By Jeff Reaburn, SHDHS
Last week we held our second annual PAWS (Panther Active Winter Sports) Day, and we really couldn’t have asked for better weather. Although it was a little on the chilly side, we had bright sunshine and clear skies, giving us excellent conditions for some fun outdoors in the snow. Period Two classes competed against one another in each grade level, with points awarded for participation, enthusiasm, and, of course, for winning the events. The students and staff involved had a great time, and I would like to thank the PAWS Day Committee and the Students’ Council leaders for organizing and running the events.
I am disappointed, however, in one aspect of PAWS Day, and that is the level of attendance and involvement by the student body, with fewer than half of the students present. In recent years schools have been encouraged to do more to get students active and to encourage healthy active living. While we can provide the opportunities for activity, we can’t force the students to take advantage of them: PAWS Day is an example of that. We shortened classes so that the events could be run during school time, and the games were designed for maximum participation and fun, requiring little athletic ability. So, it was disappointing that so many students opted not to take part, many with the support of their parents. I’m sure that there were some who were absent for legitimate reasons, but that would not be the case for many of them.
In spite of the poor turn-out, it was a great day, and as I have told our staff, there are many ways to measure success, with the numbers in attendance being only one. The levels of enthusiasm, fun, and school spirit demonstrated by those who were involved are perhaps better indicators of the success of this event.
Student engagement and involvement are challenges on the academic side of things as well. Outside of school most students are engaged in a world of technology that keeps them entertained and inter-connected in ways that are somewhat foreign to parents and teachers alike. Although television is still a big part of their lives, computers and video games have surpassed it in importance in the lives of many teens, and the cell phone and text messaging occupy much of their time as well. And, of course, I can’t overlook the MP3 player: the iPod is firmly established in the lives of our young people.
But there is more than entertainment happening through this technology. Students are connected to one another through MSN, Facebook, email, and text messaging in ways that we may find hard to understand, and a whole new language of acronyms has developed. News – good and bad – gossip, and cyber-bullying happen at an astonishing rate, adding to the challenges and pressures of growing up.
So, in the classroom we face an enormous challenge in trying to engage students in learning, even in trying to get them disengaged from the technology that dominates their lives outside of school. Is technology the answer? It may be part of the solution, but it does cost a great deal of money. Mobile computer labs and SmartBoards do seem to be improving levels of student engagement, but is this due to the novelty of the equipment, or will the effect be long lasting? Only time will tell. Instead of competing with the technologies that already have our students engaged, should we be trying to find ways to incorporate them into our teaching? Clearly we have more questions than answers but one thing is certain: as technology advances, it will become more and more of a challenge to get and keep students engaged in school work.