Three Ways to Engage Kids This School Year

By Adam Welcome
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As I look ahead to the coming school year, thinking about my own two children who will be entering 1st and 3rd grade this year, so many thoughts are going through my mind.

Also having the privilege to work with educators from all across the country, and I’m constantly thinking about how complicated education has become. 

I’m not saying being an educator was less complicated in previous generations, or easier by any means – education just feels so much more complicated and busy. 

I taught elementary school for years and my dad taught 2nd grade for over thirty-five years and there was plenty of ‘complication’ then as well. 

It just feels and looks different like it never has before.

  • So many standards that teachers are expected to teach.
  • New programs coming on board each year. Have all staff received enough training? Does everyone have all the materials? Do teachers feel comfortable with the new curriculum and like they can even do it justice with their students?
  • A class full of students – all with different academic ability levels and all coming to school with their own set of challenges.
  • And to top it all off, we have the amazing advent of technology in our schools. 

The infusion of technology into our educational system in my opinion has been absolutely amazing for students and teachers. I also know that in many cases, new systems and programs haven’t always been rolled out in the best way, or with much success.

And there are just so many programs. And websites. And apps. And systems. And they all seem to be amazing.

But with so many – are they being implemented with fidelity? Are students and teachers actually gaining any benefit from all the time it takes to learn them all? From all the money that’s being spent to license the technology and train the staff?

There’s a new software program for early readers that needs to be downloaded on all the laptops……

However…..the program doesn’t run well on the laptops that were purchased for your school and an additional plug-in needs to be installed, but you don’t have the right level of technology clearance or the right password credentials to complete the install.

So you put in a work order and wait for five weeks. School started two weeks ago, so you’re now seven weeks into the school year and your early readers haven’t even touched the new program. 

I can feel your pain – trust me.

Or this summer you attended a conference, watched some video tutorials on YouTube, or even better had the opportunity to try out some of the new ‘technology’ that was purchased for your school at home. 

You’re feeling confident, you’ve worked out some of the initial bugs, but you’re terrified to try something new with your twenty-five students – because what if it doesn’t go well and the lesson flops.

I can feel your pain – trust me.

My last year in the classroom before I entered administration I convinced my Principal to purchase eight iPods for the school. Yes, the iPad and Chromebook hadn’t been invented yet.

They purchased the iPods, and then quickly realized we didn’t have any MacBook computers on campus to load any of the apps. So we grabbed my personal MacBook, created a school iTunes account and started loading apps. 

We quickly realized the iPods had to be named in order to be organized and identify them within iTunes. We also quickly realized that our network was slow, like really slow, and could only update one at a time and had to be within range of our wi-fi at school and not at home. Needless to say, I spent many early mornings and late nights at school updating those iPods.


But you know what – it was amazing!

The kids loved them. We found ways to connect what they were doing to our curriculum in class. And it undoubtedly launched my early love of educational technology that continues with the work I still do today.

iPods and a few apps were simple, and that wasn’t too long ago.

But you know what – we kept it simple. 

A classroom in 2019 has so many options it can be extremely difficult to know where to start. There are so many options with just curriculum, forget incorporating technology. 

So here are my Three Ways To Engage Kids in Education with the curriculum you’re teaching, no matter what grade or subject matter you teach. 

Are there more ways to engage kids in education? Of course there are. I’m choosing my three.

Coding and Robotics

Bold statement – I think coding is the number one activity we should be doing with students. 

The coolest thing about coding is – you don’t even need to know how to code in order to teach kids how to code.

You facilitate their learning with them.

Ten years ago you needed to be proficient with a specific coding language to teach others. In 2019 there are a plethora of resources at our fingertips, for free. 

Code.org was my favorite for a long time with elementary students. More recently they’ve added so many modules and lessons for secondary students to learn that it’s become my go-to for all of K-12.

Code.org will even pay teachers to be trained on their platform, how cool is that. 

Why is coding a top way to engage kids and why should you be doing it with your students?

Kids like it! 

