Every student deserves to experience new learning at school. Students should not have to sit through things that they already know simply because the rest of the class doesn't understand yet. They have a right to be exposed to new learning experiences.
So often, students that finish early are asked to tutor their peers, run errands, or help in the classroom. This type of "busy work" is not beneficial and can be frustrating to students. Students want to learn but they want to learn new things.
Sitting through things that you already know is exhausting. Think about yourself when you are in a workshop or professional development session that you thought was going to be awesome. You expected to learn new things that you could take back in and use in your classroom. You entered the workshop with high expectations and willingness to learn. As the speaker begins to share, you realize they are sharing the same things that you heard in an earlier session. They are simply sharing things that you already know. Think about the frustration that you would feel. You would want to be anywhere but there and would probably leave if you were able.
However, our students don't have that privilege. They cannot simply leave a classroom when they already understand the material. All they can do is prove that they have mastered a concept. It is up to us as teachers to respect them enough to offer a variety of learning opportunities that will engage them.
Here are three tools that will engage your students using the computers in your classroom. It will require little to no extra work on your part but will give students an opportunity to experience new learning that is meaningful for them.
Wonderopolis taps into student curiosity and makes learning fun. Students can choose a wonder that is interesting to them or complete the Wonder of the Day. They watch a video, read about the topic, and then take a short quiz to demonstrate their understanding. Students can also complete a vocabulary challenge as part of the wonder.
Students could complete a Wonder and then answer the questions from the quiz on an index card to show completion. If your students blog, they could write about the wonder on their blog.
DogoNews is a great place to find current events that are appropriate for kids. The articles are fun and interesting. Students can click on unfamiliar words and will be given a definition. My favorite feature is that when students click on a location, they are shown a map. At the end of the article, they are asked three article comprehension questions and given a critical thinking challenge.
DogoNews could be done at the computers in your classroom. Students answer the three article comprehension questions on the front of the index card and the critical thinking challenge on the back. Again, if your students blog, they could blog about the article as well.
These are a part of the Mensa for Kids website and they are awesome! Students watch a TED Talk and are then given several critical thinking questions related to the video. The questions really stretch their thinking and encourage deep learning and understanding.
This is an activity that could be done at the student computers as well. Students could use headphones to watch the talk so that they do not disturb the rest of the class. When the TED Talk is over, they can answer their questions on the PDF that is provided or blog their responses.
It's so important that our students realize that we value their time and see them as individuals. By providing new learning opportunities, we are sending that message. Take time this year to find ways to engage students even when it's not easy. After all, "busy work" is a waste of your time and theirs.