How Do You Get Kids Excited to Learn?

How is your March being spent?

Test prep? Exams? Counting down the days until spring break? Those all seem to be the norm.

Not here.

We’re beginning our 3 set of units and our kids are PUMPED! No lie!

Last week I overheard kids begging to start reading, a kid exclaim, “Algebra?! Yeessss!”, and multiple kids approach me already with their new inquiry project ideas BEFORE we even exposed them to the new cycle.

No, we’re not feeding them anything. No, we’re not playing any tricks on them. They are simply excited to learn.

How we get here is multi-faceted and complex. But at its most basic form, it really comes down to one methodology, making the time and space to genuinely listen to them, connect, and adjust.

Take for example last year when Mrs. Tluchak brought her students to a genetics lab at USF. They were in the middle of a human genetics unit and she noticed her kids excitement. At the end of the year, the kids completed surveys on what units they enjoyed and what they wanted to learn more about and you guessed it, that science unit stuck out.

As a result, this year, that cohort had a huge focus on biology. So as they began their bio-sciences unit, they already have exposure to what a HeLa cell is. They’ve already debated issues around gene modification. They have already studied human health.

So when Mrs. T shared that the book that they’d be reading together was, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, they flipped out with EXCITEMENT! They had the background knowledge and have the connections that make the learning something to be looked forward to.

Or when she introduced their new algebra unit, they were equally as excited because they ASKED for it. You read that right, middle schoolers ASKED FOR MORE ALGEBRA.

Here’s why getting that level of excitement around learning isn’t easy.

1. The learning has to be relevant.

Our kids don’t see their time as wasted because they know that there is a real life connection and a real life reason that they’re learning what they are. Mrs. Pethe’s cohort is learning about personal finance and how to invest because that is a real life skill! You know the “I wish someone would’ve taught me that in school,” topic.

2. Teachers, families, and students have to have opportunities to learn to trust one another so that even when presented with content that wasn’t asked for, they understand that there is value.

Take their editorial writing unit for example. One student was passionate about it and the others were excited to not only learn a different style, but to also support their classmate’s interest as she’s done for them. All of them also understand the value of seeking valid and reliable sources and being able to communicate informative ideas clearly.

3. You have to have a flexible environment to work in that honors and respects change.

Interests change, real life events arise, students don’t understand content and need more time to process it, learning opportunities may spark other ideas and things get pushed back, we address what was missed in a more in depth manner when time presents. No judgement. No time wasted. Just learning. (We love that our curriculum calendar is on version 3 this year.)

4. Kids need time and space to explore their own ideas.

Their ideas matter. With guidance and allowing them to practice expanding upon their own, you’d be shocked to see what they come up with. (Take a look at what our kids come up with for their inquiry projects.)

5. Teachers need to have a space where they can genuinely respond to their students.

Self explanatory. No script will work for each kid exactly the same on every day in exactly the same order.

Moral of the story, it’s not easy.

It takes a TEAM effort of trust, understanding, and WORKing together.

It takes a space that allows for genuine connection and flexibility.

But when you get there you have kids who become more confident, relaxed, and who own their own ideas which allows them to get excited about learning and that’s what we consider time well spent!

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