One of the best ways to re-engage students after the winter break is to rebuild a positive, collaborative classroom culture. Positive and collaborative classroom environments foster equitable learning experiences for all learners! Throughout our educator guides, we provide teaching strategies and tips that will help you create a positive learning environment because we’ve done the research that shows, for example, that competitive classroom environments can negatively impact and discourage girls and children of color from participating in classroom activities. As you and your students re-acclimate to the classroom this month, try out these quick and easy ways to get your students pumped for the rest of the school year!
Inspire Your Students
The start of the New Year is the perfect time to re-inspire your students. Luckily, the internet is full of amazing, inspiring young role models. There’s Jessica, a young girl whose daily affirmations always get us pumped. She’s a great reminder that practicing gratitude is a simple effective way to focus on the positive. Ask students to reflect on what they like about school and their classmates—this will help them focus on the positive possibilities of what the New Year (and the rest of school year) will bring. Or you can show students this great pep talk from Kid President. We love how Kid President encourages kids to “create something that will make the world awesome!” If you’re looking for a STEM-specific inspiring story, share with your students this story of a class who, after completing an Engineering is Elementary unit, were inspired to make handmade bracelets to raise money for young children living in Haiti.
Design an Awesome Year
Last year, we highlighted the ways in which our engineering design process is an effective problem-solving tool for problems outside of engineering. Encourage your students to take their New Year’s Resolutions to the next level by using the engineering design process. After all, goal-setting presents a problem: How will I achieve my goal? Ask students to reflect on the past semester, think about the “problems” they want to solve in the new year, and identify things they want to change or improve. Sometimes, it’s helpful to brainstorm with students and work with them to identify the best goals to prioritize. The resolution statements can start with “In the new year, my goals are to . . .” Or “In the new year, I want to improve my . . .” After students have identified a goal, they need to imagine ways to achieve it and then create a plan to execute it. Remind them that the more specific the plan, the more likely they’ll be to execute it. For example, if the goal is “In the New Year, I want to improve my dance skills”, they would plan steps like “Practice dancing for one hour on Saturday” or “Learn a new dance move every month.” Throughout the year, your students will execute this plan. Periodically, ask students to reflect on their progress and think of ways they can do better!
Reinforce Routines and Classroom Expectations
In an Edutopia article, educator Brian Sztabnik highlighted the importance of reinstating routines that were set at the beginning of the year. Routines like writing for 15 minutes every day or ending the day with students cleaning their work stations can fall by the wayside throughout the year, but an established classroom routine can be a “stabilizing force in a classroom.” Spend some time during January reinstating those routines and remind students of your expectations, the class norms and rules.
When you’re focusing on the semester’s objectives, it’s easy to forget to plan for a little fun. Returning to school is always easier when you remind students that learning can also be fun. Our recent blog post on ways to keep kids engaged before holiday break includes activities that work after the vacation as well. Our team also scours the internet for fun and easy hands-on STEM activities, and we post them on our Pinterest.
Do you have any tried-and-true methods for getting students back on track in the new year? Share with us in the comments below!