Education does not have to be miserable. All of those things we complain about in the great system of education can be improved. It starts with us. With our thinking, planning, and effort. Recently, two or our 4th grade teachers, Mrs. Clevenger and Mrs. Milleson took basic math decimals practice to a new level of engagement, fun, and efficiency. They called it the Decimal Diner.
— Lisa Roberge (@MrsClevenger) March 3, 2017
The Decimal Diner
Students were surprised walking into their 4th grade classroom on Friday. They were expecting a typical Friday lesson or review after they returned from their specials class of PE or Art. What they found instead were their parents waiting for them, dressed up as waiters and waitresses, ready to serve them at the Decimal Diner.
Directions were on the board. Students used professional menus with options for their meal. They received paper plates and solved their problems on their plates in order to be served the special dessert. The theme was aligned with Read Across America week for Dr. Seuss. The serving staff of parents supported them in their math practice and served them whatever they needed using the proper manners and courtesy you would expect in a 5 star restaurant. Better yet, the students had no idea the parents were going to be in class that day.
Why all this extra effort?
I asked Mrs. Clevenger and Mrs. Milleson about why went out of their way to beef up this lesson. Typically our teachers use menus and restaurants for math practice to make it more authentic, but bringing in parents and having students dress up? Why? These were the teachers’ responses:
“We wanted 100% student engagement, real world application to decimals, parental involvement, and hands-on/interactive learning.”
“We asked our students to dress up ‘fancy’ as a confidence boost and to make the event more memorable.”
What was the impact?
“We have found it to be a positive relationship builder, not only with us and the students, but also between the students and parents.”
“The interactions between the parents and students were priceless.”
In my observation and in talking with the teachers, it was amazing to see how making instruction unique, special, and fun can significantly improve the students’ efforts and performance. Every single student was completing their work and very focused. Most students finished very quickly. Even at-risk students were happy with smiles and successfully completing their work. I asked the students what they thought of the lesson. Here are a few of their responses:
“It’s better than worksheets.Big time!”
“We got to make it fun and also got a dessert.”
“……….” (students working diligently)
“:)” (students smiling)
Fun Activities + Clear Objectives = Effective Instruction
If you ever wonder why some of our students are checking out and not engaged, we should reflect on our own instruction. Would we want to be a student in our classrooms and in our lessons? Yes, we have to teach clear learning objectives and, yes, those are mandated, but in education we need to stop making excuses about our own instruction. HOW we implement these lessons are completely up to us. Are we doing it the easy way or the awesome way? Creating fun activities is good, but adding clear learning objectives with opportunities for student mastery and success is what turns the fun activity into effective instruction.
Making Special Moments
Making special moments is what it’s all about. Not only did these students have a higher rate of engagement, work effort, and performance, but they also created a memory that they will remember for a lifetime. Memories that their parents who were in class helping will remember for their lifetimes. And no surprise, the teachers also had a blast.
Visiting the classroom, I was so appreciative of the teachers and parents for taking something normal and going over the top for our students. We may not be able to do this for every lesson, but the more we add special moments into our instruction, the more our students will want to be in our classes and will give us their best effort, even beyond those unique experiences. Students can tell if we put in extra effort or not and they will respond in kind.
I really want to emphasize that not only will students be more on point for this one particular lesson, but they will be more engaged in general, want to be in our class and school more, and will be a better overall student. The more we add this kind of instruction, the better students we will create. If we keep complaining about our students, maybe it’s really our fault. Maybe our lessons are not that interesting and we are not really putting in enough effort in planning. We get what we give.
Is your instruction memorable? Memorable in a good way? Amp up your lessons and be on point for your students. They deserve it. It will make them have more fun which will in turn make your job as teacher even that much easier and more enjoyable as well.