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A Saguaro High School teacher shares how she keeps kids engaged — no Pokémon GO required. Brittany Williams teaches biology, oceanography, and astronomy at Saguaro High School in the Scottsdale Unified School District. As she starts her fifth year in the classroom, she’s extra prepared — she knows

Aug 12, 2016

A Saguaro High School teacher shares how she keeps kids engaged — no Pokémon GO required.


Brittany Williams teaches biology, oceanography, and astronomy at Saguaro High School in the Scottsdale Unified School District. As she starts her fifth year in the classroom, she’s extra prepared — she knows she’ll have to captivate the attention of her multitasking-prone students, especially those playing Pokémon GO! The fun-loving teacher shares her tips for how to “catch ’em all” — her students’ attention, that is.

Establish relationships from the start.

I love my students and want to get to know them as people. My teaching philosophy is that your students need to know you care before they care what you know. I make class interactive and more like a conversation than simply a lecture.

Even little things make a difference, like on Monday mornings when I dedicate the first five minutes of class to hearing about what my students did that weekend. I try to make my classroom feel like a home for them, and based on the feedback that I have received each year it seems to become a sort of safe haven for them. This is especially important when many students' homes are not always a place of comfort.

If you’re a beginning teacher, don’t reduce your authority by playing the “I’m new” card.

I honestly think that being young is an advantage in a lot of ways. Many of my students look up to me and see me almost as an older sister because I am younger and relatable. Because they look up to me and genuinely want my approval, classroom management comes a lot easier for me than it might for some teachers.

In my students' minds, we are on the same team, and they don't want to mess that up. I also believe in treating all people with respect. I treat my students with respect, and typically get the same respect in return.

Don’t allow social media to be more interesting than you.

As teachers, we are competing for our students' attention. They are constantly stimulated by technology, which often makes it difficult to keep them captivated in the classroom.

To be honest, I know what that is like. I remember being bored in school. I constantly put myself in their shoes and think, "What would keep my attention at this age?" After all, it wasn't all that long ago that I was in high school myself.

I try to keep them on their toes as much as possible by making lessons engaging, hands-on, and exciting. Sometimes there are things that we have to do that aren't so thrilling, but even then I try to throw in a little humor, tell stories, and do anything I can to make the information come alive. I also keep my classroom vibrant and fun, not just full of facts. For example, instead of just writing "earthworm dissection Friday" on the board, I drew a worm screaming next to it. It sounds silly, but I really think it keeps them engaged.

Set ground rules, stick to them, and make it fun.

I am dreading heading back to school and having to deal with the Pokémon GO app. Like I said, it is challenging to compete for your students' attention, especially with technology. I rarely allow phones, so students know they are to be kept away unless I give explicit directions to Google something, use a stop watch, etc.

My classroom discipline plan involving phones entails students writing an essay at the end of each quarter, but the number of words in the essay correlates with the number of phone incidents that occurred in that class period throughout the quarter, and a single incident adds 20 words.

Each class has a running total on the whiteboard and it becomes a competition to see who has the fewest points. It also makes them self-patrol for phones so I don't have to. I don't have many cell phone problems because of this. If there is one problematic student who continues to ruin it for the class, then I deal with it one-on-one. Also, if a class is well behaved and finishes a lesson with a few spare minutes, I will tell them they can have some time on their phones. I like to use that as a reward.

Feeling more prepared to tackle the school year with these tips for student engagement? Sharpen other areas of your teaching practice by registering now for one of many upcoming professional learning events with the Arizona K12 Center

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