Years ago when I was a Principal we use to call it KDI factor. (This was way before Todd and I started Kids Deserve It) 

Kids Dig It!


If there was KDI factor for the learning, that was a plus and something we paid attention too. 

Of course not all kids like coding, but so many do. 

Kids are solving problems when they’re coding. Their code doesn’t work and they have to find out why. Layered within that are so many math concepts that kids are working on. 

Beyond Code.org there are other programs like Scratch where kids can build actual games that are directly tied to the curriculum that they’re working on in class. 

Tell a 4th grader in California that they’re going to learn about the California Missions, they have to choose one of the twenty-one missions and then build a model of that mission out of sugar cubes or cardboard.

Now tell another 4th grader in California that they can build their mission in Minecraft, Tinkercad or some other online program where they have to build and write code in order to create their mission.

Some kids may choose the sugar cubes and cardboard which is completely ok (my daughter would be one of them), but I’m willing to bet a whole bunch more will choose the second option – because it gives them options. And even if your class doesn’t choose the second option, it’s so important to simply give options. 

Robotics is so closely tied to coding I’ve decided to put them together as one of the three.

Coding is the perfect place to start with your class, and then introduce the robots.

If you’re nervous, not trained, and maybe even have no idea what to do with a robot in your class. Don’t worry, the kids will help you. 

You’re the curriculum expert. 

You’re the kid expert. 

You’re the relationship expert. 

You don’t need to be the robot expert, let the kids have that title.

I have been and continue to be a huge fan of the Sphero. We ordered the original all white version many years ago when I was a Principal and it was an absolute hit with the kids right away.

Just like coding helps kids solve problems and incorporates math concepts, robots do too!

A great place to start with your Sphero is social studies or science. Take whatever you’re learning about in either of those subjects, and ask the kids how they can incorporate robotics into their learning.

I know what some of you are thinking. 

You’re nervous.

What if it doesn’t go as planned. 

Don’t worry about it. You don’t need a detailed plan. Don’t be nervous. 

Focus on the learning objectives with the lesson and the curriculum. 

Focus on asking the right questions of your students like you always do.

Focus on the relationships you’ve already built and support your learners how you know best.

The robotics can be handled by the students. Trust them. Support them. Tell them it’s ok if things don’t go smoothly the first time around. And see what happens.

There was a 7th grade class we were working with and they were learning about the Silk Road during social studies. The teacher had previously introduced coding and robotics with the students so the stage was already set. 

One of the students, it wasn’t even the teachers idea asked a question.

“Can we code the Silk Road with the Sphero?”

The teacher said.


“We can sure try!”

So that’s exactly what they did. The kids took blue tape and built a map of the Silk Road on the classroom carpet and coded different routes of the map. 

They were building – problem solving – working collaboratively – doing math – having fun – and maybe most importantly – learning about the Silk Road in a way that made sense to them. 

Give kids an experience and they’ll remember it. Make them learn the same material out of a textbook as their only option, you’ll probably get a much different result.

An unintended conseqeunce of the entire project, was the kids continued to ‘review’ on their own whenever they walked over the map. It was a built in test review and they didn’t even realize it.

This makes me think of a time before I was even officially a teacher. I went back to the middle school where I attended and was a long term substitute in the P.E. department. 

Like most kids in middle school, they hated running laps each day. The vast majority of the kids didn’t run, they walked and complained the few required laps each day.

“What if we could come of with a way to get the kids running, without even realizing they were running?”

How could we gamify running for the kids?

We got some old soccer socks, stuffed them with tennis balls, wrapped tape around the socks so the balls wouldn’t fall out, and created a game.

There were hula hoops staggered through the gym, kids had to throw their tennis ball filled sock into a hula hoop, run after their sock, retrieve it, and then run back to their team for the next person to do the same thing.

Most points wins. We didn’t really have a way to add up points by the way.

What happened?


The kids were running like crazy. Because we gamified it, made it fun and a competition. If GPS technology was around back then I’d love to see how many equivalent laps each of those kids ran during the tennis ball sock game, and can almost guarantee it was way more than the few laps they would ‘run’ around the track.

