Saturday, February 13, 2010

Engaging Students

Anybody who works with teenagers knows the primary challenge: How do you keep engaged? How you channel the energy and attention towards productive activities?

NY Times had a really fascinating article about an experiment in Arizona. Essentially, the challenge was formidable. You have teens enduring long boring bus rides to and from school. Eventually the noise level cranks up and the social jousting begins. Everybody can imagine what this sounds and feels like.

The great Arizona experiment:

WI-FI on the bus.

Students endure hundreds of hours on yellow buses each year getting to and from school in this desert exurb of Tucson, and stir-crazy teenagers break the monotony by teasing, texting, flirting, shouting, climbing (over seats) and sometimes punching (seats or seatmates).
Morning routines have been like this since the fall, when school officials mounted a mobile Internet router to bus No. 92’s sheet-metal frame, enabling students to surf the Web. The students call it the Internet Bus, and what began as a high-tech experiment has had an old-fashioned — and unexpected — result. Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared. 
At Project Coach, we think about engagement and motivation all the time. How do we secure a teen's interest and provide them with activities that are both immersive, but also productive. The Arizona experiment transforms dead and unproductive time into something potentially useful.

1 comment:

  1. A Little Trick Sometimes Called Community Service

    I first heard about Project Coach from a Smith Alumna who shared with me the opportunity to study at Smith through a PC Fellowship. At the time I was teaching in New Haven as a Teach for America Corps Member, and this program seemed like a wonderful opportunity for teenagers, especially teenagers who face social inequality. Not only does PC offer the opportunity to take responsibility and ownership by leading a team, but it offers the real sense of accomplishment that becomes possible through athletics.
    I am now working on mentoring programming at a non-profit organization called the Women and Family Life Center in Guilford, Connecticut. Before I joined the organization, the Program Director described a number of challenges around getting girls to show up for events. We realized that so many women, let alone very young women, resist coming forward to discuss potential and real problems in their lives. We began to think that girls might be more interested to join in programs if they were focused on helping others in the community, or if there were some activity around which the programming was based, or both.
    Hence Girls Coach/Girls Run. Right now we are working with 10 high school girls from the "shoreline" area of Guilford, which means we are working in three towns. The high school girls are learning about communication, problem solving, motivation, self esteem, friendship, and media influence. We have drawn from the Project Coach curriculum to address topics like communicating with team members. In our next session, we will pull in middle school girls to work as assistant coaches. The high schoolers will lead the new participants through a similar curriculum, only this time there will be room for running, stretching, and discussing nutrition and health. This curriculum will be run a second time in the spring, when coaches and assistant coaches lead a group of 4th graders to run a 5K.
    I think that programs like GCGR and Project Coach hit upon a fundamental point, which is that sometimes young people help themselves best by helping others first. I can already hear our high school coaches express their ideas about how to best serve the 4th graders who will join us this April, but I also know that the work these girls are doing right now, even before meeting the younger ones, is just as crucial.