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Next Level Learning: Classroom Success Stories from Illinois

Did you know that EMC² Learning offers scalable solutions for schools and districts? In addition to individual site memberships, EMC² Learning offers a wide array of professional development services, including on-site training events, online webinars, and on-demand platform access to our ever-expanding library of student-centered teaching resources. Since the birth of our company in March of 2021, we have worked with clients ranging from brand new schools with faculties as small as just under a dozen to large district contracts across multiple buildings with upwards of 500 individual user accounts. We are serious about playful pedagogy, and we are proud to tailor any combination of our solutions to blend in-person, virtual, and online platform access to best fit the budget of your organization. 

This week, we received a lovely bit of news from one of our partner districts in Morton, Illinois. We’ve been proud to work with teachers from Morton since 2021, both online and in person. And this past summer, we even had the chance to spend a few days on site facilitating an on-site training workshop for a number of their teachers as we welcomed a new cohort of their faculty into the 
EMC² Learning community of Engagement Engineers.

Here’s how things are shaping up in District 709!

Engagement At The Speed of Life

A group of students races to build the tallest tower they can out of Jenga blocks. The catch? They have to earn their building materials by answering questions related to a recent unit of study on sentence structure. Another group of students quickly tries to open as many plastic Easter eggs as they can in 45 minutes. The twist? The eggs do not contain candy and prizes. They contain math problems from our recently completed unit on multiplication. Yet another group is carefully examining a nonfiction article from the latest amazing issue of Storyworks looking for as many “microchips” as they can. However, they are not looking for electronic devices. They are searching for key pieces of text evidence. Their reward? Plastic poker chips.

The scenes described above are learning scenarios regularly taking place in fourth-grade classrooms at Grundy School–as well as many other classrooms throughout District 709– and taking student engagement to the next level. A few years ago, middle-school teacher Michael Matera and high school instructional coach John Meehan, wanted to increase the amount of student engagement in their classrooms. The result? The creation of a company called EMC2 Learning that brands itself as “Engagement at the Speed of Life.”

Grundy fourth grade teacher Jon Wheat had the great fortune of attending a three-day training presented by Michael and John this past summer, along with fellow 709 educators Don Sturm and Lindsey Pierz. Wheat stated, “Having been in education for 28 years now, I thought I had seen just about everything. However, I could not have been more wrong. What I learned during those three days brought a renewed excitement to me as a teacher, and the increased level of student engagement and participation has been nothing short of remarkable.”

The excitement started for Mr. Wheat on the very first day of school when he challenged his students to work in groups to create the tallest structure they could using only 20 pieces of dry spaghetti, one meter of string, and one meter of masking tape. The completed tower had to support one jumbo marshmallow to be placed at the top. This activity is known as “The Marshmallow Challenge,” and it provided a wonderful opportunity to get students working together cooperatively from the very first day. Observing them was a great way to learn about his new students. The competitive element kept students engaged for the entire 30 minutes, and as a bonus, he witnessed which students exhibited leadership skills.

After the activity, he asked students to reflect upon the experience. According to Abigail, “I like the Marshmallow Challenge because you had to figure out how you could get your tower to stay up and have the marshmallow on the top so you could not use it to help build.” Sophia added, “I like the Marshmallow Challenge because we have to be creative to keep the marshmallow on top of the tower.” My students are looking forward to “Marshmallow Madness” coming later this year!

The true genius behind EMC2 Learning and its plethora of online resources is that it is not grade-level or course specific. The resources are applicable to many grade levels and subject areas. All the teacher has to do is supply the content that is part of his or her course and a willing audience of excited learners. EMC2 does the rest.

Mr. Wheat noted, “During my teaching career, I have used many types of games to help my students review content in preparation for assessments. Jeopardy!- style review games have been around for years, and Kahoot! has become popular in many classrooms today. However, both suffer from what Michael and John call “The Jeopardy! Effect,” the idea that when students fall behind during the game and realize they have no hope of catching up or winning, they disengage from the activity very quickly. This is why my students love the “Mystery Box.”

Simply put, the students do not know how many points a question is worth until after they answer the question and they reveal the question’s value on the Smartboard. Fourth grader Abram shared, “The Mystery Box is my favorite one of all because you can use it a lot, and if your team is losing you have a chance to come back while working with your teammates.” This simple change increased the level of engagement in the classroom dramatically.

However, the resource that has provided the highest level of excitement thus far in his classroom is undoubtedly the Egg Dash Challenge. Teams of students race to complete math problems which are hidden inside plastic eggs in a basket in the center of the classroom. Hidden inside the eggs are a few “traps” and “treasures” which guarantee that the engagement level stays high the entire time. And, just like in the Mystery Box, the point values are not revealed until after the questions have been answered, so the game always has a dramatic climax. The reviews were impressive. Blake said, “The Egg Dash Challenge was by far my favorite game because you got to pick eggs then solve math problems.” Markos added, “I liked this challenge because it required teamwork, and I think working in teams will make you more successful. My team actually worked really well together, and we got a really good score!”

Mr. Wheat shared, “It has been a joy to see students engaged with course content in new and exciting ways this year. Furthermore, as a veteran teacher, it’s reinvigorated me and encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone. And, admittedly, as a retired tennis coach and current football and basketball announcer, the competitive element certainly appeals to me! It’s further proof that when you combine some tremendous resources, an eager group of learners, and a teacher willing to try new things, some magic can happen in the classroom.”

EMC² Learning is home to more than 500 fully editable resources for any course or content area. Engagement Engineers and members of the Creative Corps enjoy a full year of access to each of these resources on demand. We hope you’ll consider joining us to unlock a full year of site access. For complete details including our exclusive limited time offer for annual site membership, click here.

"This site is a total game changer for both me and my students! Thanks for all the ways you level up my learning and classroom."
Carol McLaughlin
1-8 Teacher

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