Here’s your oversimplified coding and robotic plan.

Get some students. Turn on the Chromebooks. Have them login with their Google accounts. And start coding. 

When you oversimplify your approach to something, there are way more details that can’t go wrong, because the plan is so simple. Keep it simple and take out unnecessary steps that will potentially get in your way.

Note – use the same approach with robotics.

Another side note. It’s widely reported that someone who is proficient in coding can expect to earn upwards of $190,000 a year as a programmer. https://www.levels.fyi/

With salary and stock options combined, that’s opportunity I would love to see for interested kids, and it can all start in your classroom by planting the seed now.

Video creation and Podcasting

The number of people making millions of dollars by creating videos that they post on their YouTube channels is staggering.

The number of people making hundreds of thousands of dollars creating thirty second video clips for companies to post on their Instagram and social media channels is even more staggering.

And the number of people just simply breing creative and sharing their video content without making any money at all, is at an all time high like never before. 

I can’t even imagine the number of kids that want to be a YouTuber when they grow up! Which to me sounds absolutely perfect. 

Too bad YouTube wasn’t invented thirty years ago?

It’s not too late.

Video creation is pretty much the answer for anything you want to do in your classroom or your school. 

Fact – people watch videos, lots and lots of videos.

So what better way for your students to show their learning than in video format.

I have another oversimplified plan – this one is for video.

Teach any lesson that you normally would.

Have your students map out the main learning points for the lesson or unit of study.

And then have them make a video with two other students in class about what they learned.

You don’t need to know how to make videos to have your students make videos.

Teach them. Check for understanding on the content. And get out of the way.

Give them an iPad and let them get to work. 

The iPad is the perfect device for kids to create video content when they’re just getting started. 

You can capture all the content from the device, edit directly on the device, and then share their final project all from that same iPad. 

You don’t need to know how to edit, or add transitions, or any of that. The kids will figure it out.

I know what some of you are thinking. 

You’re nervous.

What if it doesn’t go as planned. 

Don’t worry about it. You don’t need a well thought out plan. Don’t be nervous. 

Focus on the learning objectives with the lesson and the curriculum. 

Focus on asking the right questions of your students like you always do.

Focus on the relationships you’ve already built and support your learners how you know best.

And see what happens. 

Video creation is not just a great way to integrate the curriculum in your classroom, it’s a job in 2019 that can pay lots of money. Kids can create their own side hustle on the weekends by creating video content for local businesses.

If I was sixteen years old right now, I would approach a local realtor in my town and ask them if my ‘media company’ could create a three minute video for any of their listings that are hard to sell. If the house sells within twenty-one days of the video going live, they would pay me $100. 


Real world experience. Practice talking to adults in a professional way. And making some extra money is always a good thing.

Podcasting is an even easier lift than video creation. 

And much like video, there are now professional podcasters that make money, having their own show. 

All you need is a device that connects to the internet, and the Anchor.fm app to record your content. Anchor is great because it’s free, and they distribute your podcast to all the other applications where content is hosted. Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, SoundCloud and more.

There’s no reason why every Principal doesn’t have a podcast for their school, where they record a daily message for the community to hear. 

  • Tips on how to implement kindness.
  • Book reviews and recommendations.
  • Joke of the day.
  • Ways to appreciate the outdoors.
  • What’s coming up tomorrow and next week.

Teachers can have a few different podcasts happening in their rooms alone.

  • Book review podcast.
  • Updates from science.
  • The happiness podcast.

Kids aren’t just talking. 

They have to plan what they’re going to say. Think about different hooks that will engage their listeners. They’ll need to work on enunciation and using voice when they talk. So many teachable moments and teaching points are directly integrated within each podcast.

Here’s your oversimplified video creation and podcasting plan.

Get some students. Have them do a brief mind map of their video.  Turn on the iPads. And start recording. Same goes for podcasting, but it’s even easier

When you oversimplify your approach to something, there are way more things that can’t go wrong, because the plan is so simple. Keep it simple and take out unnecessary steps that will potentially get in the way.

