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A Massachusetts Teacher Develops an Engaging Learning Environment

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By Stephanie Copice

As a high school science teacher, I spend a lot of my time introducing students to content that they’ve never seen before. Most of the time I have just one shot at capturing their attention and engaging them in topics that can be notoriously difficult to grasp and absorb. In the past, I used textbooks, classroom lectures, and science labs to achieve this goal. Anyone who didn’t “get it” either had to approach me for extra help or wound up floundering as the rest of us moved onto the next lesson. Conversely, students who did “get it” had no avenues for working ahead.

This structured approach turned a lot of students off from science because it prevented them from exploring their own natural questions and curiosity. The faster they disengaged from the content, the faster they checked out—particularly with science. Trapped in a lockstep pattern, I wasn’t able to improve student engagement or help my pupils truly connect with the content that I was teaching.

Driven by the initiatives introduced by our technology director at the time—and a superintendent who supported the effort—about nine years ago we started using a learning management system (LMS) to support our growing personalized learning goals.

As part of this effort, I began thinking about the impact of LMS usage on student engagement, and how we could improve engagement overall. Early on, I noticed that 75% of students were more engaged because the LMS gives them control over their homework and task tracking. I don’t even have whiteboard space in my room for posting homework or agendas. Using the calendar in itslearning, I write notes, create objectives, post opening activities, and funnel everything else right into the LMS.

This gives pupils a lot of control over their time and allows some to review resources over the weekend, for instance, and then take an early stab at their homework. Others wait to discuss the content in class and then tackle their work. This is far more engaging and personalized than the old method of writing everything on the board. Once I erased it, that information was gone forever and no one could catch up or look ahead.

Using an LMS has also increased the percentage of work completed by students at the end of each school term. And while achieving on-time completion remains an ongoing struggle, I’d estimate that 90% of my students have 100% of their work completed by the end of the term. No longer dealing with a “binder abyss,” they can look up their assignments on the itslearning calendar and get caught up (or stay on top of the work) on their own terms and within their own time frames.

Whenever possible, I use our LMS to give students a chance to write up their ideas, record their reflections, or otherwise express themselves—yet another way to get them engaged in technical content. I’m also experimenting with the platform’s goal-setting features, which allow students to set their own goals that I can then monitor and help with. That’s where my push is going to be over the next couple of years as we continue to explore and add to the list of LMS functionalities useful for creating a very personalized and engaging learning environment.

Stephanie Copice is a high school science teacher at Millis Public Schools in Massachusetts.