Approach your classroom like your Facebook page

Photo Source: Rawpixel|Dollar Photo Club

Photo Source: Rawpixel|Dollar Photo Club

As a communications professional I often find myself inundated with information about the latest and greatest copywriting techniques. While it is helpful for me to know how to craft web content that sparks interest and facilitates further clickage, the aspect of my job that is much more important to me is the creation of content that is useful and applicable to STEM enthusiasts. Needless to say that I am always thrilled, however, when these two worlds collide and pose an opportunity for interesting transdisciplinary application…

So, I recently stumbled upon this Buffer article explaining some simple copywriting tips. About halfway through reading the article I found myself wondering, “What if these principles were also applied in a classroom?” Now, you’re probably thinking “yeah, but it’s way easier to keep someone’s attention for a few minutes on a social media site than to keep it for hours in a classroom,” but just hear me out. When you find yourself following an entertaining conversational thread on a Facebook page or reading an interesting article that a friend posted, you are pretty engaged in that moment, right? And why is that? Because you are following information that is particularly interesting or applicable to you. So how can those moments be re-created in the classroom setting?

While not all of the rules posed in the article are applicable in the classroom, I’ve plucked out some gems to help you create engaging lessons in your classroom.

Rule #1 – Create a Curiosity Gap

The first rule presented in the article is to create a curiosity gap. What this means for copywriters is that they should create headlines that are “tantalizing enough to get a reader to click through, but mustn’t give away the whole story.” Ok great. This is a great principle to create short-term curiosity for a reader, but it can also be very applicable to the way lessons are planned and structured. But how can you introduce your students to new lessons to create a curiosity gap? I view this to be a trait that many project-based, problem-based, and inquiry-based lesson structures possess. When students are posed with a context and a problem, obtaining the skills they need to learn to explore the issue becomes a much more engaging process. A narrative structure also creates a curiosity gap. When our brains are presented with bits and pieces of a story, we become much more engaged in filling in the details of the story. Which leads me to the next rule…

Rule #2 – Don’t expect announcements to be popular (and turn them into a story instead)

You’ve probably been there… the pinnacle of your lesson comes around and your students are underwhelmed, disinterested, and staring at the clock. But for those lessons that came packaged in a story, I bet you experienced the opposite effect. According to the article, “You can in fact, create the exact same emotions that you had when experiencing a situation in the other person if they are listening to your story.” The use of narrative storytelling with your lessons creates a shared experience among yourself and your students, thus creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. So when crafting lessons, think to yourself “how can I incorporate these facts and/or processes into a story?”

Rule #3 – Know exactly who reads your posts and tailor your words to them

One of the words that goes through the heads of communication professionals about fifty thousand times a day is “audience.” Now, before you get mad at me, I am completely aware that this word (or student—its equivalent in teachspeak) in constantly on the minds of teachers as well. Lessons are almost always tailored to a student’s age, skill level, etc. But are there more aspects of your audience that you could take into account when you stage your lessons? Building off the previous two rules, ask yourself “what are my students talking about during their side conversations? What are they interested in, what do they pursue in their free time?” Making class time feel more closely in tune with their extracurricular identities is a sure way to get them engaged and keep them engaged. This teacher who crafted a zombie-based learning experience for his students is a great example of being tuned in to an audience…

Rule #4 – Use more verbs and less nouns

To apply this rule to the classroom setting I suggest looking at it less literally and more symbolically. This one goes back to the basic adage “tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.” Are there a way to make your lessons more active? More involved? More hands-on? Think of different angles that you can approach your content from to create new and innovative ways to involve your students.

But if you want to take this one literally too, the article points out that “verbs are also more persuasive in college admission letters. Dee Leopold, Harvard Business School’s head of M.B.A. admissions said in an interview that the best recommendations for student contain lots of verbs, as these are stronger than adjectives.” So pass this tip on to your college-ready students, eh?

So what are your experiences with these rules? Do they work? Can they be improved? Let’s talk about it!

Back-to-school STEM Resources

So, it’s nearing that time again… The summer is coming to an end and our students/teachers are headed back to school soon. Because we didn’t want to leave your STEM needs unfulfilled next school year, we wanted to take this time to introduce you to the new(ish) STEM Advocacy section on STEM-Works. Those of you who are unfamiliar with this feature will find all sorts of information that you can apply to your classes, and those of you who are familiar with it know how great of a resource it can be!

The STEM Advocacy section provides access to lesson plans, publications, and virtual field trips all related to STEM subjects. You can search for these things either by age group,

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subject,

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or subject type.

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Lesson Plans

In order to engage kids in STEM pursuits, it is often helpful to have lesson plans or curriculum geared toward improving inquiry skills or highlighting specific STEM content. This section provides exactly that type of resource. In addition to the Activities section on the websites, the Lesson Plans section provides educators and advocates with background information on activities and provides the framework for the content and skills promoted through the activity. Examples of the lesson plans included on our website include middle school ocean-related Scientific Naming Conventions Curriculum, a K-3 All About Energy lesson module, and a 4-8 Balloon Aeronautics lesson, among many others.

Publications

The Publications section includes a variety of different scholarly works as well as magazines and newsletters with information related to STEM. A few of these scholarly works include the Rising against the Gathering Storm reports and the 2012 report released by the US Department of Commerce. This section also includes magazines, journals, newsletter and articles geared towards adults and relating to STEM. Examples of these types of publications available on STEM-Works include Science News: Magazine of the Society for Science and the Public as well as the National Geographic Newsletter. Finally, this section also includes magazines and newsletters geared toward kids and families. Two of these newsletters included on the site are Science News for Kids and Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter.

Virtual Field Trips

Following an email request we received from one of our website users who lives in a rural area, we decided to find a way to introduce kids who may not have the means or opportunity to travel to major cities to take virtual field trips. These virtual field trips are all virtual experiences that classes, families or individual students can investigate without ever leaving their homes or classrooms. All of these experiences are free and offer students and advocates the opportunity to experience something that may have previously been out of their reach. Now you can afford to virtually take your students to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Grand Canyon, and even the International Space Station!

We hope that the STEM Advocacy section will be helpful to you as you gear up for the upcoming school year. And, as always, we are open to suggestions for cool pieces of content that you think should be featured on our website! Also, if you follow us on Twitter, watch for the hashtags #VirtualFieldTrip and #LessonPlan as we keep you apprised of our exciting content in these areas.

And if you don’t follow us on Twitter, do it! Do it now!