Reading

I’m not sure where my life would be right now if I wasn’t a reader.

And let me tell you – I was a very reluctant reader as a child.

My dad tried, and tried and tried and tried and tried.


Books were all over our house. Shelves from floor to ceiling with books. In the car, on the back porch, and whenever we went on vacation, my dad somehow found every used book store within a 50 mile radius of where we were staying.

My father taught me so many lessons in life, and becoming a life-long reader is one of the most important.

I have an older brother who would read incessantly at all hours of the day. Me – not so much. 

But my dad didn’t give up. 


We had bi-weekly visits to our local library. Checking out dozens of books at a time. My dad never gave up.

Looking back so many years later, I know what the magic sauce was. There were two main ingredients that pushed me into the ‘I’m a Reader’ club that has lasted a lifetime.

1. There were books all over my life, like literally all over my life. I’d pick up a book to start reading, not find any interest in the story and put it on the table. And on the table, was a stack of more books. More options. More stories. More characters for me to connect with in magical ways. 

There were books in different genres. Fiction, non-fiction, comic books, books with female characters and male characters, and books of all shapes and sizes with different colors on the cover and everything in between.

Have books everywhere. Put books in old bathtubs throughout the hallways of your school. Install a ‘Little Free Library’ in front of your school so kids in the community have access to books. Send books home with kids in book bags so they can read at home with their family. 

When you have books all over your life, sooner or later the children in your life will pick one up. Connect with some new characters and immerse themselves with a story that they’ll never forget.

And they’ll become a reader.

2. The second main factor in my ‘becoming a reader’ journey was my parents always reading in front of me. If you want kids to do something, model model model model model. 

My dad wanted me to read, so he read too. All the time!

He would tell me stories from the books he read about Winston Churchill, James Bond 007, different mysteries he had immersed himself in and would need to extend our ‘afternoon reading time’ because he didn’t want to put his own book down.

If you want kids to discover the magic sauce that is found in books, we must model and share and exude how amazing it really is. 

I am by no means an expert on reading instruction, but below are a few ideas on how to build some additional reading excitement in your class.

Flashlight Friday was a favorite activity in some of our 1st and 2nd grade classrooms. I would thoroughly enjoy visiting classes, lights are off, kids brought flashlights from home and all kids are eagerly reading in the dark. Create special environments for kids to consume literature and they’ll become reading fanatics.

Flipgrid Book Reviews let kids talk about the book they’re reading, and also gives their peers recommendations on what to read themselves. It’s free, it’s easy, you can record across all devices and it sure beats the ‘I have nothing to read’ comment from that reluctant reader. Have them watch a few video clips from their classmates to find that special story.

Principal Read Aloud was hands down my favorite activity as a Principal. Pick one book each month, read it aloud to all classes at your school, have a book talk about the story and then all your students have something in common with everyone else – they’ve all had their Principal read the same book to them. You can incorporate that commonality with parents in your communication home, different character education lessons you’re talking about and so much more.

What ideas do you have to incorporate the love of reading in your school or classroom?

My good friend Mandy Ellis wrote an amazing book ‘Lead With Literacy‘ packed with ideas on how to incorporate literacy into your schools, check it out!

Are there many ways to engage kids in your classroom? You bet there are. But if you’re a new teacher looking for some ideas and a place to start, hopefully this post offered some new ideas and strategies that your kids will enjoy.

And if you’re a veteran teacher looking to change things up, or just to simplify your approach and what you do in your classroom – hopefully this can be a starting point.

I do firmly believe that if we keep our approach simple, even oversimplified – you have a higher possibility of having a greater degree of success. Rather than if you overplanned and tried to teach too many concepts, with too many tools, in too short a period of time – without the proper support or training or resources at your disposal. 

Keep it simple. 

Focus on kids. 

And don’t forget to have fun.

Adam Welcome

Adam Welcome

Adam has been an elementary school teacher, Principal, Director of Innovation for a large school district in the Bay Area and is also an author and speaker.

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