engagement Possibilities

Newsela is an important tool for classroom teachers. On the surface, it is a newspaper with current events articles written to be read by school students. But Newsela has some very important tools to go along with it:

  • Teachers control reading levels. A class can read the same content, but reading lexiles can be set to accommodate different levels of reading.
  • There are filters to organize articles by subject area or standards.
  • Each article comes with a thoughtful reading prompt and an optional quiz.
  • Students do not have to divulge any personal information to access assigned articles.
  • The site is free. Additional features can be purchased. We like the amount of free content provided.

When used in conjunction with the 10 Design Qualities of Schoolwork, Newsela can be an important tool that can address Authenticity and Organization of Knowledge.

The following video is a demonstration of how to access and use Newsela.
A Newsela Tutorial from Ron Wright on Vimeo

We hope you enjoy interacting with Newsela!

The Engagement People