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Can't Keep Students Engaged?

Maxine Anderson
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For any teacher, the hardest thing to keep is a student’s attention. In a world of Tik Toks and tweets, attention spans are at an all-time low, and the days of expecting students to read full chapters or watch documentaries at home are long over. Even getting a student’s attention in the first place can be an uphill battle. From Google Classroom to Canvas, students won’t log into anything unless prompted regularly. When tools work, teachers are forced to spend a lot of time and energy designing, deploying, and assessing learning. The tool itself shouldn’t become the lesson. Scott, a high school history teacher based in LA, understood this.

For any teacher, the hardest thing to keep is a student’s attention. In a world of Tik Toks and tweets, attention spans are at an all-time low, and the days of expecting students to read full chapters or watch documentaries at home are long over.

Even getting a student’s attention in the first place can be an uphill battle. From Google Classroom to Canvas, students won’t log into anything unless prompted regularly.With the virtual effect of COVID-19, it's been even more difficult for teachers to engage their students.

When tools work, teachers are forced to spend a lot of time and energy designing, deploying, and assessing learning. The tool itself shouldn’t become the lesson. Scott, a high school history teacher based in LA, understood this.

His students just finished a two-week text message course on the Cold War and met everyone from Castro to Khrushchev. Thanks to Arist, Scott was able to bring 20th-century politics into a 21st-century learning environment.

Over the course of 7 days, his students receive texts summarizing famous Cold War figures, events, and important terms. They take short multiple-choice quizzes on key events and answer questions on Capitalism vs. Communism. Scott also sends along short videos and articles on topics like McCarthyism and the Bay of Pigs to help his students go more in-depth.

“This text-message experience was once in a lifetime. It reminded me to do my history work and helped me to learn faster. I’m usually on my phone all the time so when I receive the messages, I do them as soon as I see them.” — Scott’s student

At the end of the session, each student is tasked with writing their own “Hamilton-style” song about the Cold War, armed with songwriting tips and an analysis of Kennedy speeches. The best part? The short sound bites were the perfect length for staying focused, and all the learning met students where they already are. Scott’s course was a favorite among his students, but don’t take our word for it:

“I enjoy using the texting program because it does remind me that I have history work to do, and I feel that the work isn’t as overwhelming since it is one thing a day. I click the links that are attached to it and read those articles too. I feel like the work is better to spread out b/c each day we’re taking the time to learn what happened at this conference, or terms we should know. I like how spaced out it is.” — Scott’s student

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