Faculty Perspectives

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Keeping Students Engaged in the Classroom: Like every industry, teaching is affected by new and changing technology. We asked a group of current teachers to share their thoughts on the many ways they keep students engaged and thinking deeply in today’s classrooms.

1. Chris Pelliccia, science chair

I try to keep students engaged by having them tackle meaningful, real-world problems. More than just writing a scenario around some calculations, my goal is to expose students to demos and lab experiences that generate real phenomena and real data that we can grapple with. Seeing a reaction or event gives context to the calculations. I’ve found that context draws students in and keeps them invested in working towards an answer.

2. Jessica Rohan, english teacher

Amid the whirlwind of distractions and dazzling technological gadgets, teachers today truly have to be like wizards conjuring spells to keep our students engaged and their minds soaring to new heights!

As a teacher, I find that experiential education and the ability to allow students to take chances creates strong student/teacher relationships.  It is in these relationships that students begin to navigate the peaks and valleys of their strengths and weaknesses, developing a sense of self that will continue throughout their middle and high school years. I like to mix things up, using Shakespearean skits, “gamifying” lessons, assigning literary analysis essays, and sometimes simply allowing students to read in class. My goal is to create process-oriented thinkers who challenge boundaries, take part in healthy forms of competition, and learn what their role can and will be in this vast world.

The power of collaborating with one another creates an experience for students that helps them accomplish an academic task while learning how to effectively communicate along the way.  On the best days of this, my classroom is transformed into a bustling hive of teamwork, where ideas collide and creativity flourishes.  By fostering collaboration, a sense of community and teamwork is nurtured that will serve students now and in the future.

3. Justin Brooks, history teacher

History affords students a unique opportunity to discover exciting new connections between the past and the world that they live in today—and technology is often how students connect and engage with that larger world. I encourage my students to analyze these new technologies (and the conversations they spark) as recent contributions to a much larger conversation that’s been  taking place across human history. By integrating clips from movies, television series, news, popular music, TikTok videos, and other popular media into student-centered discussions, I try to build my students’ curiosity while empowering them to see where history shows up in their lives as 21st-century teenagers.

4. Allison Tucker, science teacher

In environmental science, we utilize the natural spaces on and around campus as an extension of our science classroom. Students are able to observe and collect data as environmental scientists would in the field. I try to focus on connecting students to the natural world as much as possible. That’s something that you just can’t get from AI.

5. Ken Choo, science teacher

I often don’t distinguish between modern distractions (including technology) and historical ones. I mean, when I was young and in school, the students who I think of as being engaged and thoughtful about academic pursuits were genuinely interested, and they seemed to engage in an effortless way (I’d like to think that I was sometimes like this). Those that were distracted didn’t have cell phones or the internet to turn to, but easily found other substitutes (paper airplanes, spit-balls, note-passing, doodling, just plain daydreaming, to name a few). I was definitely sometimes like this.

Today, when I reflect back on those students or experience the ones in my class, the ones that pursue learning in a consistent, day in, day out sort of way just… do so. They started that way on the first day of class, and I had little to do with how they are. On the best days, I match their excellence with insightful and clear lessons.

For those students who don’t reach this unwavering level of academic nirvana, what I keep in mind is that they could, one day. Instead of showing my disapproval, I try to know them, show them that I care. Instead of seeking their interest, I allow myself to be excited about the material in front of them. Instead of focusing on their behavior, I try to understand why they behave like they do—and then stand ready to sing their praises when they show the smallest glimmer of interest or ask an interesting question or do a bit more work.

6. Kyle Hanford ’97, english teacher

I like to break the kids up into group work so they are engaging with one another.  When they talk and grapple with the text with one another, they are forced to interact and cannot wander into the web! To be honest, it makes me work harder to make what we’re doing in class better than the internet. Kids get bored when they are not engaged, and I feel that if they wander, part of that is on me. I’ve got to make the work we do in class more appealing than shopping for a prom dress or playing a game.

7. Matt Liebowitz, english chair

The prevalence of digital distractions has made me pivot in the other direction, to focus on close readings of the text, on in-class writing (with a pencil!), on annotation, on connecting themes and motifs that have personal resonance to students. We may not be able to compete with AI, but AI also can’t connect the way an English teacher can.

8. Kurt Whipple, math teacher

When I originally started teaching math roughly 175 years ago, we were still writing on chalk boards. At that time, we would write a problem on the board, the students would copy it into their notebooks, and then work on the problem. That became quite time-consuming, especially when we worked on word problems. Now, with Williston’s one-to-one computing and the use of Microsoft OneNote [a shared note-taking program that all students and teachers use], I can share my “skeleton” notes with each student. Instead of students needing to first write the problem down, they can get right into solving the problems, which is a huge time-saver. Also, back when I was writing on a chalk board, once I erased the work, it was gone. Now, we can use the technology to go back in our notes and see all the work that we put down on the “board” earlier.

9. Beatrice Cody, language teacher

Over the course of my 24-year career, the digital resources for Classics have burgeoned. There are so many ways technology has enriched the Latin classroom: vocabulary game favorites Gimkit and Quizlet, video tours  of virtually reconstructed Roman villas, historically accurate Minecraft worlds, online Latin dictionaries, any Latin text or translation available instantly. For me, even the novelty of Microsoft OneNote [a shared note-taking program that all students and teachers use] hasn’t worn off yet! It is such an effective tool for collecting and distributing class materials, as well as viewing and evaluating student work in real time.

On the other hand, while I have embraced many new technologies, I also continue to value tried-and-true classroom practices. I remain a devoted fan of good old printed books that can be held in your hand, easily navigated with a table of contents or index, and that often contain well-researched, properly edited and nuanced information lacking on most websites. For example, Honors Latin IV still reads Horace’s Odes from a printed student text and still researches Sulla, Caesar, Cicero, and the whole cast of first-century-BCE characters using books from the classroom and our wonderful Clapp Library.

Whether we’re using digital or print resources, I am always aiming to create a sense of community in my classroom. Collaborative small-group work, teamed competitions, individual reflection, big-group sharing, and engaging cultural investigations can be based in digital or print resources; either way, all these activities  help us to get to know one another as well as to learn about Latin and the ancient world.